Tag Archives: training tuesday

Training Tuesday: Royal Parks Half Marathon race report

I very much enjoy running in new places, and I love destination races. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that I was excited to find out that there’s a giant half-marathon in London, the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. It’s a fundraiser for the foundation that maintains London’s 8 Royal Parks (including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and so on); in the 10 years of its existence, it raised more than £36 million for the upkeep of the parks and for other charities. Because the race is run by a nonprofit, seemingly every charity in the UK (and many global ones as well) have fundraising efforts and charity teams for the race. The race course cuts through four of the eight parks, and is almost completely flat. Runners start in Hyde Park, run east through St James’s Park (and past Buckingham Palace!), up the Strand and then back again, with detours through Trafalgar Square and down to Downing Street, then through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The photos on the race web site show an abundance of fall colors and sunshine… which is not exactly what happened.

I’d registered for the race lottery and didn’t get in, so the Royal Parks folks kept my entry fee and sent me a nice hoodie to cushion my disappointment. It didn’t, given that the hoodie arrived in July, which is not usually hoodie weather in Alabama. Quadrotech decided to sponsor a corporate team, so I got in through that route. I later learned that most runners get into the race through charity registrations, and in future my plan is to raise funds for London’s Air Ambulance (which is a charity!) so I can get one of these exceptionally cool running shirts:

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I got to London Thursday morning before the race and worked in our London office Thursday and Friday, running 5 miles Thursday. Both days were cool and gloomy, and there was lots of discussion about Sunday’s forecast of temperatures in the low 50s and rain. Saturday turned out glorious— I ran 8 miles along the Regents’ Canal in lovely sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s. The scenery was pretty grand…

The Regents Canal

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After my run, I went out for pizza and watched First Man (pretty good; maybe wait for Netflix though.) A good night’s sleep and I awoke to… exactly the promised weather. Lot 50s, steady wind, and rain. I donned the rain gear I’d brought and headed out to the Moorgate Tube station. Once I hit Piccadilly, the Tube was completely jammed with runners and spectators making their way to Hyde Park. That’s one thing I hadn’t considered: even in a city the size of London, a race with 16,000 runners means that there are a ton of people packed into a relatively small area.

Now, a brief sidebar on race organization. The race organizers will mail race packets ahead of time, for free, if you ask them to, which I did; however, because we’d re-registered me as a team member, my packet went to our office instead, so when I got to the race site, I had to meet my teammates to get my bib so I would know what corral I was in, then drop off my post-race clothes at the baggage drop, then make my traditional pre-race pilgrimage to the portapotties, then go to the start.

f you’ve never run a large race, you may not realize this, but most large endurance races group runners by pace and then send them into corrals so runners of similar speed start together. This race had… 3 corrals total. That’s not a lot for 16,000 runners. There were long lines at baggage drop and for the toilets, and I got increasingly nervous as we got closer and closer to the 9am race start time. I needn’t have worried though— it turns out that even with those two long waits, I got into the line for my corral at 915am and actually crossed the start line at 927am. This was fine because the race is chip timed, so the time doesn’t start until you actually cross the timing mat. Here’s what the corral looked like before I started:

The corral

Once I crossed the start line, I was in a crowd until I finished. That’s a major difference from the races I normally run, especially triathlons— since you’re running after swimming and biking, differences in individual speed means people tend to be pretty spread out on the race course. Here’s an example from the leg through Hyde Park late in the race:

IMG 0167One of the best things about the race was the spectator presence. There were people pretty much lining the course whenever it was along a road, and for maybe 80% of the course length through parks. Lots of signs, and at least three or four bands (three drum corps I can recall). Several of the corporate and charity sponsors had big cheering stations set up, which was fun. Overall the race had a remarkable energy to it, the more so considering that the weather wasn’t great.

And then there was the race course scenery…

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Did not see any members of the Royal Family

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This cracked me up. I’m quite surprised it was deemed necessary

A word about race gear: I ran in a pair of On Cloudflows that I bought a week or so before the race, a pair of generic shorts, and my Rocket City Marathon race shirt. I started the race with a light rain jacket and a hat, but shed both of those mid-race— but I was glad to have them when it started raining just after I crossed the finish. The Cloudflows really felt good during the race, but I have since discovered that as I build volume, they aren’t cushioned enough so they’ve gone back to the store. I also bought a pair of Trekz Titanium bone-conduction earphones using some accumulated Amazon gift cards, figuring they might be worth a try. They sound good but feel a bit odd, and I’m not convinced that they’re better than the Plantronics BackBeat Fits I had been using. The Trekz would be great for cycling though, so I may keep them just for that.

I also ran with my Apple Watch paired to my Stryd footpod. This has been my normal daily running setup since April or so, and it’s worked very well, but for some reason on this race, the pod kept disconnecting— my final run showed up as only 10.2 miles. Best guess is that the pod doesn’t gracefully handle the case where my phone and watch are both connected to it. I only take my phone running when I want to take pictures… and I’ll absolutely want to take pictures at the Marine Corps Marathon. In many ways, this race was a dry run for MCM: I tried to use the same gear, nutrition, etc that I plan to use there, thus the test of the new shoes. This particular race prides itself on sustainability, so the race medals are made of reclaimed wood; the shirts are ring-spun bamboo; and so on. there’s nothing available on the course except water (no bananas, gels, sports drink, etc). I ran with a Fitletic bottle belt with 2 extra bottles; the one problem with this belt is that with all 4 bottles on it, the weight of the bottles stretches the belt enough for it to gradually work its way down towards my knees. The solution is to drink from the back bottles first (or just fill them halfway); I’ve already got the length adjusted to its shortest extent. That’s really good to know, since I don’t want to spend 26.2 miles in DC hitching my belt back up where it belongs.

I haven’t said anything really about the run itself so far. It was great. I held a much faster pace than I expected to be able to and ran my second-fastest half marathon time ever: 2:03:14. I took time to take pictures on the course, so that might have shaved another 2 min off my time, but I wasn’t running this for a PR, and I wasn’t wrecked after the race. In fact, I had a great run the next morning before leaving to go to the airport.

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See, I even look happy here despite standing in the rain for an inordinate amount of time.

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The Quadrofam!

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My reward for a good run: a Sunday roast (not shown: the incredible dessert brownie they brought after I cleaned my plate)

Overall, it was a fantastic experience— I loved the crowd energy and can’t wait to carry forward what I learned to the Marine Corps Marathon! I will absolutely be entering the lottery for the 2019 Royal Parks event, too.

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Training Tuesday: time to work on my bike repair skills

Warning: this post contains disturbing images of graphic violence that may not be suitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

This weekend, Dana and I had planned to go for a bike ride on the Arsenal, so I loaded up my bike. First, though, we’d planned to go see Wonder Woman (which I highly recommend– great flick). Because I didn’t want to have my bike stolen by some miscreant, I secured it to the rack with a cable lock.

After we left the theater, I heard a thump and looked out my rear view mirror just in time to see my poor bike departing its slot in the rack, where it was dragged along for 50yds or so by the cable lock until I could safely pull over.

Dana is not amused.

The first thing I noticed was that I’m going to need new handlebars (and bar tape, which I wanted to replace anyway).

Ever wonder what carbon fiber looks like on the inside? Now you know.

The front tire sidewall was abraded enough to ruin the tire, and the corner of the saddle got chewed up pretty badly too. I think I can duct tape this as a temporary fix.

Sad saddle

The retaining strap that I used to secure the wheel to the rack slot was missing. My best guess? Someone wanted to steal the bike, lifted the top clamp, and then gave up when they found the cable lock in place. I didn’t check the rack so I didn’t notice until it was too late. Thankfully the frame and the carbon wheel fairings seem undamaged, although the rear freehub is making a new noise I don’t like. Bar tape is en route from Amazon and mi amigo Lance is giving me a spare set of bars, so hopefully this weekend I can watch enough YouTube videos to learn how to disassemble my brake hoods and shifters, port them to the new bars, and wrap everything.

Meanwhile, I still don’t have a saddle for my tri bike, so I either better get to Bicycle Cove and spend some money or swap out running for riding for the next week or two…

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Training Tuesday: Rocketman 2016 Olympic race report (28-Aug-2016)

The fine folks at reddit’s /r/triathlon have started using the format below for race reports, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Race information

  • What? Rocketman
  • When? August 28, 2016
  • How far? Olympic

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A < 3:15 No
B < 3:30 Yes
C PR bike, swim, or run Yes

BLUF

PR’d the bike and swim. Had a craptastic run. Beat my time on this course but didn’t get the Olympic PR I was hoping for. 3:23 overall.

Race strategy

My first season, I tried to relay this race and DNF’d due to a bike mechanical. Last year I straggled in at 3:30. Earlier this year I PR’d Renaissance Man at 3:17, so my goals were to PR again, or at least beat last year’s time, and to PR at least one of the events.

Pre-race

In the week leading up to the race, I had an unusually tiring business trip– I averaged 12+ hour workdays and had no juice left for training while on the road, so I wasn’t well rested (plus a big “screw you” to the hotel I always stay at for putting me on the noisy I-5-facing side of the hotel this trip). I rented a pair of Reynolds Strike race wheels from the gang at Blevins Bicycle to see how I liked them. Because of travel Thursday and epic thunderstorms Friday, I wasn’t able to ride them until Saturday, when I took them out for a 40-minute ride with Dana. It was supposed to be an easy Z2 cruise but it was more like a mid-Z3, and then to top it off we added a short brick. Probably not a great idea in retrospect, but I didn’t want to go into the race without having ridden the wheels at least once, and I didn’t think the brick would tire me out too much.

Race day prep

I packed everything into my car the night before and went to bed at a reasonable time, after having eaten sensibly and hydrated pretty much nonstop (I probably doubled my normal fluid intake on Friday and Saturday). I’d previously volunteered for body marking, but the RD told me he needed help with parking, so I got up at 0415 to get to Hobbs Island and start directing traffic. That went well, and I had plenty of time to get set up in transition, say hello to my friends, and see the athletes I’d been working with in Fleet Feet’s Tri201 Olympic tri coaching program. It was clear, 78 degrees, and about 80% humidity when I got to the venue before dawn– an omen of how the day’s weather would develop.

Swim

The Tennessee River is warm this time of year– I heard the race morning water temp was 85 degrees, which wouldn’t surprise me. I actually like river swims, so that didn’t bother me.

Because of the swim course layout, the race uses a wave start– you go down a slide (which is covered with carpet, so you don’t slide, you sort of scooch) into the water, assemble near the start mark, and then swim. I purposefully stayed near the back of my wave when getting in the water, both to minimize the amount of time I’d have to tread water at the start and because I didn’t want to get run over by all the faster swimmers behind me.

The first swimmers went into the water about 30min late because, for whatever reason, the buoys weren’t out on time. This was really strange because normally the RD and staff at Rocketman have everything down to a science (this is the 23rd year, after all) and stuff happens promptly when it’s supposed to. Turns out that this delay was important later.

The course is about 500y upstream, then 200y or so cross-current, then the remainder on a long diagonal back to a pier. Partially thanks to the current, I swam a 1:46/100 pace, which for me is stupid fast– but it wasn’t all current; I was working harder on this swim than usual and I felt it when I got out. Unfortunately, because of poor sighting technique, I swam an extra 400y, so my swim time was 35:xx. That was a PR, though, so I’ll take it.

A quick jog into T1 and I was out again on the bike in 2:xx. For this race, I wore a tri top into the water instead of putting on a bike jersey. Thanks to Dana for suggesting that– between that and the tri bucket she suggested I use, my transition in this race was half what it was at RenMan.

Bike

First: I committed what should be a USAT foul when exiting: I started my bike computer but forgot to hit the lap button on my watch, so now Garmin shows my t1 as having an average speed of 16.x mph. Oh well. You may remember I did the same thing at RenMan. Maybe next race I’ll remember.

The bike course is fairly flat L-shaped out-and-back, with a few rollers, but it’s all two-lane and mostly on a busy segment which isn’t closed for the race. At various points I got stuck behind a landscape truck, nearly wiped out by an asshole in an SUV (right in front of a parked sheriff’s deputy, who ran out into the road yelling, pulled the guy over, and ticketed him– thanks, MCSO!), and saw one each dead possum, skunk, and armadillo. The outbound leg on the long part of the L had a quartering headwind, which was fine; I was able to stay in aero most of the time, though I did have a few scary swerves when wind caught my wheels. I finished in 1:27, which was a PR, so yay me. As usual, when I was looking at my times after the race I thought “dang, I should have pushed harder on the bike.”

The run

I thought this was the worst 10K I’ve ever run (I was wrong, but more on that later). The run course is flat and has some shade, but not much: you run out and back along the river for about 2mi total (with an aid station at about 0.5/1.5mi), then take a shadeless leg through the marina, then onto a local greenway for the remaining distance. I couldn’t sustain any kind of run pace; it was more of a shamble, with frequent walk breaks. My arms and hands were tingling by about mile 3, and I was barely sweating, so I slowed way down and tried to drink as much as I could, knowing that there was no way I was going to PR the run or the race. Selah. I saw lots of other tough athletes suffering on the course, too, including many locals who I know are acclimated to typical temperatures– but thanks in part to the late start, it was 95 degrees when I crossed the finish line, and God only knows what the heat index was. Not a great time. (Turns out I was still faster than my time last year but it didn’t feel like it!)

The first aid station had cold towels, which felt awesome, but sadly most of the other aid stations had room-temperature water and Gatorade. I had brought a Headsweats visor, but sort of wished I had a hat. And some ice. And cooling sleeves, like my coach suggested. Some more sunscreen would have been nice too.

Post-race

The post-race expo at Rocketman is always fun, and I enjoyed catching up with my friends who’d raced. This year, the Renaissance Man and Rocketman RDs offered a challenge: complete both races and get a custom transition towel (I’ll try to post a picture later). Along with the excellent Rocketman visor and shirt, this completed my swag haul since I certainly didn’t podium. I visited for a while, then headed home for some Advil and a nap.

I can’t wait for next year! PR, here I come. Thanks to RD Mike Gerrity and his wife Debbie for their many years of making Rocketman such a great race for athletes!

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Training Tuesday: get knighted or die tryin’

I have become a big fan of the cycling training videos from The Sufferfest. They provide high-intensity workouts with a nifty backstory: you are a citizen of the nation of Sufferlandria, a cycling-obsessed country with a completely unique culture. The videos present various entertaining scenarios, such as riding high-power intervals for an hour and forty minutes or trying out for the Giant-Shimano cycling team. The videos are well-produced, feature great music, and are damn challenging.

One feature of Sufferlandrian culture is their titled nobility: Knights of Sufferlandria earn that title by completing 10 of the videos, back to back with no more than a 10-minute break in between. This totals out to between 10 and 13 hours of riding, depending on which videos you choose. There are some other rules, explained at the link above, but the bottom line is that you have to Suffer, ideally while raising money for charity, in order to earn the coveted title. Only about 600 people worldwide have done so… so naturally, when Alex Viada suggested that we do a group Knighthood attempt at CHP, I was all over it.

On Saturday, March 19, I will undertake to earn my Knighthood (along with Alex, Kelly, my lifting buds Derek and Rafe, and about a dozen coaches and athletes). Our team is spread all over the US and UK, and we’ll all be riding at the same time. As a team, we chose two charities: Oxfam and Puppies Behind Bars. “Who?” you ask. Here’s what PBB does:

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. Puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring the love and healing of dogs to hundreds of individuals every year. The dogs bring hope and pride to their raisers, and independence and security to those they serve.

I am excited by this opportunity and look forward to Suffering for a good cause. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a live stream put together, too. I invite you to consider donating– 100% of the proceeds are going 50/50 to our two target charities.

For more details on the event, and to donate, please visit this page.

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Training Tuesday: Rocketman Olympic Triathlon (23 August)

This time, it was personal.

See, last year, I signed up for the bike leg of Rocketman and failed to complete it when my bike broke. Then this year, I lost my Olympic virginity at Renaissance Man with a disappointing time. I was highly motivated to finish this year’s Rocketman well… so I did.

Pre-race and setup

Rocketman is legendary for being well-organized, so I expected all the race logistics stuff to go smoothly, and it did. This was the first year on a new course, after many years of doing the race at Redstone Arsenal, but the race director did a great job of posting the course maps early, marking the course, and generally communicating what the changes would be. Matt and I went to Fleet Feet on Saturday, grabbed my race number and swag bag, and then headed home so I could pack.

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That looks like a lot of stuff, and it is. At the bottom, you can see my race number (attached to my Fitletic race belt), watch and heart rate monitor, and Garmin bike camera. My ancient iPhone is running the Wahoo Fitness app so I can watch my heart rate, cadence, and power on the bike; then there are two pairs of (large) shoes, my helmet and swim cap, and 3 water bottles. Not shown: all the stuff I normally take to eat and drink during the race. (Hint: it wasn’t shown for a good reason!)

I packed my bag, loaded the bike on the car, and went to bed. When I woke up, a scant 5 hours later, it wasn’t because my alarm went off. It was because the cat was burrowing under the covers because of the thunderstorm outside. Not a good sign.

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I was a little apprehensive about the weather when I went to bed, with good reason. The picture above shows the radar picture as I was loading the car; what it doesn’t show is that the line of storms was moving directly towards the race site. I loaded up and headed out to the race site in heavy rain, not a little wind, and occasional lightning– and it was getting worse the closer I got to Ditto Landing. Luckily, by the time I got there, it was only raining, but the damage had been done (at least to the parking area, which was thoroughly inundated and had turned into a swampy, muddy mess).

While driving, I had my usual shake (50g Karbolyn + a scoop of vanilla protein), at which point I realized that I didn’t pack all the nutrition stuff I meant to bring. Alas. I had mixed up a batch of Mercury and then frozen it in my run and bike bottles, but didn’t bring any gels, waffles, or (my current favorite) Uncrustables.

Setup

I picked up my timing chip and got my body marked, then learned that there was a 30-minute delay. This gave me enough time to brave the bathroom line and get everything set up in transition. Because it was overcast, I decided to leave my sunglasses in my transition bag, but stupidly put my eyeglasses in there too. They chased us out of transition and over to the swim start, where two long ramps (probably 25′ or so) were set up to get us into the water. This was a great alternative to picking our way down the rocks on the shore or jumping feet-first off the nearby dock (also about 20-25′ above the water), the other two choices. The race organizers thoughtfully put carpet down on the ramps to make them less slippery. Then… it was time to wait, and wait, and WAIT because I was in swim wave 6. Luckily there were plenty of familiar faces around, including friends from both last year’s Tri101 and this year’s Tri201. One of my favorite things about triathlons is the huge and welcoming tri community in Huntsville, so I always enjoy seeing my posse at local events.

Swim

The swim was just OK. I got down the slide with no trouble, then waited near the start line for a wave start. The water was warmer than I expected (and warmer than the air!), which was nice. I didn’t especially like having to tread water while waiting for the start, though, as I worried that it would tire me– I need to work on more efficient treading. The swim itself went pretty much just like the RenMan swim did; I maintained a steady pace, didn’t swim exactly a straight line, and finished with 1646 yards (on a 1500m course, that means I swam about an extra 6 yards– not too bad) in a little over 41 minutes. This was a bit disappointing since I had been breaking the 2:00/100y pace barrier in the pool. However, I finished the swim with plenty of energy, which is always a plus. I feel like I could do the half-Ironman swim distance at this same pace and still be capable of continuing the race.

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Bike

It had stopped raining before the swim start, but I knew the roads would be wet so I had planned to be conservative on the bike. I got a good start out of T1 (despite having to go grab my eyeglasses out of my transition bag); I had a dose of Chocolate Outrage (that’s a Gu flavor, not a philosophy), saddled up, and rode out. At the halfway point, I was just under my PR time for the 40K distance, so I figured I would come in close to a PR time.. but either the ride was longer than I thought, my math skills are poor, or I inadvertently lessened my effort because I was still about 10 minutes over that time. I finished the bike in 1:38, which kinda sucks. I know I can do better than this. Speeding up my ride is going to be my primary focus going into my next race, I think.

T2 went quickly. I couldn’t find my second Gu, and I didn’t have anything else to eat, so I just swapped out my shoes, put on my 2014 Rocketman visor, and hit the run.

Run

The run was my big success for this race. I ran the 10K course in about 1:01, which is (it’s true) 5 min off my PR for a standalone 10K but almost a 9-minute improvement over my Ren Man time. The cool weather definitely helped; we had a bit of drizzle on the outbound leg, which was a nice addition. The course was flat and fast, although by about mile 4 my legs were pretty tired. On the last half-mile or so I went as fast as I could, so my finish line crossing was more of a shamble.

Post-race
The post-race setup was decent and pretty standard for races in Huntsville: free pizza, fruit, and a welcome tent set up by Fleet Feet for the Tri201 program participants. However, I have a major gripe: race entrants were promised two free Rocket Republic beers, and by the time I finished there was no more beer. After motivating myself with the thought of a tasty brew at the finish, this was a major disappointment. I did, however, get one of the coveted finisher glasses, plus a nice glass from the Tri201 coaches.

Summary
One of the things I most enjoyed about this race is that the announcer stayed on station and called out the name of every finisher. Hearing “Paul Robichaux…. from Madison, Alabama… YOU. ARE. A. ROCKETMAN!” was pretty thrilling. My gun time was 3:30:09, so nearly 10min better than Renaissance Man but still a good ways off from my goal time. Still, it’s only my second Olympic-distance race so I have a lot of potential for improvement.

 

https://connect.garmin.com/activity/embed/875236231

Onward!

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