Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Bisbee 1000

Running up 1034 steps.
Against the clock.
Just for the fun of it.

That's what T and I did last Saturday.

It all started with our annual 4-day Fall Break rock climbing trip......

Many years ago, T and I started out as climbing partners--T at the "rock royalty" level, myself at the "I'm just trying to figure out which end of the rope I'm supposed to use--it's the 'sharp' end, right?"

When I wasn't too busy studying for an exam, and when T was in-between climbing with all manner of cute girls from the gym--we would hold the rope for each other, and go on weekend trips around NM, AZ, CO, NV, and TX.

Since those days, we've migrated into the world of triathlon, but rock climbing has always been there, a simmering desire on the back burner playing second fiddle to our triathlon training. In fact, we haven't really been rock climbing in 3 years, except for a few sporadic climbing sessions and at least one annual trip. Climbing, like triathlon, takes consistent focus and training. We've missed our weekend trips, but haven't pursued the skill it takes, or taken the time, to really be good again.

This year we tried, once again, to tap into fall season rock climbing.
And for some reason, this year, it stuck.

Reveling in the freedom of the off season, we finished our last big tri-effort (Longhorn 70.3), took 3 days to recover (GI issues, sore muscles and all), and then Thursday, less than a week after the Longhorn race, went on our first rock climbing foray to the climbing gym in almost a year.

We had to get re-acquainted with the gym environment (now much more crowded than it was several years ago), our equipment, new people, finding different muscles, and using our bodies in an unaccustomed way.

We saw several old friends and familiar faces.

We had a great time.
And were pretty sore the next day.

Feeling like Newbies, we decided to go to Jack's canyon for a long weekend of relatively easy, fun Arizona rock. We returned to the gym 2 more times, climbing progressively higher grades, then, one week after our first foray to the gym and 10 days after Longhorn, we left Wednesday night for Arizona.

Two days before the trip, I happened to glance at a magazine and saw a brief description of a running event in Bisbee, Arizona. The description went like this:

"Climb a Thousand Steps.
Put your quads to the test by entering the Bisbee 1000 stair climb. The race honors the heritage of the small Old West mining town east of Tucson--the stairs, built during the Depression by the WPA, follow old mule paths that once connected Bisbee's copper mines. The run is 5K and climbs 1034 steps and a few steep roads."

Since we were planning on being in Arizona, we didn't think twice.
"Looks like fun."
"We aren't strong enough to climb more than 2 days in a row anyways."
"Look, it says "historic" and it's about a WPA project."
"Lets bring our running gear, and see how we feel..."

And so we brought our run gear...

Jack's was absolutely beautiful and eerily deserted.
We were the only ones there--first time that has ever happened.
The full moon was gorgeous.
We picked a site, camped, and climbed for two days
Mostly 5.10, which was a grade or two higher than I had been practicing in the gym.
Two days was enough.

1. T at the top of a 5.11c ......... 2. Abseiling the climb (on rappel)

On the second day, as we headed out of the canyon, we ran into one other party who had just arrived. Turned out to be climbing friend "D" from NM, from days long past. Small world.

We then drove to Bisbee, about 5 hours across the state, near the southern border of Arizona.

Bisbee is a cute, historic copper mining town built into the side of Mule Mountain. Population: ~ 6000; Elevation: ~ 5530'
In the early 1900's Bisbee was the largest city in the Southwest between St. Louis and San Francisco with about 20,000 people.

We camped overnight, then arrived early for 7 am race day registration at the courthouse. By the end of registration there were almost 1500 people signed up; last year there were less than 800.

Town business was still pretty much closed so we hiked up the street for a Circle K coffee and egg muffin breakfast.

The run start was to the right (downhill) of the Ironman statue. T and I started up front, in the first wave, to avoid getting caught behind the walkers. Last year, there had been waits of up to five minutes at the bottom of the stairs due to the bottle necking of so many participants. Since everyone wanted to get to the stairs first, and the run started on a downhill going into a turn, the start was a bit of a wild free-for-all. You had to have your wits about you, and watch for flailing feet and arms. One person tripped and went down hard less than 50' from the start. T was elbowed hard enough to cause a charlie-horse for several days by "a large, chubby woman who looked like she shouldn't have been in the front anyway..."

By the time we got to the first set of stairs, T had disappeared off the front, and I was bordering on anaerobic due to the fast start and being swept downhill by the get-to-the-stairs-first fervor. T says he ran up the first steps without feeling a thing. I, on the other hand, attempted to run, but quickly backed off due to the feeling that I was pushing my max, and was probably going to kill myself. This feeling persisted throughout the entire event. I don't think my heart and lungs have ever worked so hard. After I got to the top of the first set of steps, I thought, "I can't believe there are still 8 more to go. I am never going to make it." The thought of running 5K up these stairs made the distance seem like an eternity. In fact, I was breathing so hard, I could do no more than walk up the remaining 8 flights, gulping oxygen and with occasional thoughts of what if my heart can't take this?
The course took us all around Bisbee, up steps, and down curvy roads, along main street, and through some kind of factory. After the 7th flight, we had a longish road run to the back of a valley, which should have allowed recovery and a resumption of pace, but which neither T nor I were able to take advantage of. My finish was characterized by passing two women who could have been in my age group, than pouring on the 'speed', as best I could up the last 2 flights of steps, to keep them behind me. T's finish was notable for being passed by a 13 year old boy just as he was flying downhill into the finish. The boy came up to about T's rib cage and he was being coached by a paternal figure who kept yelling "Get him! Get him!"

We had thought of the run as a fun way to see Bisbee, but neither T nor I remember much except for looking at the steps right in front of us. There was live music situated in drive ways and decks along the steps and lots of people cheering us on, just by stepping outside of their houses. The finish was a whole lot of fun, free samples of Xood, energy drinks, wine tasting, and cheese, crackers, bread, and meat tasting. While waiting for the awards, we stopped into the Made in Bisbee Marketplace for shredded beef burritos and tamales, and watched the Ice Man competition, which honors the history of the men who delivered ice before there was refrigeration, by having competitors climb 155 steps while carrying a 10 pound block of ice using antique metal tongs.

Despite how difficult the race felt, T finished 2nd out of 43 in his AG, in 37:40, earning himself some hardware and a spot on the podium with Smokey the Bear.

I finished 7th out of 69 AG in 48:44.

To give you an idea of how hard this 5K is, the fastest time was 29:48.
To give you an idea of the versatility this race attracts, the youngest competitor was 6 and the oldest 83.
As for talent? I was awed by Bobby Widhalm, who at 69 years young, completed the course in 40:08, and Don Branaman, at 70, winning his age group in 44:56

All in all, we had a great weekend, driving 1100 miles in 3 days, climbing, camping, and racing. The run was a huge effort, but a whole lot of fun, and we're thinking of going back.

In closing, here is an image of T perusing a rock wall....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Longhorn 70.3--after the race....

T and I got back to the normal routine of things on the day after the race--stumping around at work on a level of soreness that T called "Worse than moderate," and that I defined as "Moderate?! I can't @#k&* move!"

I spent the day in a way that no one who has that kind of muscle pain should have to do, crawling around on my knees, stooping, kneeling, smiling and swallowing my "ooufs"--jealous of a fellow co-worker who had done the Xterra Championship race in Nevada the same day, and who had wisely taken Monday off...

Monday afternoon my tummy felt a little off and by that evening I was sure I had picked up some kind of food poisoning from workplace cafeteria food. A miserable night followed.

Then a miserable day.

Another miserable night.

And another miserable day.

Epidermal hypersensitivity.

Almost no food intake--a little broth, instant mashed potatoes, half a banana.

No one else at work had a miserable tummy, so on the second day it dawned on me that I might be ill from the water I had swallowed in the lake during my pre-race practice swim on Saturday.

It did cross my mind that I might have gotten ill from Austin tap water--which tasted like dirt and algae--just not quite as strong as the lake water, but nearly so--then realized that T wasn't sick. Only I.

I was sick through Wednesday. Fortunately, my tummy cleared on Thursday--the same day my legs finally felt good enough to allow T and I to truly start our "off" season with our first rock climbing session in almost a year.

After that, T and I were pretty much recovered--just continuing to allow ourselves to completely lose all muscle fatigue and regain our desire. 8 days after the race, the following Monday, I went for my first run, a brisk, at-tempo 5 miler, that felt fresh in a way I hadn't felt for some time. Triathlon training doesn't leave much time for "fresh, fully recovered legs" running, but this run felt just like that. It brought back the fun and made me look forward to more.

The bad part of this recovery was the several nights without sleep (unhappy tummy nights) combined with the poor nutritonal intake for several days after a big race effort for a definite double whammy to my system.

The good part is that I took off a few pounds--allowing me to feel confidant about fitting into my costume (built around a $3 find at the Kaimuki Goodwill a few years ago) for the upcoming Halloween bash in 2 weeks.

The moral of the story is be cautious when it comes to drinking Austin water--whether from a lake or the tap (it really did taste bad).

Walter E. Long Lake aka Decker Lake, Austin, TX

Monday, October 6, 2008

Austin in a Weekend: The Longhorn Ironman 70.3

This was our PLAN:

Thursday: Work until 5, drive as far as possible, spend night on the road.
Friday: Wake early, finish drive, start pre-race check-in-drop-off-race-course-preview busy-ness.
Saturday: Finish pre-race check-in-drop-off-race-course-preview busy-ness--THEN get race gear ready.
Sunday: Pre-race rigamarole, RACE, drive as far as possible, spend night on the road.
Monday: Wake early, finish drive, then go to work.

Kind of like taking the red-eye Sunday night, back from Hawaii, so you can get to work on time in NM on Monday morning.

OR, kind of like a whirlwind race weekend--only with a 70.3 thrown in and a destination in another state...

This is what WE GOT:
A deep blue quiet night on the edge of a lake, complete with Milky Way and the distant light of large trucks.
A city with wall to wall traffic--even during non-commute hours.
A blueberry, walnut, and strawberry pancake breakfast--hand cooked in individual skillets--with like minded pre-race focused tri-athletes
A cool swim in a 300 yard long crystal blue sink-hole--chill enough to take your breath away, but refreshing on a warm 94 degree day.
A drive by Mellow Johnnies and Juan Pelota.
The Whole Foods mothership. Man--that was a LARGE and temptacious store.
A race day saved by partially cloudy conditions.
Pleasant lake water that you could actually see your feet through.
A run course that caused both of us to dig deep.
Some new PR's.
And a TON of cool schwag--including race towel, long sleeve tech T, mesh hat, pound of coffee (each), swim bag, race nutrition samples (notice the pleural), almond butter and sunscreen samples, the ever-present Longhorn water bottles, AND
burritos, tacos, beer, and ice cream.

Getting lost.
Downtown traffic.
Lightning from one side of the sky to the other, and non-visibility conditions.
4 hours of sleep, followed by a 4 am alarm, and the mesmerizing sameness of the open road.
Sore, SORE muscles--the kind where you can't take a step, much less get into and out of the car without groaning....

Fun. In spite of it all.

AND, the happy surprise of seeing an Outlaw uniform on the course (even if you did call the guy by the wrong name, so he didn't even know you were there...)

The magic of the swim was me JUST DOING IT.

A bit of a big deal, because I was sure I was going to DNF, but secretly hoping I wouldn't.

T was so concerned for me, that the first thing we did when we got to Austin--during the afternoon commute traffic hour--was seek out the lake, so we could jump in and check out my panic factor.

It was pretty much a given that the water would be too warm for wetsuits, same as the year before. But when we got in the water, the coolness of the water didn't jive with the 88 degree temps noted for the week before. We did a small out-to-the-buoy-and-back swim in which I felt fine, and we exited ready to get to check in. It wasn't until the next day practice swim, when the wind came up, and I swallowed water, then went into a panic and had to hang on a buoy, that I became concerned about another DNF.

I hung on that buoy (200 yards off shore) and wondered if a boat could come out and rescue me.
I started envisioning how when I got old, that I would look back and remember all these DNF's.
I started making plans for my future in meditation and yogic body control.
T hung with me and stabilized the buoy, especially when I yelped, "Why is it moving?"
He said, "Because it's not anchored," so I promptly envisioned floating further out into the lake while hyperventilating and clutching this bobbing, floating, slippery, uncontrollable object that I had THOUGHT was put there for my own safety.
It was a bit disconcerting to look up and see all the super-fit, lean, shaven athletes congregating on the shore for their practice swim.

Fortunately, I was able to get my breathing under control and swim easily back to shore (so no boat needed), but my confidence was beat up.

T decided to bring the wetsuits on the chance of a chance that it might be wetsuit legal--and at the last minute, word came down that the lake was 77.8 degrees. Phew! What a way to save my sorry, sinking, non-swimmer swim.

Still I was concerned.

DNF'ing a large race doesn't go away easily, and I'm obviously still traumatized by the DNF in Idaho (even if T does tell me that Idaho was the "perfect storm" of cold, wind chop, and noisy, overstimulating conditions).

But the EndorFun way of doing the race just made everything so easy, casual, and yet, really well organized. Which kept me relaxed. And made it a whole lot easier for me, then being corralled in a pen and being limited on my warm up....

As per Ironman 70.3 organization, my wave started after the pro men and women, and the 50 plus men. Once again, I got lucky, as the swim course was changed to allow the initial swim leg to parallel the shore. I knew this would give me confidence and allow me to warm up and get going before the middle of the lake swim started. My plan was to step into the lake and start all the way to the right, so as to avoid the pack, and be closer to the shoreline. Seems like most of the women had the same plan also. Instead of being out to the side and isolated, I ended up standing in a large group--so I quickly made my way back toward the shore, and waited for the pack to go without me.

You feel pretty exposed when you're the only one standing in the shallow water, as your age group peeps swim away from you, and there are at least 2000, if not more, people standing behind you on shore--all looking at your back and feeling sorry for you...

This is what happens when you wait for everyone else to swim first.
That nice clear water gets churned into a brown muddy mess.
All the plant life growing on the lake bottom gets broken off and you end up somewhat clawing through large handfuls of floating greenery.
The kayakers think you don't know where you're going and try to herd you onto the main swim path, which you are emphatically trying to avoid.
Since you are the only swimmer, you can hear what's going on around you--and suddenly you hear this ever-growing wall of noise, as the 35 -39 year old men come charging (swimming) from behind.
Near panic sets in as the noise grows louder.
I made a hard turn to the right to get out of the path of the focused, PR seeking men, then asked a kayaker if he could paddle along next to me "not too close" for a little while.
How nice to have my own guardian angel in a red kayak.

By the first buoy turn, I was comfortable enough to pick up the pace.
By the second buoy turn, I got too warm in my wetsuit.
But, voila, it was a triangular course, so at this point I just finished up the swim, and got the heck out of dodge...i.e., I ran up the long grassy hill to transition.

Since T and I hadn't previewed the course, I had no idea where I was going.
Rolling hills to start, followed by stretches of relatively flat, curving road.
Wind. Lots of it.
Bumps and cracks everywhere.
The bike course was crowded. 2000 participants.
You had to have good bike handling skills and be polite at a fairly high rate of speed, while trying not to draft.
Lots of chatter to let people know where you were in relation to them, since there was so much passing going on.
Eyes focused on the bikes constantly jockeying for position around you, and not the surrounding countryside--which could have been pretty, but I never noticed.
I received the comment: "N! I guess we're going to get to know each other, since we're passing each other so d*mn much!" (Our names were on our bibs).
My problem was that I would slow down on the uphills, than regain speed on the downhills.
That bike course just seemed to go on forever.
I literally wanted to fall asleep on the bike.
I felt like I couldn't keep my eyes open.
A reflection of the sleep deprivation I obviously had.
By mile 40 I had a thought which I have never had before in a race, "Just get me off this d*** bike."
The last section went hilly again, which was just plain cruel and tortuous.
But I survived it with a 2:57 PR--wind, hills, sleep deprivation and all.
Which, what with all the wind, hills, sleep deprivation and all, probably meant I had gone out too hard...

The RUN:
A hilly and unaesthetic course.
By the second mile I knew it wasn't going to be a good run.
I felt encased in a sticky, sweaty layer that wouldn't let my skin breath.
Elvis, Batman, the Joker, and the Pusherman lightened the day.
The Pusherman made me laugh, by whispering sweet enticements into my ear--which meant, obviously, that I was walking.
But it was a good laugh.
The 12 bands advertised turned out to be 5 or 6 bands, but each was welcome, and I wished there were more.
I poured ice down my shirt and under my run hat. Sponges for each shoulder and the back of the neck. Water, Gatorade, Coke. 3 gels.
Eventually, I did another first. I walked for several short distances.
The downhill into the bat-zone was too painful for my sore quads.
Funny enough, I actually ran the Quadzilla hill.
On the second lap, when I asked someone the time, I realized that I had a slim chance for a PR, so suddenly, and from somewhere deep, I picked up the pace, up the hill, through the dry, dusty forest, and around the corner to the finishing chute. I have no idea how I was able to run so fast for that last 1.5 miles, and conversely, why I had been running so slow previously.
My finish was a PR by 7 minutes.
Just think, I could have jogged in that last mile, and still PR'd.

What a painful day.

The after race festivities were characterized by live music, lots of food, a lot of wandering around, and a previously grassy transition area now turned to dust.

When we were ready to pack up, we found that the roads were still closed for the final racers, and the shuttle buses weren't going to start running until 5 pm. This meant we had a 3/4's of a mile walk to get to the truck.

Since my quads were so sore, I was happier to walk than ride my bike.

At the truck we did a quick clothing change, packed up, and headed out of town.
Our drive was delayed by a HUGE lightning storm with downpour conditions between Fort Stockton and Sheffield in Texas.
By midnight, we were in NM, setting our alarms for 4 am, and laying down for a few hours sleep in the deep quiet by Brantley Lake.
Daylight brought another few hours of driving, and a happy arrival at home.

What a weekend.