Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lessons from the other side of racing

I took the day off yesterday to hand out water at the mile 18 hydration station of the Boston Marathon. It was a fantastic experience, inspiring to watch both the elite and the age groupers compete. I did come away with several lessons both for myself as an athlete and also for race organization.

As a runner:

  • Connect with your water volunteer - make eye contact, nod or even point to show them that you're coming in. We had one guy who essentially just knocked cups out of 7 or 8 volunteers' hands as he ran by, he just wasn't trying. If you surprise the volunteer, you're much more likely to lose the cup entirely.
  • If you're going to walk through a water stop, then pull behind the volunteers if you can. Especially, if you're keeping up a good clip when you're running, other runners will be trying to run through and grab some water. Walkers blocking the cups make for some serious traffic jams.
  • If you're not going to drink the whole cup, pour it out first, then chuck the cup.
  • Thank the volunteers, they love it! So many runners were so grateful when they passed through it was really awesome.
Race organizers:
  • The single most important change they could have made was to have different colored cups for water and gatorade. Sure the gatorade cups said "Gatorade" and the water cups said "Poland Springs" but they were both green. I mean come on, how many athletes are going to read the side of the cup to determine the contents, not to mention international runners who may have no idea what "Poland Springs" is.
  • After that, having gatorade on one side of the street and water on the other would also make sense. Our water stop had tables on the right side of the street followed by tables on the left. Consistently telling people you will always have gatorade on the right followed by water on the left would be easy to implement and would eliminate confusion.
  • Signs on the giant trashcans that we fill the water cups with would be a welcome addition. It's hard to blame people for trying to throw their trash in the trash cans. A "no trash" sign, or just roping them off would help keep runners and spectators from contaminating them with rubbish.
Finally, watching the marathon did make me think a bit more about "racing" versus "participating." The world of marathoners has grown substantially over the last 30 years. Boston allows people to finish within 6 hours of starting. Does it undermine the people who actually train and actually push themselves to finish to allow those who walk the majority of it? Every one still gets the same medal.

PS. Best spectator sign read: "Go Everyone!"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Brick of Doom

It's hard to do a good, long workout without biking. I can do a 90 minute swim set, (when uninjured,) I can run for two hours straight, but ask me to do a long ride, and we're in a different realm: three or four hours seems completely reasonable for a long ride.

But it is impossible to do this indoors. I guess it's not actually impossible, it's just not very much fun. On a trainer there's no coasting, there's no rush of wind, and there's no change of scenery. The weather has finally colluded with me to get the bike out and go long.

Last weekend I tackled a 45 mile easy ride with a few friends and brunch in the middle. Today was my coach's Brick of Doom. A brick is a combination of two disciplines used for training triathletes on the transition. Technically, I think it's called a brick cause you line up the disciplines like bricks, but some say it's because your legs feel like bricks when you try to run on them after a long ride.

The Brick of Doom is so-called (by me, no one else calls it that, but I'm hoping it catches on) because it's long and repetitive: three runs separated by two rides. Today's workout was supposed to be 30 minute intervals of running and 75 minute intervals of riding. I'm still on the slow and steady increase of running to avoid injury this season, so I only should run 45 minutes total, so I cut the run intervals down to 15 minutes, but kept the rides. My half ironman is coming up June 19th, and I'll do this workout several more times extending the distances. The Brick of Doom is hopefully my secret weapon for finishing that race strong.

I convinced some very nice friends to join me for this endeavor early this morning. We completed a 20 mile loop from Concord, out around Carlisle, through the Great Brook Farm State Park and back through Acton in 1:17 for our first loop and 1:14 for the second one. 40 miles total: the half ironman is 56 miles of biking, so it's getting close.

It feels fantastic to finish one of these long workouts first thing in the morning. The whole rest of your day can do no wrong. After a quick shower, Paul and I went out for brunch with some friends, then I came home and had a very serious nap.

And then there's the exhaustion in my legs. My legs ache in a way they haven't in months. There is nothing more rewarding.

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