Vineman 2014 Race Report – Getting Ready

As we get older, and as moments come and go, we appreciate the passage of time with a certain melancholy that can be infuriating. Vineman was such a moment. And that melancholy makes writing a race report harder. To write about this event is to transform the memory from an event to an orderly set of words that describe a sequence of events bereft of the emotion … After all I am a computer scientist not a writer.

And there is this temptation to not write. But memory is fleeting and just writing the stuff down makes it last a little bit longer.

Let’s dive in then…

The day before

The one really useful thing about Vineman is that it’s pretty frigging close to my house. A modest two hour drive, this makes it possible to overpack without having to worry about the space issues.

And did I pack my little honda fit. Here’s the list:

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And I got it all into that tiny little car… Although there was no space for anyone else to sit in the car.

Packed and ready to go, I headed out to Vineman…

Along the way, I got stuck in a horrible traffic jam. Something about the Breast Cancer, I presume given the pink, the gender and the walking. You’d think Google Maps could provide some insight into that but … No.

The hours piled on, the drive continued, and finally I arrived at my destination: Windsor High School.

When you do a sprint triathlon, unless it’s some ultra competitive thing, you meet a lot of people whose body type is – well – not ultra skinny.

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When you do a half-ironman, even after losing 40 pounds you feel  like a conformation lab surrounded by whippets…

The scrawny emaciated scary fit looking people that were surrounding me was amazing. If I was into men, the eye candy would be reason enough to do half-ironmen.

What was scarier was the plan that they could take 2500 of these scrawny looking people, all simultaneously going through taper crazies and talk to them …

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Wait … this is a high school normally full of teenagers with raging hormones …

The folks at Vineman gave us our marching orders, wished us good luck and sent us on our way.

To wait in another line:

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Where we had to get our race packet.

Doing a race with so many people really is a case of hurry up and wait until the damn thing starts.

After collecting my race packets, I headed to my hotel, picked up my bike gear and tri gear and headed out to the beach in Guerneville to get a feel for the swim.

The other gentrification 

When I arrived in Guerneville, I parked across the street from an over the top alternative hippy location.

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The building across from where I parked was devoted to some new age religious theories tied to the Goddess. Honestly, I can’t recall.

When I was done with my swim, just down the street from there, I was super hungry and decided to go get a bite to eat.

I figured it would be local diner food.

Boy was I wrong.

There are some pretty frigging swanky places to eat.

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Guerneville is caught between the low rent district it was and the place the 1% are turning it into.

Can’t wait to see the protest rallies here. Maybe I don’t want to do Vineman next year…

After a remarkably tasty diner, I drove off to my hotel in Healdsburg.

Eating

I have this long and sordid history of not eating enough for long distance events. I once decided to diet during the Sequoia double metric. I forgot to eat lunch during the Death Ride. I had a buddy who wanted to buy me this electroshock collar that he could zap every thirty minutes to remind me to eat.

Bonking and me were like this partnership of evil that could never be broken.

This time, I swore I was going to eat enough.

And so after eating a non-trivial meal in Guerneville, I also had some really kick-ass pie in Healdsburg…

My plan was to eat so much, that there was no hope in hell that I didn’t go hungry…

Although I was struggling finding something to eat for breakfast the next day … But with all the food I ate this should not be a problem. At all….

One last check

Back at the hotel, I did one last check of my equipment. And of course, I couldn’t find anything, unpacked everything three times, forgot to take things… I was sooo pissed off.

And then my wife calls, and I sounded … well … let’s just say the word pleasant doesn’t necessarily come to mind…

But her call managed to get my brain focused on the task at hand, and somehow I managed to correctly pack everything this time.

And now for some sleep

One thing I’ve become a fan of recently is Mindfulness. There is a lot of stuff in that repackaged yoga, but one thing it does help a lot with is getting your brain to focus on the task at hand and to deal with the stray thoughts that distract you. Before I learned about Mindfulness, it was impossible to sleep before a high stress event like a half ironman. Now it’s possible. Not magic, really just a way to get your brain to focus on the immediate thing at hand instead of every random thought that comes through your head in a high stress environment distract you from sleeping.

Overcome with sleep… I got ready for my race….

 

 

Week 76 – Falling Towards Apotheosis

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One of my favorite TV series of all time is Babylon 5. And one of my favorite episode titles is “Falling Towards Apotheosis“.

The episode is part of an arc that leads to the final confrontation between the Shadows and Vorlons about the future of the galaxy. The episode is the moment at which the final events that will either lead to a bright new future or a dismal past become inevitable. After this episode the die is cast.

What is interesting about the title is that it juxtaposes apotheosis – a climax or highest point – with the idea of falling … We are to imagine the story no longer moving out of it’s own free will to the end, but the force of history and events pushing it towards the end. Whereas most of the time apotheosis is something we move towards – our actions drive us to the climax.

In many ways JMS’s title was hearkening to another title, a book by Thomas Pynchon called Gravity’s Rainbow.

The phrase Gravity’s Rainbow is an image used by Pynchon to describe the parabola formed by a V2 rocket.

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A V2 rocket is fired into space, for a period of time it has control of it’s destiny,  and at some point the rocket loses control of it’s fate and after that point gravity takes over. The parabola formed is what he calls Gravity’s Rainbow. The broader theme of the image is this notion of loss of control and hurtling towards your fate for good or for ill. And that notion of control followed by a switch to destiny plays out repeatedly throughout the book. The book, particularly explores that moment when you go from control to destiny as an important transition point.

For the last couple of weeks I have been in that transition point in the parabola. This is why I haven’t been blogging. In this state between moments, there is s certain amount of breathlessness. There was this nagging feeling that I am loosing control over the outcome of my race.

And this loss of control is disorienting. You feel that your ability to change the outcome is slipping away and that powerlessness is crippling. And you’re trying to desperately do one more hard workout, to focus one last time because if you do the outcome will be different.

And you know it’s pointless.

And then suddenly you embrace the loss of control.

The training is done, the preparation is done, the die is cast. Nothing more to be done.

There is still the small matter of doing this race, and I have control over that but the outcome of this race was determined over the last 8 months of insane training.

And now that the race is days away, I feel good again. I feel that I am no longer in the moment between control and lack of control – I have made the transition. I am now hurtling towards my apotheosis or destiny like a V2 rocket.

And that makes me feel good again.

Final weight loss status update

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If you can read this graph what you’ll see is that I lost 26 pounds. My starting weight was 220, I reached 193.9. I was on track to get to 185 but shit happened. As it is I lost about 4 pounds a month which is pretty good.

Fun facts about my weight loss. I dropped 4 sizes from a size 36 to a size 32. I will need to buy a new wet suit when I do my Ironman next year. For a mile swim the suit is okay, but for a two mile swim it’s kinda baggy. I had to buy new training clothes because nothing fits anymore. Making this a ridiculously expensive bit of weight loss.

Weirdest part of losing weight is that I can’t stay in cold water for as long. Turns out the fat was keeping me warm – who would have thunk it :-)

We still need to get to 176 before the Athens Marathon… unclear I can pull that off … but I will still try.

The one important consequence  of my weight loss is that I did make the promise to myself and my family that if I couldn’t get to 195 by the time I did Vineman, I was not going to do an Ironman. Completing an Ironman weighing over 200 pounds was unrealistic. And if I hadn’t loss the weight 1 year before, I was just going to do a whole lot of exercise and ask them to deal with my workouts and fail and that was not fair to them. I met my goal, so now we can start looking for events to sign up for.

 

 

 

 

Getting Lost in Transition – Triathlon Nightmares.

Last night, I had my first Triathlon nightmare.

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With Vineman only a couple of weeks away, I had a very vivid nightmare about getting lost during the swim.

The nightmare started innocently enough, with me dreaming about swimming in the pack.

Then my wetsuit starts to fall apart and disintegrate. Apparently, my dream had me use my old wetsuit that I bought when I was 212 pounds. And that old suit apparently started to fall apart.

So now I am swimming with this floppy suit that is creating nothing but drag, and I am thinking I need to get this off. But somehow I manage to pull forward and cover time very well.

And then, disaster. Apparently something happens that causes the race to stop. Meaning I lose all the time I put into the race and have to sit in the cold water freezing.

Then we get out of the of the water, and I am running towards the transition and manage to make a wrong turn. And in that wrong turn, can’t find the transition area … I am running with this floppy suit all over my body, and I can’t find my bike. And then I see all of these runners, and I realize that I took so much time to get from the swim to the bike that the runners started…

And then I wake up screaming: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

I MEAN SERIOUSLY! SERIOUSLY! I AM STRESSED ABOUT GETTING LOST DURING THE TRANSITION! WASN’T EXPECTING THAT NIGHTMARE!!!!!

I really need this race to be over.

Vibram Schadenfreude

Ever since Vibram settled it’s lawsuit, a slew of critics have emerged from the woodwork to express their glee at the fall of an icon in the barefoot running world.

For example deadspin had this article: 2014-06-28_1415

Some of my friends, have more or less quoted this article in full – perhaps forgetting that I am a barefoot runner myself…

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Notice those barefoot shoes …

Or maybe they wanted to make sure I got my share of the 3.2 million dollars given that I have bought 5-8 pairs over the last few years. Do as much running as I do with my weight and you go through a pair every three months.

To be fair, Vibram did get sued for making absurd marketing claims that were unsubstantiated. And it is true that advocates of barefoot running have made claims about barefoot running curing global warming ..

But the delight, and mockery and sheer gleefulness in pointing out that this whole barefoot running thing was nonsense is surprising.

Because it’s complicated.

We should be applauding Vibram for breaking the stranglehold on running shoes that Nike had created. Nike had created the modern running shoe. The modern running shoe with it’s excessive cushion, tight toe box and padded high heel is perfect for people who want to start running without learning how to run. It allows a crappy technique that evolves from walking to be somewhat less painful until the faulty mechanics that Nike promotes cause real knee and back pain.

Here’s the sordid story. Basically Jogging was popularized by Bill Bowerman. He then had the idea of making the sport less painful with the invention of shoes with cushioning. Phil Knight and him hit on a brilliant product that took off. Soon engineering teams competed to make the shoes have more and better cushioning promising to make running less painful. And the truth is that they never did.

Because, we are designed to run. Our bodies are designed for running. If they weren’t we would have died off as a species. The idea that space age engineering is required to make running less painful is silly.

But why does running barefoot hurt?

1. Because running is different than walking.

Your muscles work differently. And if you have a shoe that doesn’t force you to run like you walk, then you have this wonderful experience of muscles hurting as they get used in new ways and because they hurt, they don’t support your body as well, and guess what that causes knee and tendon pain. Apparently if you do a new sport, and your muscles hurt and joints hurt, people are not surprised, but when this happens with running, we are.

 

Nike convinced you that running shouldn’t hurt, so we are surprised to discover that it does when you start.

 

This marketing triumph is staggering.

2. Because it turns out running on raw pavement barefoot does hurt.

This is actually a true statement. Having padding on your soles is good.

 

This marketing triumph is also staggering.

 

The barefoot looney tune advocates actually managed to convince people that running on cement hurts but it’s good for you.

When you read the frustration of podiatrists, their major concern was the idea of running barefoot on cement AND the unwillingness of their patients to slowly transition to using the shoes.

As for myself, I bought vibram’s because there weren’t that many alternatives when I started to Nike shoes. And for a while, I believed in the marketing nonsense.

And now back to Vibram

Vibram pioneered three fundamental changes in running shoes through their sheer popularity. Let there be no doubt, Vibram posed an existential crisis to the running industry. They were the dominant sole vendor, and if barefoot running dominated the market they could be bigger than any running shoe vendor ever.

They popularized big toe boxes, zero drop – aka no heel, and no padding.

It turns out, in retrospect, that the big toe boxes and zero drop were the key to better running. The no padding thing… well that was unnecessary. If you like to run on pavement barefoot, feel free, but those of over 40 and overweight prefer to have some padding.

In fact, when I finally dropped Vibram in favor of padded zero drop shoes with big toe boxes, a bunch of poor mechanics in my run actually improved.

Vibram’s position in the market eroded when more and more people figured out that they need zero drop and big toe box and could get that with padding.

Why is zero drop important?

The zero drop actually let’s your foot supinate and pronate and let’s your calf and glutes get involved with your running.

The zero drop makes it possible to have good posture while running. Something most of us who sit in front of computers and slouch don’t have.

Why is the big toe box important?

The big toe box allows your foot to have significantly more balance as you run. Try standing with one foot with your toes tight together, and one with your toes splayed and tell me what is easier to balance on. Running is a series of moments where you balance yourself on one foot at a time. And so better balance improves mechanics.

To conclude

Look, the mockery of Vibram’s marketing claims is well done and justified. However, the mockery of the claims should be made in context. This is an example of a vendor making unsubstantiated medical claims getting told to stop doing that. And we should punish vendors who do that.

But that doesn’t mean that we should run to the warm embrace of Phil Knight.

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Running shoes improved because of Vibram and that is a good thing.

And if the mockery of Vibram results in some of these journalists and bloggers being motivated to spend time ridiculing the non-medicine industry (aka alternative medical industry) then that will be awesome.