Monday, November 7, 2011

Allerton Park Trail Run 2011

The Allerton Park Trail Run is held in, shockingly, Allerton Park just west of Monticello.  The annual race is organized by the Second Wind running club and has a pretty long and storied history in the area.

Last year I ran the race. In costume.  I remember breaking 50 minutes, but had to consult the offical results to confirm my 2010 race time of 49:37 (9:01 pace).  I was hoping to do a little better this year.

Is 41:46 (7:19 pace) better than 49:37?  Why yes, I think it is. And the course was even a bit longer than last year. 

The Allerton race course is fairly flat for a trail race, and not very technical.  It does, however, have a section in the first quarter mile that gets very congested if you are running with the main pack.  So I decided to go out with the fast folks this year, and ended up running the first two miles at sub-7 minute pace.  And I learned that I cannot run more than 2 miles at that pace.  It was painful, but I was able to finish the final 3.7ish miles even though my pace slowed with each mile (negative splits are for pansies who obviously aren't working hard enough early in the race).

Want to see what the race course looks like?  Yes?  This video will give you an idea, but I suggest you take a Dramamine before hitting play.

Allerton Trail Run - Course Preview from Nick Paulson on Vimeo.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stupid and Irrational

In my previous post I alluded to a few decisions I have made recently which some would call stupid. Or irrational. Or both. Or a number of other things.

On Monday September 12th, at precisely 12 pm, I registered for Ironman Wisconsin 2012.  IMWI, or IMMoo as some affectionately refer to it, is a full distance triathlon.  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run through dairy country (or, as my friend Eric likes to call it, god's country or the land of milk and honey where by honey he means beer).

A few days after this rash decision set in I realized that I had never run a marathon before, let alone following a 2.4 mile swim and a more-than-century bike ride.  So I thought it would be "smart" to register for one of those too.  Most would say that signing up to run a marathon should not be considered a smart decision. Smart here is conditional on the previous decision (which also was probably not smart).

So on January 15th I will be in Phoenix to run the Rock N' Roll marathon.  Phoenix in January should be wonderful for running.  Training through November, December, and the first two weeks of January in Illinois - not so much.  It will build character, and give me a reason to not gain weight through the holidays, and whatever other justification I need to come up with to rationalize this decision.

So, to recap: I am voluntarily running 26.2 miles in January, and swimming/biking/running 140.6 miles next September in Madison, WI.  Wait, that's not right.  It isn't just voluntary. I am actually paying to do these things.

Like I said, stupid and irrational.  But it is going to be awesome.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Hy-Vee Triathlon

Labor Day weekend (which was almost a month ago already now), I loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh with my racing gear and headed to Des Moines to race participate in the Hy-Vee Triathlon (HVT). The HVT is an Olympic distance race (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) and, this year, was the host of the 5150 U.S. Championships.  This means it was the Kona of the Olympic distance race.  This may mean nothing to you.  Ultimately, what it meant for me was I got to watch some pretty fast amateurs who had qualified for this event go off before the standard age groupers like me started.

The Swim

At the mandatory pre-race meeting on Saturday, the race directors told everyone that the water temperature had been measured at 84 degrees and wetsuits would not be allowed.  I show up at 5 am on race day, walk the 1 mile plus from my car to the transition area only to find out that the water temperature had dropped dramatically, defying physics, to below 76 degrees making this a wetsuit legal race.  So I ran back to my car to gey my sleeveless wetsuit, which I had purchased in the spring and not yet been able to use due to high water temps at the Evergreen tri in July and the Steelhead swim being cancelled.  By the time I got back to the race start with my suit I was beyond warmed up. So I had that going for me, which was nice.

The swim for the age group race was held in Grays Lake.  When I was a student at Iowa State I always drove by Grays Lake on my way to the Des Moines airport.  It always seemed like a great place to dump a body (which I am sure it has actually be used for).  Now I was going to swim 1500m in it, not only voluntarily but actually paying to do so.

After standing around for an hour or so waiting for the other age groups to go off (see Exhibit A below), I was finally in line and moving towards the water for the quasi-time trial start.  The swim went awesome for me.  I'm not sure if it was the wetsuit or the time I keep putting in swimming laps, but I shaved close to 7 minutes off my time from Evergreen.

Standing next to the support team before the start

Stumbling out of the water to T1

Swim time: 28:38 (1:43/100m)

The Bike

There were some hills on this course that went from Grays Lake throughout west Des Moines.  Of course, compared to central IL, everywhere has hills.  There was also wind.  Can you tell I am making excuses as to why my bike split was slower than previous races this year?  Well I am. 

The bike went as well as it could have.  I didn't hold back (more on this later) and, given the conditions, probably rode harder than at Evergreen or Steelhead.  Unfortunately this did not result in my best bike time to date (in terms of pace).

Bike time: 1:09:27 (21.5 mph avg)

The Run

The final leg of race crossed the Grays Lake bridge, did a short out-and-back along a running path, and then headed back towards downtown and the finish at the State Capitol.  There was also a short out-and-back section in the final mile of the race that was fairly soul crushing.  "Hey look, there is the Capitol, I am almost done," I weezed to myself, only to realize we had to head away from the Capitol for a bit before turning around again and heading back to it to the finish.

The run was awesome though.  I went all out and destroyed my personal best for a 10k (although I'm still not what would be considered fast).  I credit the fact that I have swallowed my pride and admitted to myself that taking on nutrition (via gels) for runs longer than 3 or 4 miles helps out. A lot.  I slammed a Gu gel pack at mile 4 and, whether it was mental or not, felt a serious boost through to the finish line.  I also am making a concerted effort to slow down and focus on taking on liquids at aid stations.  This will be important going into next season (more on that later as well).

Run time: 45:58 (7:25/mi pace!)

Actually looking like a runner

Crossing the finish line, thankful it was not an 11k run

Overall Time: 2:30:58 (almost 2:30!) 26/117 in my age group, 116/999 overall

The biggest disappointment of the day was not breaking 2:30, which is considered a benchmark at this distance separating more serious triathletes from weekend warriors (at least that is what I am told).  58 f'in seconds.  I need to work on my transitions, which were pathetic thanks to poor prepartion in having my gear ready for T1.  Ah well, lessons learned.

While I didn't share this with anyone (not that anyone was interested), my goal for this race, since it was my final one of the season, was to go all out.  To see if I could blow up, and at what point.  I worked my ass off this spring and summer and wanted to see how far it has really taken me.  You might be saying, wait Nick, these are races, don't you always go all out?  Well, no. Not in endurance races like this, especially for a beginner like me where crossing the finish line is the ultimate goal and the time in which you do it is secondary.  In my races earlier this year I was always saving some for the end, that last 400m running across the finish line.  Not at this race.  I went harder at this race than I did earlier in the season, just to see if my body could do it for 2 and a half hours (or slightly more).  If I blew up and had to quit or walk, fine.  I already had an Olympic distance finish I was happy with this year.

Well I didn't blow up, and I ran faster than I have ever run for that distance by more than 30 seconds/mi.  I credit this to the mountain bike race I did the weekend prior to HVT.  I wore my heart rate monitor for that race and afterwards realized I had kept my HR above 160 for an hour and 45 minutes (I usually try to keep myself around 150 for events longer than 1 hour).  Knowing that I could do that gave me confidence that I could really push at the HVT.

Next post will outline some of the stupid plans I have already set in motion for next "season."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ironman 70.3*

This blog post could have had lots of titles:
  • Steelhead Ironman 69.1
  • Steelhead Duathlon
  • Mother Nature F'd Us in the A
All would have worked.  The reason being that, thanks to high winds and riptides on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on Sunday, the swim portion of the Steelhead Ironman 70.3 race was cancelled. No big deal, I only trained for this for 18 weeks. 

Needless to say I was disappointed.  But I still had 56 miles to bike and then a half-marathon to run.

My next statement will be made in relative terms.*  I was fast on Sunday.  Like, really fast.

22 mph on the bike for a split of 2:32:58.

8:32/mi pace on the run for a split of 1:51:57.

Add in the transition (~3 minutes) and I had a total race time of 4:28:07.

You may remember my goal was to break 6 hours.  Given my swim time target was 45 minutes, I think it is safe to say I would have crushed  6 hours and maybe even gone sub 5:30.  Not too shabby.

The TT bike with the new wheelset was awesome.  It just looks fast, and I think that actually helps (the mental game matters). We were sent off on a time trial style start with 2 riders sent off every 3-5 seconds.  This meant the field was really bunched up for almost the entire bike leg, and that there was quite a bit of illegal drafting going on.  Most of it though was not necessarily intentional.
See, doesn't that beautiful bike just look fast?
The run was painful towards the end, as I expected.  But I was also stronger than I thought I would be, which was not so expected.  I really thought I would fall off after the first 8 miles, but was able to keep sub 9 minute pace for each of my mile splits.  I did slow down a bit for miles 9-11, but was able to ramp back up above my intial pace to finish the last few miles strong.  I was even able to pull off some smiles as I crossed the finish line.  I also demanded more cheering and more cowbell from the crowd of spectators, which they graciously provided.
I was definitely in pain at this point, around mile 9.
I will definitely have to do another race of this distance next year, hopefully earlier in the season.  Who knows, maybe Ironman Wisconsin or Ironman Arizona next fall?

*By relative I mean fast for me.  I finished 69th out of more than 200 in my age group, and 442nd out of more than 2,500 overall in the race. The top pro men and women were about an hour faster than me.

Friday, August 5, 2011


If you haven't noticed, my blogging has fallen off.  There are many reasons for this.  Busy with work (yes, professors do work in the summer, especially those without tenure).  Work travel. RAGBRAI.  And hitting peak training hours for the Steelhead race.  Speaking of that Steelhead thingy, it is next weekend.  Physically, I think I am ready.  Mentally, we'll see on race day. 

For the next week leading up to the race I am in what serious athletes call a taper period.  Less frequent and lower intensity workouts compared to what I have been doing.  Sounds great right?  Actually it is driving me crazy.  I have become accustomed to putting in 90-120 minutes (often more) of high intensity work in the pool, on the bike, or on the road each day.  Many days it includes more than one of those.  Now, I am taking multiple rest days during the week, and doing just 30-40 minute workouts.

I realize that I am not going to forget how to swim, ride a bike, or put on my running shoes between now and August 14th, but it still feels strange.  Everything I read says to respect the taper period to make sure your body is in peak condition on race day.  That doesn't make it any easier.

Anyway, quite a few things have happened since my last post in June.  I ran a half-marathon, did an Olympic distance triathlon, and rode 4 days of RAGBRAI.  I also worked a lot, submitted some papers, and spent 3 days in Pittsburgh presenting to, listening to, and socializing with a bunch of other agricultural economics nerds academics. But the work stuff is, admittedly, boring.  So here is a quick recap of the races and ride.

April Sorensen Memorial Half Marathon - July 10, 2011

I didn't really focus training for this race, meaning I didn't do a series of long weekend runs leading up to it.  Instead I thought it was more important to follow my half-ironman training program.  So I didn't have any real expectations for this race, other than to use it as a training run (and to finish).  But that is not entirely true.  I did want to run it in under 2 hours, and beat the 60 year old woman who passed me on the final straightaway in this race last year.

Mission accomplished.  I actually set a PR, finishing in 1:47:50 (8:14/mi pace, if you're counting).  Good for 30th overall and 3rd in my age group. That is if the race was big enough to have age group awards.  Of course it wasn't.  So most likely my only chance at a podium finish was stolen from me.  Meh.  I was happy with the day anyway.

Evergreen Lake International (Olympic) Triathlon - July 16, 2011

The following week I raced participated in an Olympic distance tri just north of Bloomington, IL.  An Olympic tri is a 1500m (0.93 miles for those of you who are metrically challenged), a 40k (~24 mile) bike, and a 10k (6.2 mile) run.  I really did not have any expectations for this other than, again, to finish it.  I figured it would be a good idea to do a slightly longer race just to get a feel for it prior to Steelhead.

So imagine my joy and surprise when I finished in 2:33:32.  My swim was rather pathetic, but my bike and run legs were very promising.  I averaged 22.6 mph on the bike (definitely my best race pace ever, showing that I have gotten stronger this season), and ripped off my run at 7:59/mi pace.  That was not a typo, my fat ass ran sub-8 minute miles. After swimming and biking.  I didn't even want to curl up and die at the finish line.  I also didn't want to run another 7 miles.  Regardless, it was a confidence booster, and good measuring stick for Steelhead.

RAGBRAI - July 27-30, 2011

Last week I flew from my meetings in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and caught up with RAGBRAI for Wed-Sat.  I've looked forward to this week since I did this rolling party the first time in 2008, and this year - despite the heat - was no exception.  Lots of fun, lots of miles, and - most importantly - lots of morning bloody mary's and afternoon beers.  One must keep hydrated.

Along the Mighty Mississippi


So, next Sunday is the half-ironman.  I've been preparing and obsessing about this since I signed up in January (or maybe it was early February).  I am ready, nervous, and excited. 

Goals?  Again, the main goal is to finish. Alive. Barring injury or other uncontrollable things (bike issues, etc.), that goal will be met.  Specific time goal? Of course.  I want to finish in under 6 hours.  I am budgeting 45 minutes for my swim and will be ecstatic if I can meet that (I should). I want to go sub-3 hours on the bike, which will require 19+ mph pace.  I think I can do that too.  The run? That is the real wildcard.  I have no idea how my body will respond to running a half marathon after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles.  I would really like to go sub-2 hours, but will be happy if I can run sub-10 minute miles.  So I am saying 2:10.  But I really want that sub 2:00.  Either way, with transitions, that should have me somewhere between 5:45 and 6:00. 

The weather report is looking good for Benton Harbor (mid-70s and sunshine), but that could always take a turn.  It could be windy, it could rain, it could get hot.  I can't control those things. 

It is going to be a great day.

And with the wheelset I got for my racing bike, at least I will look serious.  Which is the most important thing.

Bike Porn

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oh, Canada Part 1: Tunnel Mountain Loop

I spent 4th of July weekend celebrating with our neighbors to the north, and attending and presenting at an agricultural economics conference in Banff, Alberta. July 1 is Canada Day, which is pretty much their version of the 4th of July complete with eating, drinking, parades, and fireworks.
I rented a mountain bike and hit the trails for a few hours. Did the Tunnel Mountain loop twice. I don't think I did too bad, considering the guy at the shop said doing this loop in an hour is a "good pedal."
For your viewing pleasure, complete with some Neil Young (who is Canadian):

Tunnel Mt. Loop - Banff, Alberta from Nick Paulson on Vimeo.

A few observations about Canada, eh:
  1. The stereotype about Canadians being friendly is absolutely true.
  2. Banff is full of young Brits and Aussies who have come over to ski and work seasonal jobs in restaurants and bars while they "find themselves."
  3. Australian accents make women at least 10 times more attractive.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Warrior Dash

This Saturday was the Warrior Dash in Channahon, IL.  3.5 miles of running with obstacles and lots of mud, followed by turkey legs, beer, and watching everyone else run over obstacles and through mud.

Even with my lack of production/editing skills, the video tells a better story than I could with words.  Let's just say I've had multiple "hose off" sessions with the clothes and shoes I wore, and I think I am to the point of just giving up and throwing it all away.

Warrior Dash 2011 from Nick Paulson on Vimeo.