Sunday, March 27, 2016

RACE REPORT: Inaugural New South Half Marathon at the US National Whitewater Center 2016

I was really looking forward to this race.  It would be my first in Charlotte, and it would be at a cool place.  The US National Whitewater Center has an extensive trail system, on the outskirts of the city, and it's a great place for all kinds of adventures: SUP, whitewater rafting, ropes courses, zip lines, obstacle courses, kayaking, mountain biking, trail running, food, outdoor gear shopping, live music, and craft beer.

Goals and Expectations:
- I've been running about once or twice per week so far this year, due to a busy work schedule and travel.  That won't get you any good performances, but I do have some endurance left over from last season.
- Since this was my first race in Charlotte, I didn't know what the level of competition would be.  In general, larger cities would have more competition.  Especially in a place like the USNWC, there ended up being a lot of dedicated athletes of all levels. 
- This race is part of a 5-race Half Marathon series, where you are scored for your three best races, based on your placement.  The top person gets 15 points, second gets 14, etc, down to 1 for the 15th place finisher for the Mens' and Womens' sides.  I wanted to do well here, to set the stage for a chance at a series prize.

There was a Marathon option for this race.  Marathon options at smaller races tend to only cost a tiny bit more than the Half, but taking on a Marathon is no small feat, and it wasn't counted towards the series points.  The Marathoners started one hour before the Halfers.  There were about 85 brave people who set out that morning.

Packet pickup was quick and easy.  They offered a finisher's gift choice of either a logo towel, or a logo buff.  Both were very nice, and in addition to a 50/50 poly blend t-shirt.  I chose the towel, since I have an arsenal of buffs (which I love to use during the winter, for warmth) already, and I'm low on towels. 

I did some dynamic stretching, topped off on some carbs.  I had eaten a bunch of carbs and fats the previous day.  Not sure if it was my body intuitively wanting to get ready for the Half, or if it was because it was craving those foods after two weeks in Japan.

The Race:
The race start was split into 4 waves.  I'm guessing that awards were based on net time, but it was good to spread out the crowd, since a lot of the course was held on single track trails.  We began with a lap around the main Whitewater venue.  On road races, I usually start with the gas pedal on, and I keep it on the whole time.  I started at about HM road race pace, with some slowdown on the uphill part of that lap.  I was sitting at around 5th, after that loop.  We hit the trails, and I kept that kind of effort up, although my speed naturally slowed.

With trail races on single track, I always wonder about strategy.  It may be better to go out a bit fast, to get a good position on the single track, but then you risk over-expending yourself early on.  So, I was feeling good about my approach, at first.  As we wound through the trails, I started getting passed, though.  This was around mile 3.

The first water station came at around 3.8, and I was glad to have it.  We started running through a section of trails that I had practiced on, once before - East Main.  There was lots of winding around, and some of the hills were a bit more serious.  At around this time, a thought came into my mind (which I had also thought during the Spartan Sprint in Atlanta), that this was probably going to be more of an expensive workout than a race, for me.  I wasn't going to do very well, but it was a good excuse to push myself and hopefully get back into shape.  This was about pushing through and trying my best.  Got passed by some more people.  This was at about mile 6.  There was another water station.

I got passed by more people again, as we entered the last section of the race, where we went through pine forests. It was pretty, but we were all struggling together.  The same 3-or-so of us would take turns passing each other.  I walked up the hills, and I did a bit better on the downhills.  At the beginning of the race, I'm always sizing up the competition.  During the race, though, everyone is so encouraging to one another.  Road Races are about me vs. the clock, me vs. myself.  In trail races, it's us vs. the terrain, particularly in the later stages when everyone's tired. 

I knew I'd be able to finish, even if it was slowly, just slogging through.  Cold Powerade tastes so good during races, even though I'd never drink it in normal life.  There were quite a few hills in this section, although there were some good flat stretches, too.  I was breathing really hard, groaning with each step at the effort.  Everyone in a quarter mile radius could probably hear me.  At the 10 mile marker, I was so happy to see it.  I almost went to kiss the sign, before I saw that it looked wet with sweat, since other people had probably decided to high-five it.  I pushed the effort up a bit in the last mile, and especially the last 1/3 mile.

Happy to finish, and to have a good selection of food (oranges, bananas, quinoa and butternut squash wraps, ketlle-cooked chips, cookies) at the end.  I met some new friends.  I was surprised to get a 3rd place age group award.  They also had a game that was like an Easter Egg Hunt (a NoDa brewery t-shirt hunt), where you got to win the shirt and a beer.  My mom says that my Geocaching skills helped me, haha.  I stayed around for a while, watching and cheering on the Half and Full finishers, stretching, drinking the beer, and watching Whitewater rafters and kayakers.

My legs were pretty trashed, afterwards, because of the effort, and I guess because of the hills and the eccentric contractions.  13.1 in 2:22:48, 10:54 average.  The winning woman finished in 2:06:38.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jen in Japan

After the Spartan Sprint and Hurricane Heat, my next chance to exercise was in Tokyo!

Sunday, Mar 13:
I arrived on Saturday, not having slept all that well on the plane.  It's hard to get comfortable.  I got up at 6am to do 3 laps around the Imperial Palace the next morning, though.  It was cloudy, which is great.  You can't get into the grounds, just like you can't walk up to the White House, but they make the sidewalk loop around the palace very runner-friendly.  It's all pavement and stone, but I'm running so infrequently these days, that my body won't mind the hard surface for one run.  I had signed up for a half marathon, which was 2 weeks away, so I couldn't slack too much.  The runners who were out there that morning were pretty decent.  Japan has great depth in fast runners... maybe not world record-holding, but right below that, there are countless very fast runners.  12.8 mi in 1:50:17, 8:37 average.

After the run, I went to Asakusa, for 1) a special geocache, 2) a great market for souveniers, 3) a temple, 4) lunch at a place with live traditional music.

(How's that for the location of a geocache?!?)

 (The marketplace of souveniers)

(Sweet Sake with peanut butter powder-covered Rice flour balls)


 (Monkey doing tricks)


You don't normally see Ninja Star carnival games...

After Asukosa, I went to the Sky Tree, the tower shown below.  I didn't ride up, but I explored the vast shopping mall.

They had one shop that specialized in creating candy figurines, like what I saw at Epcot when I was a kid.  They looked like glass and were finely painted.  

 They had a place with interactive electronic things to promote some brand.

And a place where you could paint your own piece of wood.

Tuesday, Mar 15:
The hotel rooms in Tokyo are pretty small.  The population is dense, and real estate is at a premium, I suppose.  I did my strength session in the "hallway" between the hotel room door and the bathroom.

Foods I tried that week:

 (Soba noodles and Tempura)

(Sashimi & Edamame)

(Fresh seafood)

Saturday, I was really tired from having worked until 3:30am on Friday night, but I got in some sights around Tokyo.

(Ueno Gardens)

 (above-ground Rail-less Metro going to the Rainbow Bridge)

(Sky Tree again)

Sunday, Mar 20:
Got a chance to run again.  I had to switch hotels for a single night, because the original hotel was booked up, so I had 3 hrs to kill between checkout at one and checkin at another.  17.1 in 2:38:15, 9:13 average.  I went back to the Imperial Palace grounds, rather than exploring other areas, since it was traffic-free once you were on the loop, and the loops were a consistent 5k per lap.  This was at about 11am, and I hadn't eaten since a big breakfast at 7am, after going to my first church service abroad, but it was surprisingly fine.  I took a water break at half way, but that was it.

 I was tired afterwards, and had a nice stretch in the East Gardens of the palace.

And refueled and re-hydrated afterwards at this nice Belgian Beer Bar:

 Hope to come back some time!

Friday, March 18, 2016

RACE REPORT: Spartan Sprint Atlanta & Hurricane Heat 080

The Lead-up:

Saturday, Feb 20:
My first workout of substance in a while.  Did 4.0 of intervals in 29:52, 7:28 average, at 2 degrees of incline.  1 mi warmup in 8:20, 3x[0.5mi @ 9mph (3:20), 0.25mi @ 7.5mph (1:58), 0.75mi in 5:30.

Thursday, Feb 25:
6.0 in 47:56, 8:00 average, 2 degrees of incline.  Only about 45 min after dinner... ok, but got tougher towards the end.  Pushed the pace.  Mile splits> 8:31, 8:14, 8:07, 7:56, 7:44, 7:22.

Sunday, Feb 28:
Trail running, 9.0 in 1:48:00, 12:00 average.  Kind of bonked towards the end.  Good run, though.  Nice to explore.

Monday, I attended my first Geocaching event, in which gave out a special Leap Day souvenir.  There aren't as many events in smaller cities, so this was my first real chance.  It was great to meet people as crazy as I am (really, way crazier... like thousands upon thousands of caches found) about GC.

Tuesday, Mar 1:
55 min strength session.  Surprised that it went well, even though I've been really inconsistent about doing my strength sessions over the past couple of months.

The Buzz:

Facebook was buzzing about the Hurricane Heat.  This would be my first.  Spartan Race is really promoting it this year, as part of their Delta challenge of various tasks.  This is the gateway drug for the Endurance Trifecta, which consists of a 3-hr Hurricane Heat teambuilding event, a 12-hr Hurricane Heat, and an Ultra Beast 26.2mi-ish marathon with a bunch of obstacles.  They have these events at various places around the US/world.

About a week before the event, they post a youtube video about the gear list.  There are standard items that they ask pretty much all Hurricane Heat event attendees to bring, like headlamps, water, rucksack, food, electrolytes, glow sticks.  They usually have 1-2 specialty items, too, that are odd, that will play into the theme of the night, somehow.  We were asked to bring a 2-ft long green broom stick, with 3 peanuts somehow attached to it... and a roll of duct tape.  We were sharing ideas on facebook about how to prep our sticks.

There are articles about what to do / what not to do at a Hurricane Heat, too, to avoid having to do too many burpees as punishment.  This was going to be serious.  The anticipation built all week long.  Now that I've done 7 Obstacle Course Races, I was looking forward to changing things up a bit.

The Spartan Sprint:

I drove to Atlanta early in the morning on Saturday (like, leaving home at 4am), to first do the Spartan Sprint.  Since I haven't been very consistent about exercise, at all, with the work craziness, I didn't expect much, other than to have fun.  I pretty much sucked at anything involving jumping... walls, the sternum checker.  On the bright side, I did complete the z-wall (horizontally traversing a zig-zagging wall, similar to a climbing wall) for the first time, and I got almost to the top of the rope climb but couldn't / was too scared to do a giant reach for the bell that was placed pretty far horizontally from the rope... ended up getting some serious rope burn on my slide down, but at least it was a slide and not a fall.  The Herculean Hoist was way heavier than I've ever encountered, so I failed that for the first time.  In all, I did at least 240 burpees (30 per failed obstacle).  Oh well, gotta start the season somewhere... I'll build from here.

It was cold.

I really enjoyed the second half of the course.  This is my third time at this venue.  They changed up the course so that we went through some cool tunnels of water, went through a long trough of water, and hiked over some pretty rocks.  I loved that part.  I hope we see more like that in the future.

After the race, I showered off, hung out in the festival area, enjoyed a beer, tried to nap, then prepped for the Hurricane Heat.  I didn't want to be the person who forgot to bring a gear, bringing down penalties on my team.

The Hurricane Heat:

Didn't know what to expect, so the anticipation was huge.  During the day, I had seen others with the tell-tale green sticks and mandatory black tops.  We were in for it.  We separated into groups by last name.  We were KLM, which was cool, since it's like the great Dutch airline.  Each group started off with one of the Krypteia, who are the Spartan staff members who lead the event and make us do things.  Ours was Steve.  Other groups started doing burpees pretty early on.  I wonder what they did to deserve it.  I was very glad to be with Steve, who started us off with stretching, followed by some strength and group-based exercises.

Then, we went towards the festival.  He asked if anyone didn't bring water like they were supposed to, and of course, one guy didn't, so we had to do plank holds for a long time.  We learned the Warrior's Ethos:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade

 (remember, it was cold)

Then, he saw where another group (very glad I wasn't in that group) had to drench themselves with hoses as they lay on the ground, forming a tunnel.  We went through there, which got us off to a wet start.  After that, we went to "The Devil's Playground', a rocky, rough, hilly terrain, where, in teams of 4, we had to drag or fireman carry each other up and down the course.

This guy Brandon, he was like a born leader who had stepped up at the beginning when the KLM group first formed, to lead our exercises.  Not only was he a great leader, he was really encouraging to others.  I was lucky to have met him and to be a part of his team.

This was the 80th Hurricane Heat event put on by Spartan, and it was their largest.  And yet, only 1/41 in our group (not Brandon) had ever done a HH before.  To handle such a large group (250ish?), the Krypteia created stations for us to move between, instead of having 1 Krypteia take us to all stations, we moved among the stations where the Krypteia led a particular station the whole time.

By the time we finished with Steve, it was starting to get dark.  At the next station, we had to duct tape our leg and arm to a partner, and do various tasks, like burpees, rolling, bear crawl.  At one point, we were all laying down under some pine trees, and we saw a shooting star.  It was a memorable moment for all who happened to catch it.  We were split up into three sub-groups at this time... Team America, Team Tiger (my group), and Team 3 (they didn't think of a name quickly enough, so they settled on that, to avoid any trouble).

Next, we went to Cookie's stations.  Cookie is a big British guy, who had organized the whole HH-080.  We had to do a race through the barbed wire, in which we were taped arm and leg to a string of 10 other people, which made it really difficult.  Our team was not the winning team, which meant burpees in pluff mud, where we had to stick our faces in the mud for the last 10.  During that time, though, I learned something that has really stuck with me... what it means to be a team.  After we did our 30 burpees for losing, the "winning" team got a choice... 1 guy do 25 burpees, or the whole winning team could do 50.  A couple of guys started volunteering to do the 25, but the group decided to do the 50 together, since that's what it meant to be a team.... leave no guy behind, and that was the right answer.  And the losing teams, rather than watch the "winning" team do 50 by themselves, decided to do it with them.  It was a magical moment, which really floored Cookie, who was so impressed that he let us off the hook after about 11, and we went on to the next station.

 (not sure which group this was, but this is what the challenge looked like)

We visited Da Vinci next.  He had a giant log that the group had to carry through a winding, tree-laden, hilly trail that seemed impossible.  I ended up carrying half of the group's sticks, since I didn't think I could contribute much based on my height and absolute strength.  They got the job done, faster than any group, even in the darkness.

  (not sure which group this was, but this is what the challenge looked like)

It was cold, and we were wet and muddy.  This night was more about mental endurance than physical endurance or physical strength.  I kept kind of hoping that it would be over, soon, because of the cold... kind of like love/hate.

The next station was Andi Hardi's.  I've done 3 Spartan Workout Tours with her.  We had to get a bag of peanuts from one side of the line of sticks to another, while doing squats in synch.  We did some stuff like somersaults while duct taped to a line of people, too.

 (not sure which group this was, but this is what the challenge looked like)

That was the end.  We were proud of what we had accomplished as a team.  I learned what it meant to be a team, and to not leave a fallen comrade.  I saw great leadership exemplified.  I tend to be pretty independent, so all that I learned about being a team really gave me a lot to consider.  It was an eye-opening night.  Right afterwards, I would've said that it was a bucket list item to check off.  But 2 weeks later, I've signed up for the 12 hr event.


There were no showers available after the HH, so it was back to the car, muddy.  I changed into dry clothes and tried to keep the car as clean as I could.  I was back out again at 5:30 the next morning, to volunteer with parking.  After that shift ended at 1:00, I volunteered at the finish line, prepping and distributing medals, then tearing down the festival afterwards.  It's always fun to volunteer at these races.  The other volunteers there work hard and care a lot, and the Facebook community is pretty passionate about it, too.