Friday, August 30, 2013

Puke & Rally 2013 (Hood to Coast Race Report)

Ever since I joined the team Puke & Rally in 2009, the weekend before Labor Day has been spent running from Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast. Every year it’s a combination of fast miles, fun competition, very little sleep, and tons of laughs. When I call it the “weekend of the year” I’m not really joking. Hood to Coast is an absolute blast and the pukers and rally-ers of PnR keep me coming back year after year.

2013 Puke & Rally: Peder, Ben, Dave, Joe, Nic, Aaron
Joy, CK, Sydnie, Meghan, Kara, Julie
But before I launch into this year’s race report, here’s a quick recap of the other years:
2009 – my newbie year: I was introduced to guys who ran marathons in the 2:30s and half marathons under 70 minutes. All the girls pretty much ran in college or at least had enough talent that they could have. I ran leg #4 that year and held my own to feel like I belonged on the team. We finished in 20:57 that year for 4th in Mixed Open.

2010 – I stepped up to captain that year and put together Puke & Rally’s fastest team. We finished in 20:24, but unfortunately lost to our rival team – the New York Bad Apples – by 2 minutes. We were 3rd for Mixed Open and 14th overall. I ran leg #11 that year. It’s an unwritten tradition that the captains have a meltdown at some point during the race. I almost lost it when we had to turn in our timing sheet and I was worried they were going to “audit” it and the times weren’t written down precisely to the second. Oh man, I'm such an accountant sometimes...

2011 – a very weird year. We started at 10:30 and got caught in Portland traffic for some of our exchanges, which made us lose about 30 minutes. Still, we finished 21:22 and 5th place for Mixed Open. I ran leg 3 and probably had my best HTC splits (5:39, 6:41, and 6:36 paces that year). I was also team captain.

2012 – Our closest finish with our rivals. It came down to the last leg against the New York Bad Apples and I was runner #12. I passed their girl at the start of the leg, but with one mile to go she was right on my shoulder. I went for it, didn’t look back, and ended up putting 19 seconds into her in the last mile. It’s probably one of my happiest memories in sports. We finished 21:06:31, 3rd place Mixed Open, and 19th overall. We also ran with 5 guys that year, instead of 6, so 3 of our guys had to step up and run 4 legs.

Top Left to Right: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Puke & Rally teams
Which brings us to 2013…I must say I’m still on the Hood to Coast high, yet missing my 11 goofy teammates and all our inside jokes.  From one teammate confusing the lyrics of The Lonely Island’s “Like a Boss” and asking “Who’s Michael Bausch?” to making chip sandwiches, post-race pizza and beers and funny heel click pictures by Honey Buckets, this year certainly did not disappoint.
Beach running, Nic and his Swedish fish, Syd & CK at the beach, post- "act funny" team pic
This is the 7th year Puke & Rally has run HTC, so we have put together a well-oiled machine that operates with good leadership from the captain (whoever steps up) year after year. The team has roots from the Midwest and half the team was from Minnesota this year, so we were really good at being nice as well as passive-aggressive. Half the team flew into Portland or drove down on Thursday night and the other half drove from Seattle on Friday morning. We all met in Portland Friday morning, split up the food, assigned vans, and made our way up to Mt. Hood to start the relay.
I can’t say I ran my absolute best, but I certainly took enough beating throughout the relay. I had legs 1, 13, and 25. Leg 1 was 5.64 miles and 2000 feet of elevation loss. I took it out “easy” and ran the first mile in 5:27. Needless to say, legs 13 (7.31 miles) and 25 (3.75 miles) were turd sandwiches. I held on as best I could, but Leg 13 was probably the hardest. I’ve never wanted to walk or cry during Hood to Coast. And if it wasn’t for my Puke & Rally teammates, there probably would have been a combination of both. Luckily, I have fast and nice teammates who didn’t care that I came in off my expected pace and were just thankful I stepped up to take the “sacrificial lamb” slot that is leg 1.

Running 2000 feet downhill on leg 1 - one week later and my quads are almost normal
Our team had one snafu when runner #8 got hit by a car. It wasn’t her fault, though the old man who hit her did say something like, “I thought you were going faster.” She recovered like a champ and finished her second and third legs. The whole issue probably cost us 10 minutes, as she had to wait at the scene of the accident for a chunk of time and then was in a lot of pain for her other legs. She also helped contribute to our team name “Puke & Rally” by barfing after her other legs because of the stress on her body. This teammate won the badass/rally award for the year!

Everyone ran well and had fun. We had an earlier start time this year (1:30PM compared to 6:30PM, like past years), so the traffic was a lot smoother and we got to enjoy more time in Seaside. We stayed ahead of our rivals, the NY Bad Apples, and finished in 21:07, which was good enough for 3rd place mixed open and 12th OA. After we finished the race, the team was able to enjoy real food for lunch, cold beers, and bloody Mary’s. There was a lot of beach time on Saturday afternoon spent chilling out and laughing. Sunday we went for an easy jog on the beach (I couldn’t run because my quads hurt so badly…this is the first time in HTC history) followed by coffee and donuts before saying our goodbyes.
Team "act funny" pic
Ben and I met Lopez Lomong! nbd
Wow! My hair looks amazing.
Nic's annual hostel parking lot stretches
Pro-tip: 3 of our fastest guys recommend post-race heel clicks
Sunday beach run (I had to walk...Julie walked with me,
but she was the one hit by a car...)
Every year there’s a moment or two with all the planning, packing, and lack of sleep when I ask myself why the heck I do this race, but it’s so fun and the team is so great. It’s different than any other type of event I do throughout the year and nice to spice up the racing season. Besides, how could I miss the weekend of the year? I haven’t fully committed to PnR 2014, but chances are pretty good I’ll be snuggling up in the back of the van for another Hood to Coast next year.

Puke & Rally!
The beach at Seaside is a sight for very sore and tired legs eyes and legs. The website advertised a new finish line set-up for 2013. I was hoping that meant a breakfast buffet and bloody mary bar. Sadly, it was just a new lay out of the finish line and beer garden. Luckily, my teammates and I found other ways to laugh and cope and celebrate.   

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Running with The Divas

When I first moved to Seattle in 2004, I quickly made friends by inserting myself into a running group. Soon Wednesday nights at the store turned into Saturday mornings with the girls and I was regularly running with Sherry, Lori, and Susan in West Seattle followed by coffee and pastries. We all had different lives and goals and backgrounds, but we were old souls and adored our time together. A few more regulars joined (Jill, then Lane, then Hannah) and there were a couple other guest appearances along the way. We referred to the regulars as “the divas” and loved our Saturday morning miles. But we loved each other more and that’s what made it special. Over the years, we had ups and downs individually, but we remained close and always had words of wisdom and laughs to build each other back up again. I’m sure it’s a similar bond that most female running groups share. No matter what issue life threw at us (illness, divorce, jobs, adoption, kids, spouses, boyfriends, friends, family, etc.), together we held each other up.

But as the years wore on, lives changed. Hannah moved to New York, Sherry San Francisco, Lane Boston. Lori opened a running store and my long run days are now mid-week, so I can bike both days on the weekend. Unless someone is visiting or I have a rest week or Lori has the day off from the shop, Jill and Susan are basically the only ones who’ve kept up our Saturday morning tradition. We all acknowledge this change and have kept up with each other in other ways – dinners, drinks, emails. I know; not as fun as running, but we still know the big things in each others’ lives – family, jobs, races, health.
Happy times with the divas at Lane's wedding in 2010
I will never forget the phone call I received from Jill on August 9, 2013 at 2:42pm. She called from Susan’s house and wanted to let me know, because I would start seeing it on the news, that Bill and Max (Susan’s husband and son) were flying on the east coast and their plane went down. I had flashbacks to 2009 when I was with Susan after Bill had flown from Astoria, OR and his plane crashed in the Columbia River. Jill, Sherry, Susan, and I had been on Bill’s plane 20 minutes prior when he flew us from Seattle to the Oregon coast for a girls' weekend. This time, he and Max were out visiting colleges on the east coast. I kept waiting for Jill to say that Bill and Max were fine, but they weren’t.

Susan and her two daughters, Ellie and Lucy, have been surrounded by friends and family since the morning of the crash. I attended a memorial for Bill and Max last Thursday and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and remembrance by family, friends, and people in the community. Bill was a brilliant, loving, compassionate, motivated man, yet humble, caring, and always thought of others first. Max was the most impressive teenager I've ever met - smart, hard-working, athletic, kind, and as his classmates said, "always talked to you like you mattered as much as anyone else." I was lucky to know both of these men through my dear running friend.

There is no limit to the number of tears or amount of heartache for Susan, Ellie, and Lucy, or for the families in Connecticut or for any of us who knew the victims of this tragedy. There's no instruction manual or training plan on how to cope or even what to say. But life will move on, because that is what Bill would have wanted for his wife and his daughters and his friends. And the divas will be there for Susan to help her regain any sense of normalcy she can, even if it starts as just one small portion of a Saturday morning run where she can remember a time before the accident. We will run with her and share many cups of coffee or tea or pastries or dinners or movies until things as simple as breathing or getting out of bed don’t hurt anymore. We’ll support our friend and be by her side whenever she needs us, no matter how big or small the task may be. We'll run side by side and help her take comfort in the friendships that were formed over the miles spent together many years ago.

With a heavy heart,

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kokua: Ultraman Canada

There are three words that are often used in Ultraman: Aloha – love, compassion, peace for many things throughout training and race weekend, Ohana – family, in the extended sense of the term, and Kokua – crew or support along the way. When I was asked to be part of the Kokua I knew the experience of Ultraman Canada would be fun and rewarding and something a little different for me, but I didn’t realize just how fun or how rewarding it would be. The weekend far exceeded my expectations and after every day of competition, I’d be saying or thinking, “this persons is SO nice,” “that swim time was insane,”  “that bike course is beautiful” or “did you hear that this person’s crew helped this athlete?” Whatever it was, I was impressed on a lot of levels – gratitude, strength, rigor, support, determination, and adventure!

Swim start - Skaha Lake. 29 athletes and kayaks
My friend John Bergen asked me to be part of his crew earlier this year. I’ve looked up to John for a long time, but particularly since before Ironman CDA in 2010 when he advised me: “Race smart, listen to your body, manage your nutrition, and mentally prepare to suffer… and I have no doubt we’ll be walking down to stairs together for the swim start in Kona!” The next day I won my age group and qualified for Kona where we were able to race together. John won Ultraman Canada in 2011 and is one of the toughest (and craziest) guys I know.

Over the past year he convinced our other teammate Aaron to sign up for the race, as well as two more PauoleSport guys who had been eyeing Ultraman for some time. Since they were all able to get in, John decided to commit to the race for a second time and pulled together a crew and his training. (Side note: he’s also getting ready for Ironman Louisville, so he decided to “train through” UMC without any taper. Crazy.) John’s sister Kathy, my boyfriend Gerry, and I made up John’s Kokua. Sydnie was up there crewing for our friend Aaron Postema, as was his wife (Ann), his sister-in-law (Ava), and his sister’s boyfriend (Brian). It was also really fun to have two other PauoleSport athletes, Greg Pelton and Brian Dillon there with us. The one downside of crewing is that you’re required to be at the athlete meetings on Thursday and Friday. Penticton and the Okanagan Valley is beautiful, so it’s fun to be up there, it would just be more fun to be up there on a bike! Friday afternoon there was one final meeting at the lake to assign kayaks. Sydnie, Aaron, Gerry and I were able to go for a swim and then it was an early dinner for our athletes before lights out for the night.

Part of the Day 2 bike course - I was able to get in a bike ride after the athletes were in on Day 1. Penticton and the Okanagan Valley is a great place to visit and workout.
For write ups on the days’ events and times, check out articles from Lava and slowtwitch here and here.
Saturday morning we gathered at Skaha Lake to send off the athletes and paddlers. Gerry was the paddler in our crew and kayaked next to John while he swam 10k. The lake conditions were perfect, but 10 kilometers is a freaking long way. After the start line ceremony and Canadian national anthem, Kathy, Sydnie, Ava, Ann, and I went to Starbucks. :) A couple hours later John got out of the water in 3rd place and with a quick transition was out on the run. As part of his crew, we set up his transition, helped him out of the water, and headed out on the road to get him iced sports drinks and water. The bike course on day one covers the majority of the old Ironman Canada course (new Challenge Penticton). It’s 90 miles and gorgeous and hilly. John rode well, but was not as strong as he wanted. He finished in a disappointing 5th place after day 1 and quickly realized how tough the competition was this year.

From Left: PauoleSport athletes, John getting ready to swim, Gerry getting ready to paddle
From Left: Craig Percival with the new swim course record (2:24:48), Dave Matheson, the eventual winner, exiting the water
10k swimming requires a little TLC getting out of the water

Sunday was the BIG bike day – 171.4 miles. Conditions, again, were perfect and the competition was tight. John was in the top group of guys who basically rode together (with enough space to not draft) through the first 120 miles. Even through the section referred to as “the wall” the top 5 riders were all pretty tight, which made it really exciting over 171.4 miles. As crew we hustled to have everything prepared and ready for our athlete and were able to see him every 5-10 miles. The scenery was amazing and part of me wanted to be out there riding too.

Bike course: Okanagan countryside on the bike course, Greg Pelton and Brian Dillon ride by on day 1, Gerry with a water stop on day 2
Day 3 is a 52.4 mile run over hilly back mountain roads. If you have to do a double marathon, it actually seemed like a pretty cool place to do it. It’s also the most exciting day for the crew, because you get to get on the road and run with the athletes as pacers. For the first marathon, John was able to run with one of the other athletes and only needed our help with getting proper fluids and nutrition. By mile 26, I jumped in and ran about 7 miles with him. Then Gerry jumped in and ran with John and then Kathy jumped in and ran with her brother. His pace slowed and as the miles wore on, he definitely needed more coaxing. But the wheels were certainly not coming off and we knew he was in a good position. There were a couple times we drove back to do time checks for him on some of the other competitors. With 8 miles to go, I jumped back in and ended up running him to the finish line. It was definitely a different spot to be in, as I encouraged my so called “Ironman big brother” to “just run 8:30 miles down this hill” and “keep moving forward when we give you water.” I just wanted to make sure he ran a race he could be proud of, and I’m sure he was. For the record, the downhill in the last few miles looked absolutely brutal on the athletes’ shredded legs. After 7 hours and 34 minutes of running and 3 full days of racing, John and his Kokua ran through the finish arch and he was done.

John and crew, run start, run course
And done! Notice my stumpy legs and
Gerry's shoes standing by.
Photo cred: Rick Kent (the Master)
After crossing the line it was a waiting game to see where the guys who had been in ahead of him after the first two days would finish the run. John’s 3rd place run finish time was good enough to move him from 4th place after day 2 to 2nd place after the run. He was about 12 minutes ahead of the 3rd and 4th place finishers who were separated by only 6 seconds! All of the athletes were true competitors and all-around upstanding people, great ambassadors for triathlon and an honor to support during the event. Aaron, Greg, Brian and their crews also finished all three days with lots of fun stories and memories from the weekend.

From left: Team Pelton at the finish, announcer Steve King, RD's Steve Brown and Jane Backus (photo cred: Rick Kent),
Women's champ (notice the Canadian beer in hand at Medical)
The actual race course is not supported, which is part of the reason athletes are required to bring a crew, but the race organizers have ice baths, massage therapists, a world-class announcer, food, music, and a beer garden at the finish line. Gerry and I were talking to race director, Steve Brown, as he was telling us about how he got into Ultraman. He said he liked the Ironman events, but when he saw Ultraman, he fell in love. It reminded him of what Ironman used to be like in the old days with the smaller venues (UMC caps it at 30 athletes to keep it small) and crazy adventure. I don’t know if I’ll be signing up for Ultraman anytime soon, but maybe someday. It definitely looks like a grueling race, but it’s so supported and intimate, that it makes it feel truly special. The slogan on the Ultraman Canada site reads: “We meet as strangers, we compete as friends, we part as family.” As part of the 2013 Kokua, it was definitely my experience.