Sunday, November 29, 2015

RACE REPORT: Battlefrog Atlanta II 8K

SO… the flight delay from Toronto had me stuck in Atlanta overnight, which meant that I would not get home in time to drive back to Atlanta for the race.  My plan was to land at midnight, and start driving at 2 am back towards Atlanta.  The delay would make this impossible. . But… if I could figure out a way to race with the stuff I happened to have with me, I could get a later flight, rent a car for the day, and stick around in Atlanta, which is what I did.  Hey – it saved me about 5 hours of driving, which was pretty awesome.  The part of my race kit that I’d miss the most was my OCR shoes (Reebok Spartan Super All-Terrains), but I’d do my best in my Saucony Kinvara 4’s, which are not low-to-the-ground and don’t have a lot of tread.  With clothes, I wouldn’t have my arm protectors, but I’d manage.  Fortunately, I always have plenty of exercise clothes with me.  Spartans are resourceful!  It would be a crazy adventure trying to wing this race.  I would’ve hated to miss the volunteering opportunity that I had that morning, as much as I’d miss the race. 

I had a voucher from the airline to stay at a hotel, but with a 1 hr drive to the race venue and a 5am volunteer start time, I’d only have a couple of hours, anyway, and taking transit back and forth to/from the hotel would be an unpredictable time sink, and I’d be getting a couple hours of sleep, at most.  Better just to drive to the venue and catch a couple of hours in the back seat of my car.  It was raining during the drive there… glad I didn’t have to do this drive with the day’s racing traffic.  Because the original parking spots were supposed to be in the fields, and the rain made driving on the fields a mud pit of impossibility, the race organizers found offsite parking locations and arranged shuttle buses.  I applaud their quick thinking. 

I took the bus to a shelter, where they signed in the volunteers and gave out positions.  I was a course marshall for the “balance beam” logs on the wreck bag loop.  During BFX earlier this year, the 50-lb wreck bags were the most challenging obstacle for me, by far, and I had to do it 4x!  I couldn’t imagine getting up on the log, then maintaining a stable position while crossing the log with that thing on my back.  With all of the rain overnight and through the first part of the morning, the area that I was manning was a muddy mess.  My toes would be soaked in my shoes all day. 

The elite racers started, and they should’ve arranged for more than 3 logs, since a huge backlog (ha – log) developed, since this was within the first half-mile or so of the race.  Some were understandably frustrated.  This kind of repeated with each wave through the morning.  It’s always fun to volunteer at these races, though.  You see racers bravely push themselves, and the ones who have to struggle through it are the most inspiring.

 (That's me in the background, in the orange vest)

At about noon, the shift was over, and it was time for me to race.  I got geared up, then went to the start.  I had officially registered (vs. volunteer wave) for the 12:30 race, but there was no official 12:30 starting sendoff!  It was odd.  I guess not enough people signed up for it.  A couple others were in the same boat, and rather than waiting for the 1pm volunteer heat start (assuming there was a real start), we decided to go ahead.  I was especially eager to go ahead, to 1) maximize the time I had to get back to the airport to fly home, and 2) to minimize traffic jams on the obstacles.  I struggled over the pre-start wall (but made it J ), and our little band was off.

The wreck bags were first… tolerable this time, compared to at BFX.  I wonder if I’m stronger, or if it’s the fact that I was only doing 1 lap, instead of 4.  The balance beam was manageable.  The wall was also doable, after some of the usual struggling to get it back on me.  I had cheered some racers on, on the return trip to the wreck bag drop-off previously, saying “almost there”.  Being ¾ of the way myself, I could see how I was not “almost there”, and with the second half having the bags get harder to carry, it was like someone saying “almost there” to someone at the 20 mile point of the marathon, haha.  Well, at least we had the end to look forward to.

Next,  12’ ladder wall, jerry can (crushed it), 8’ wall fail, rope climb easy, spider web kind of a joke, ramp wall fail especially because it was at the top of an uphill slope, high knee cargo net, Normandy jacks, inverted wall, delta ladder, cargo bridge, platinum rig (got 37% of the way through – tons of fun, even though I failed), swim, tip fo the spear, over/under, mounds of grounds, 12’ rope wall fail, river crossing, mud trench, 60 degree inverted ladder, platinum rig #2 (maybe 40% of the way through, with the coaching of a nice French-speaking volunteer who I struggled to speak French with), ramp wall.  I love the Battlefrog 
obstacles (other than the sternum checker)!  


There was a media guy from the OCR community who was there filming, and he caught me at the 60 degree ladder and the finish.  He was really nice, and has great videos.  I appear towards the end.


Showered off as best as I could, changed, then there was a bit of time left for Geocaching!  I was about 5 miles from the Alabama border (I can’t imaging driving myself here all the way from SC – I’m thankful for the flight delay!), so I found a quick cache there, just to get the virtual souvenir for Alabama.  I also found another cache, in Georgia, that had lots of signature cards… like trading cards, where Geocachers have stats about their geocaching adventures, with their picture.  Pretty cool.  Drove back to the airport, then flew home.  A wild trip.

The official results, and only some of the pictures have been posted so far, but it took me about 2 hours to finish the 5 miles.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Canadian Caching (Nov 1-6)

Sunday, headed out to Canada.  I did most of the stuff that I wanted to do in downtown Toronto and Niagara Falls in previous trips, so this time, I figured that I’d spend the travel day looking for good geocaches.  Early in my caching life (although I’m still a baby, at just 5 months), it was all about the numbers.  Now, with 220+ finds, it’s about the ratings (called “favorite points”, which are awarded by premium member geocachers).   I’m also interested in finding unique kinds of caches, like more Letterboxes (after finally getting my first last month), and a true “Night Cache”, in which glowing or reflective marks are used to direct hunters to the cache.  I found both on this trip!  I like to find cool SWAG and trackables to carry on to their next adventure, too.  Check, and check.  And I ended up finally stumbling across and going after a First-to-Find (the race to first one to find a cache after it’s initially placed/born/published on, on my last night in town.

Sunday, I first hit a Travel Bug Hotel next to a Hilton Hotel, where I had uncovered a whole bunch of travel bugs on a previous trip.  I dropped off two there, knowing that that airport location would be a prime spring board for future travels for the two guys that I’ve been carrying.  I picked up one, too, which happened to be a beer bottle opener – awesome!  Beer and geocaching, two of my hobbies, having a baby.

Next, I went after a cache deep in a mini-forest, which previous finders said had amazing SWAG, and an incredible cache size.  I’m typically averse to bushwacking, since I started caching in the summer, and that always meant poison ivy, bugs, mosquitos, and more mosquitos.  It was cool here.  I had to go through some thick and tall brush, but at least there were no bugs.  I did see a snake, though!  It was small and thing but over a foot long.  I’m surprised that I didn’t freak out… I must’ve been super-focused on finding the cache.  I came across two apple trees, too, whose fruit was on the ground.  I ended up picking up one that just fell from the tree as I was watching, since it was in pretty good shape despite the fall (unlike the rotten ones on the ground that had been there for a while), and ended up eating it later – how’s that for a caching bonus?  It’s challenging to cache without a caching GPS or iPhone network.  I had to use the iPhone’s internal GPS, which takes a while to hone in on your location, but it’s usually workable, after a while.  I used my spidey senses and found it!  It was in the middle of a mini-forest, so I was kind of amazed.  

When I opened the cache, it had a first aid kit meant to stay with the cache.  I guess with all the brush that finders had to go through, it would be handy.  There was even a bowling ball in that cache – random!  There were lots of happy meal kids toys, too, which I loved, plus Garmin accessories.  Awesome SWAG.  I had recently created my own set of “signature items”, which are handmade products with your caching user Id that you can leave for others to find and collect.  I’ve found various creative ones from others, and I was inspired to create and leave my own… Mine happens to be a painted beer bottle cap with a runner stick figure.  On my way out, it was more apparent which direction other finders had come from in the past, although there was still a good bit of bushwacking needed.  Victory!  Biggest cache I’ve ever seen – larger than a carry-on!  

Next, I found a whole series of Letterboxes, all with hand-made stamps!  Letterbox Jackpot!  Usually, Letterboxes are crazy-rare, so to have 4 within a 1KM stretch of road was crazy (I only found 3/4).

After that, I went to a raw vegan restaurant, which had a pizza and a black forest cake – both were nice.  Traffic was crazy getting there, though.  By the time I finished with dinner, it was time to go after the designated Night Cache + Letterbox hybrid.  The cache owner had recently maintained the reflective markers, so I knew that the trail would be in good shape.  It was a cool night, on Nov 1st, the day after Halloween.  I was out in the dark alone, with a headlamp and LED handheld, and my iPhone with the story and instructions in hand.  The instructions on where to go were blended within a creative story about an owl and following fireflies.  It was a pretty awesome experience.   

Followed the fireflies for about a mile in the dark wooded trail, and found the cache.  The cache was a Letterbox, so it had a cache stamp that you could stamp into your personal notebook to add to your collection of Letterbox stamps.  I don’t  have my own stamp yet, but I drew my stick figure runner.  After that, drove into the town where I work while in Canada.  

I found a couple of caches during the week, one that wasn’t too hard because I had seen similar ones before, and one creative one that I accidentally messed up (and am trying to get fixed, with the cache owner).  I also failed to find one that I’ve attempted like 4 times before.  I may have one more trip / chance in the future to try it, but it’s eluded me so far.  Supposedly, a tool is necessary.

Wednesday, Nov 4:
I had taken three days off of running.  I had just raced a half marathon hard, and I was typically not in the mood to exercise in the evenings, with standing up all day while giving training probably factoring in.  I did finally get out on Wednesday night, though, at 10pm, after lots of coaxing of my body.  5.0 in 42:00, 8:24 average, 2 degrees of incline = 8:03 effort.  I had gotten a chance to sit at work on this day, which might’ve helped.  

Thursday, Nov 5:
Went out for dinner at a brewery in downtown London with my trainees.  Nice way to celebrate the end of the week.

Recumbent bike, 60 minutes.  Legs weren’t in the mood to run in the morning, or at night.  Since there’s no bike in my apartment complex’s fitness room, I like to take advantage of opportunities to bike, anyway, so it suited me just fine.

That night, I was still a bit wired (I had been biking from 11pm-midnight, but that’s not too out of the ordinary for me, anyway), and I was flipping through geocaches in the area, just to see if anything popped out, and I ran across a newly placed cache!!!  Premium members who pay are able to set up alerts, and they typically race to caches as soon as they’re placed, and as a basic free member, I figured that I’d never get to go after a FTF unless I got super super super lucky.  Well, today was my lucky day!  I was surprised that nobody had found it yet.  Sometimes, this happens if the cache is hard, but the difficulty rating wasn’t bad, and the cache description didn’t mention anything in particular, so hey – this was my chance!  It was 1:30am, but I couldn’t pass it up.  I raced to assemble my caching kit.  Once I stepped out of the hotel, though, it was raining and chilly.  It had been beautiful all week in London, ON, but the weather had finally turned.  No turning back for me, though!    I had an awesome caching vehicle with me this week – an Xterra, which is so cool and so me (other than the large size).  I went out, found a decent place to park, and started into the darkness with my light.  The rain was coming down, but I had my heavy Spartan Trifecta jacket.  I found a trail to follow through the grass.  The cache was at a large pond, close to a subdivision and school.  As I walked towards the cache, geese made a bunch of noise, which startled me a bit until I startled them away.  Followed my iPhone’s internal GPS towards the point.  Rocks were slippery, and it was raining, and the rocky promontory was maybe not the safest place to be caching at night, but I am careful.  There were slugs in the grass, which was kind of gross.  My only hint was that it was a “micro” size.  I was hoping that it would be easy, on the rail, but it was not.  First, I saw an odd trash grabber nestled between two rocks.  Sometimes, cache owners place “tools of the trade” at their cache, which you have to figure out how to use.  Next to it were two live gross, decent-sized slimy-looking frogs.  Each time I saw them when my light beam hit them, I’d jump psychologically (wouldn’t have been safe to jump physically, given the rocky ledge).   I looked between the rocks.  This was a hard cache, since there were different elevations at which the cache could’ve been hidden, and it was micro-sized!  Tried pulling at a couple of things.  The coordinates were pointing to a particular spot, which at least on the outside didn’t seem to have the cache…  it was a massive table-sized sewer pipe, which was especially loud since it was raining that night and was more active than usual.  Could it be?  I went down, then shimmied my upper body over the ledge, to look in it.  Bingo!  Thankfully, it wasn’t super deep in there.   I think it was partially the decoy “tool of the trade” (I call it decoy because it wasn’t necessary) that made me think to look in there, since if it was inside, you’d need something like the trash grabber to get at it.  I got it, and found the gloriously blank log, which I got to sign in the official “first to find / date / time” section.  Took pictures to commemorate it.  Victory!  Wow, couldn’t believe it.  So happy.

Friday, flight from Toronto got delayed.  I’d stay overnight in Atlanta, which suited me ok, since I had to be in Atlanta that day, anyway.  Ah, the weekend… nice to have this to de-stress, with all that’s going on.  

Had Poutine (the pulled pork variation! - love pulled pork) finally, plus a beer from Vancouver, with the airport's ipad ordering service.  Poutine is a Montreal dish made of fries, gravy, and cheese curds, traditionally.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Not an A-race, since my focus is on the California International Marathon in early December, but this was a good check on fitness, a distance close enough to the 16er that I was supposed to do that weekend, and a great hometown half.

Training Lead-up:

Tuesday, Oct 13:
Up in Charlotte for work.  Did 5.0 in 40:45, 8:09 average, at 2 degrees = 7:50 effort after a dinner of Nashville Hot Chicken with awesome garlic and herb tater tots and a beer flight.  The little gym room felt really hot.  My legs were fresh, although my body was probably using up energy with digesting, because my upper body was not super energetic.

Wednesday, Oct 14:
Drove back to Greenville.  My dad had dropped off his car at the airport, so I was going to pick it up.  Night time was best, since there would be less traffic to deal with on the shoulder-less roads, and by picking it up this night, I could save another $4/day of parking fees.  I ran 3.5 in 32:09, 9:09 average there, and that included not stopping my watch while I stopped to let cars go safely by me.  I wore tons of reflectors and lights all over me.  And epic run.  Felt mostly uphill.  Pushed the pace a bit, since I wanted to limit my time on the road, and because it was going to be pretty short overall, anyway.  The road was bumpy only in a couple of parts.  The rest of the time, it was smooth.  Cars weren’t too bad.  A 10pm run.  The goal for this run, which I recorded in my paper running log, was to not die by car.

Friday, Oct 16:
55 min body weight strength session, at 2am (I had slept from 8pm to midnight)

Over the weekend, did some geocaching, and I found my first Letterbox Geocache, which is a cache that contains a stamp that you get to stamp in your notepad.

Also painted a picture (acryllic), based on a photo that I took in Yellowstone, the night of the Supermoon, when we happened to run across some elk.

Sunday, Oct 18:
Long run of 16.3 in 2:34:36, 9:27 ave, at the park.  It was late at 11am, so I wore my long sleeve tech tee mostly for sun protection, although a bit to ward off cold, too.  This was after breakfast and snacks.  I felt tired beforehand because of a lack of rest, since my sleep schedule has been off with the naps.  The idea was to just go slowly, and listen to fun podcasts.  It ended up being better than expected, though my legs were pushing it in the last 6 miles, although it wasn’t a death march.  Tempo-y, maybe.  No food or water necessary, although I did crave apples towards the end.  Stretching and foam rolling felt so good afterwards.

Tuesday, Oct 20:
At first, I would’ve considered any run at all a victory, but my legs started being in the mood for speedwork as I walked to the fitness room.  I ended up with 5.0 of intervals in 37:19, 7:28 average, at 1 degree of incline.  After half a mile or so, the treadmill suddenly stopped after losing power.  My body absorbed the sudden shock, but that’s not safe!  It’s the second time that particular treadmill has done that to me.  I switched treadmills and re-started and began the distance counter back at 0… I guess at least my legs got a warm-up. 
The workout: 1 mile warmup (on top of whatever I did on the first treadmill) in 7:58, 3x [0.5 mi in 3:20 (9mph), 0.25 mi in 1:59 (7.5mph)], 0.75 mi recovery in 6:08, then 1 x [0.5 mi in 3:20, 0.25 mi in 1:59], then 0.25 mi in 1:51.
Couldn’t believe the run was so difficult, and that I needed to take that extra 0.75 mi recovery before doing the fourth rep.  I did feel like I had to slap myself awake during the first mile, because I was so tired.  I was oddly thirsty, too, so I drank during the 7.5mph sections.  The gym keeps the temps at 72 degrees in the winter, which is hotter than the 70 degrees that they set in the summer.  Boo heat.
My legs were in no mood to run for the next couple of days, as they needed to recover. 

Friday, Oct 23:
55 min strength session.  My legs were still not good enough for a run, and I had rather save them for the next day’s 20 miler, which would be my second out of three, for this marathon training cycle. 

Saturday, Oct 24:
With the half marathon the following weekend, I didn’t want to do anything crazy and push the pace… just keep it slow and easy.  Morning run, after a breakfast of some lentils and onion stew with fat free cheese, garlic, and black pepper… one of the few “dishes” that I cook.  20.0 in 3:14:20, 9:43 average.  Went well.  Did about 25 x 0.75 mile laps around the park… yikes!

The next day, went back out to Charlotte, this time with my mom, who was visiting.  Along the way, we stopped by a few geocaches…  two sections of the Berlin Wall transported from Germany and erected at a German company’s campus, a rest stop where I picked up a travel bug, and a giant peach-shaped water tank.  That made it a fun drive up. 

Could’ve maybe exercised that night, but wasn’t really in the mood after dinner... not even in the mood for biking.  I figured that I’d do it Monday morning, instead. 

Monday, Oct 26:
I did make it out to the gym at 6am, although that was an hour later than originally planned, because my feet weren’t initially in the mood and were creaky, so I snoozed for a while to see if they would wake up.  The biggest impetus for getting up and out was that I knew I’d feel sluggish all day at work after eating out and having popcorn last night, if I didn’t get this in.  After a while, I felt good enough to try biking, but when I got there, I felt ok enough to try running.  Putting on my compression socks really helped, I think.  I did have to stop after 3 miles to re-tie a shoelace, but other than that, 5.0 in 42:23, 8:29 average at 2 degrees of incline = 8:08 effort.  Hot in there, but at least I got in the run.  I had probably only gotten 4:30 hrs of sleep last night.

Wednesday, Oct 28:
Last run before the half marathon, so nothing too crazy.   5.0 in 42:26, 8:29 average, 3 degrees of incline = 7:49 effort.  During the first two miles, my tummy still felt full from dinner and was digesting, so I was forced to keep it slow, which was good for my legs’ sake, anyway.  Didn’t feel too hard, other than overcoming the tummy fullness, since I had kept it wasy.

Visited Charlotte again.

It’s so nice to have a decently sized HM so close to home.  This was my third time doing it, so I knew where to park, and where to go.  I liked the touch of the trolley ride from the parking lot.  It saves a bit of walking, but I also liked that it kept me warm, and it’s fun – it feels like a big-time race.  I had my pre-race supplements, and I nursed a regular coffee (provided by Spinx at the race) while waiting for the start time.  It was great to be able to use the Ballpark’s bathrooms, too, instead of porta-potties.  They had space heaters out, which was great, too, although it was warm enough in the inner part of the concourse.  When it was 5 minutes till the full marathon’s start, I checked in my bag (great to have this service) and went out to watch the marathoners start.  I pitied them, haha, knowing they had 26.2 miles ahead of them, when I only had 13.1.  I thought they were crazy.  Yet, I’ll be doing the same in a month… it’s a bit different when a race is just a full vs. a runfest of various distances. 

There wasn’t much lag time before the HM start, which was nice… a little more than 5 minutes, then we were off.  I had a sports bra, compression socks, and arm sleeves for a good blend of warmth and coolness.  My lower legs were numb from cold for the first couple of miles, though, especially my feet.  I couldn’t feel it, but the fact that I couldn’t control my feet meant that they must’ve been taking a bunch joint shock with each hard stride.  I figured that it was a big dose of eccentric loading plus joint stress, which I’d feel later, if not post-race, then later in the race when my feet re-gained feeling.  At around mile 3, I felt my legs fully, and they had started to get tired.  That’s not unusual, so I wasn’t too worried.  And I was able to start counting down from 9.X miles left to go.  

The course went through random parts of downtown, including a small bit on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, but much of it was circling around various roads in Cleveland Park.  I wonder why the course was designed this way… fewer cars to contend with?  Cheaper to have fewer road closures?  Ease of spectating?  Anyway, the impact was that there were two lanes at certain points, based on whether this was your first or second time through the park, and you had to get a wristband after completing your first trip through.  The park has hills, so the course was hilly.  It was nice to “earn” the wristband after the first pass through, though, and that gave me a boost.  I had a half a gel at mile 6, and the rest at mile 10.  Oddly, they had no Gatorade this year, and even the water stops weren’t as frequent as what I remember them being in the past.  Not a big issue, since I’ve been able to train myself to go 18.5 miles without food or water, but it’s odd.  

This race was all about running on tired legs.  I went by feel, for my pacing strategy, which meant PR speeds (by 0:05/mi) early on.  I felt like it could be possible.  I did fade a bit in the second half, and ended up getting passed by a few people.  Normally, I’m the one doing the passing.  It was good to practice pushing on even with tired legs, though, since that’s the feeling I’ll get during the last 6 miles of the marathon (times two, pain-wise).  I kept it up for the most part and didn’t blow up, so it was ok.  

Finished 13.1 in 1:36:46, 7:23 ave, third in my age group.  Probably 0:46 off my PR.  Not bad, given the hills and the previous weekend’s 20er.  Perfect weather.  Could’ve done better if my feet were warmer, I suppose, and if I hadn’t roughed up my legs so much in the early miles.  Nice, sleek medal, though.  Oh, the shirts this year were advertised as “we’re bringing back the dark blue, with the white panels”, but they failed to mention that this was only for the mens’ shirts, and that the women were going to get pink.  Maybe I can give it to someone else who likes pink.  The thumb loops are nice, feature-wise, though.  Good race, as usual.  Great post-race food.  Great atmosphere.  No real “swag” in the Swag bag.