Sunday, July 30, 2017

Schwimmflugel? Schadenfreude?

Big weekend.

Elk Lake Swim Series: five races from 500m to 5000m over three days. I did this beast a few years back and had a ball. Now that I'm training for a marathon, my sea legs aren't cooperating, so I'm a volunteer.

Two roles:
Camp Host: be the Shell Answer Man for the hordes in the reserved campground. Act lordly. Punish miscreants.

Safety Spotter: no better way to see the races than from a standup paddleboard.

Setting up camp. I didn't know that a full mattress would fit into a two person tent.

Large square peg in a small round hole, sort of

It actually fits! Barely...

Here's my estate...

 And my trusty steed...


My tent, my trees, my foot...

I left the rain fly off this time, wanting to see the stars. They didn't disappoint.

A record 240 swimmers registered, so the camp ground was very full.




The venue...so pretty and calm.


The 5k swim was the national championship. About half the states were represented.


Did I mention the scenery? That's South Sister, hellacious climb, and also a good view from up there.


I was camped next to some of the same Portland folks from last year. Lots of fun catching up.

Scot had a rather unique injury healing. He did a race a few weeks ago in which he wore a timing chip on his ankle...he has an unconventional kick in which his legs cross each other, and the chip on one leg wore a hole in his other shin!


Scot is around my age, a UOklahoma grad. I asked if he was in Stillwater during the Bozworth years. Oh yeah, he said: Boz would stop at Scot's frat when the beer was flowing.

and my apologies, Scot: I meant to say Norman, not OSU Stillwater. That's like mixing up Pitt and Penn State!

Judging by the buoy supplier, our race organizers are not following the 'Make America Great Again' doctrine.


Wearing the proper US Naval Academy colors, of course.


Back in school, our swimsuits were very unflattering speedo-types that we called 'grape smugglers.' I like my new gear better.

Also rocking my vintage Team RadioShack cycling hat...


Because you never know when you'll have to throw down with the peloton. 

Earlier this morning, I did a hardcore workout with the heavy jump rope. During the 3000m swim in choppy water, my legs reminded me that I'm not 25 anymore.

And after the last swimmer passed me in the 500m race, I quickly grabbed my goggles and did my own 500m before the buoys were pulled. Felt a lot better than I imagined, given that I haven't swam a stroke since January.

Years ago, I read a great book called "Gold in the Water", a chronicle of an elite swim team near Stanford as they trained for the 2000 Olympics. One of the top members was a guy named Kurt Grote, who won a gold medal at the 1996 Games.

He showed up this weekend...



I knew who he was as soon as I heard the name. Kurt was training for the Olympics while a full time med school student!! How is that possible? And he's the nicest guy in the world.

A couple of women in the campsite are serious, serious triathletes. In addition to swimming 11,000m over three days, they used the relative downtime of Saturday afternoon to ride their bikes four hours! (and you thought I was crazy). Afterward, one of them asked if I was a bike mechanic....no, but I play one on tv. Her shifting was all buggered up, so I showed her how to use the barrel adjusters to fix the problem on the fly. She was quite grateful...

Scot (with the leg wound) has unique ideas about camping....


cannolis? Not s'mores?

And he didn't sleep in a tent, preferring instead to commute the 40 miles each way to civilized accommodations in Bend.

The rest of us...


One of the swimmers was an Olympian water polo player, and she was an absolute beast. Consistently top 10 overall in each race, what a motor.

Some vintage shirts for sale at $5 apiece, so I bought a few...

Looks like a backwards Italy...campground was to the far right of the little toe, so I'd ride the paddleboard to the start below the '5000m' at the bottom. 


My absolute favorite...that's Coach Bob with the antlers. He has made lots of deadweight into real swimmers over the years, self included.


There was a very large man competing; guy had to run 300 pounds. Yet he was out there grinding away....during the 5000m swim, he was dead last, but there's no hurry. As he came past me on the final lap, I realize he has clear goggles, and he stares at me as he trudges past. I expect to see the same eyes Captain Quint had when the Jaws shark bit down....I'll spare you the video....

Nope. This guy was just punching the clock. Nice work, my man. He completed all 5 swims and got his Survivor mug.



Ted wins the prize for best post-race hair.



Last year, local world class triathlete Jesse Thomas entered the 5k swim as a training day for the Hawaii Ironman. He had a hard bike/run day yesterday, and told himself he'll do the swim if he woke up on his own. He didn't....so he simply went to the pool and had the water pretty much to himself. Then he brought the fam up to the lake for some play time.

Jesse made aviator sunglasses popular again!
Tiring weekend....and I didn't race at all.

Smile. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy July 4th...and possibly the most insane race I've ever done...

The other day, I saw a story describing how Allie Ostrander, fresh off her NCAA championship in the steeplechase, went back home to Alaska and destroyed the field in a local race.

And the memories came flooding back....

July 4th in Seward means the annual Mt Marathon race. It's not a marathon, more like a 5k, and a tradition spanning 90 years. It's been called the 'oldest, fastest, hardest, toughest...shortest' race in world.

Shortest? So what's the big deal?

Here's what: the course is just nuts. No other description makes sense.  3 miles on an out and back course, with three THOUSAND feet of elevation change. Meaning half the race is straight up.

The numbers are actually worse; the prime elevation gain happens over the course of a mile. Vertical rise of 2,675' in 0.9 miles. For comparison's sake, the final nasty push of the South Sister climb is 2.3 miles and 3000' of climbing. So, Mt Marathon is over twice as steep.



And it's a race, so you're less inclined to stop and enjoy the view while the masses leave you behind.

So why do I know this much?

Because I'm a proud alum!  Let me take you back to 1989...

I was a young, impressionable, bullet-proof Navy officer onboard the USS CALIFORNIA (CGN-36). Having reported a few months prior, I was designated the Reactor Electrical Division Officer (RE Div), responsible for leading the electricians who helped keep our two nuclear reactors humming (and intact).

Underway on nuclear power: I'm in this picture somewhere

In July of that fateful year, my ship made port in Seward for a few days of R&R. While walking downtown on the 4th, I heard about some crazy race that was happening that day, so I wandered to the starting line for the scoop. In talking with the race organizer, I found out he was offering free entry to any Navy personnel.

Hmmmmm.....

I've been underway for two months. Meaning, I'm not exactly in race shape. Far from it.  (Later that year, I was actually running laps on the main deck when the captain lit up the PA system with word that the SF earthquake just hit our home port. I remember stopping on the bow of the ship while he told us the news).

But back to Alaska, and an offer to enter this crazy race: Did I mention I'm bulletproof?

I'm in. Except one little problem...I'm nearly two miles from my running shoes; they are in the Junior Officer bunkhouse back on the ship. And I have an hour. And Uber doesn't exist yet.

Yep. Jog the two miles to the ship, get my shoes, jog the two miles back. About 15 minutes to spare.







 And how steep can the hill be, anyway?


Real steep. Insanely steep.  My ship was moored to the large pier on the left, above the small boat basin. The race started somewhere on the right side of the picture. Nice warmup, eh?

Then the race began. About a mile was through the city, then it headed up into the woods.


My goal quickly transitioned from "run hard" to "steady" to "I hope like hell I'm not on a gurney tonite." I believe I coughed up a burger and fries from a decade prior.

This race was not for the faint of heart or self-aware...fortunately, I was neither of these. Uphill was brutal, downhill was terrifying. I don't remember snow in 1989, just a lot of loose rock on the upper reaches. The fastest racers seemed to be taking a step every 15' on the way down.


From Lew Freedman's column in the Anchorage Daily News the next day: "This mountain has a personality disorder. It has a mean streak. It enjoys making people suffer...the wrong grip will slice open your hand as efficiently as a Veg-O-Matic."

No, I did not tell my mother of my holiday plans ahead of time.

Your not-so-atypical finisher who had some issues on the descent...



 As my fitness level quickly convinced me that I wouldn't be on the podium that day, I concentrated HARD on keeping my feet underneath me for that nasty descent. A few close calls and very wobbly legs, but no disasters like this guy...

Photo by Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News

After what seemed like (and actually was) hours, I was back on flat ground. Shirt shredded, feet shredded, just a hot mess. The next two pictures are actual pictures, as in 'film.' 

Shirt in tatters, shoes destroyed. Just me, my shorts, and socks....


But all limbs still connected and intact. Call it a win. 

Great footage of this year's race. 

10 min documentary

Scratch one big one off the bucket list!