Tuesday, August 24, 2010

24-Hour Half Ironman

I did my first Half Ironman this weekend!  Well, not really.  But within 24 hours, I did 14-mile run, a 70-mile bike ride, and a one-mile ocean swim, all with some good friends.  I think I felt just as exhausted afterwards as I would have if it were a real half ironman.  But I definitely had more fun.

On Saturday, I did my first long run of the season.  I received a horrifying reminder last week from Mikey B that the Reach the Beach Relay was just four and a half weeks away.  RTB is a 200-mile relay race that starts on the northern edge of New Hampshire's White Mountains, and winds its way through fields, lakesides, moutaintop vistas, and many, many, many small towns, to eventually finish at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire's little slice of the Atlantic oceanfront.  A normal Reach the Beach team consists of 12 runners, each running three legs of varying distances to cover the 200 miles.  This year will be my fourth year running RTB, and my second year as part of an Ultra team ("Team FRNY Ultragays!").  The Ultra teams consist of just six runners, running six legs each.  Each runner will cover between 27 and 44 miles.  You can see why I'd be nervous that it's just four weeks away.

So I guess I need to get in shape.  The official Front Runners Long Run this weekend was 14 miles, from Rutgers Church, down Park Avenue and across the Brooklyn Bridge and back.  This route took advantage of Summer Streets, where the city closed down Park Ave to traffic for three Saturdays in August.  I thought this would be the perfect first long run of the season since the many traffic lights along the way would mean frequent breaks.  My plan was to go and hope that someone would be up for running some sloooow miles with me.

Luckily Michael O showed up and we decided to run together.  It was the perfect relaxed pace for me, and I got to catch up on all of the good club gossip that I've been missing out on.  :-)  Running with Michael is always fun because he has such great stories to tell, and it makes the miles go by so much quicker.

I'm not gonna lie, though.  This was my first long run since the Brooklyn Half, and it really felt like my first long run.  At mile 12, the two of us walked for a few minutes.  But in the end, we finished, with plenty of time for bagels at the church afterwards, and I felt pretty good.  For the next four weeks, I'm planning on beefing up my running, doing a full 6 miles (or more) on Wednesdays, and maybe even doing the Tuesday hill workouts (starting out slowly).  In four weeks, 27 miles will be a snap.

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Forty-five minutes after we left the fun run on Saturday, Rachel, Mike and I met up again--this time, with our biking gear on the Westside Highway to go on our ride to Asbury Park.  The plan was to bike down to the World Trade Center PATH station, take the train to Newark, and then bike down from Newark to Asbury Park.  Getting out to Newark Penn Station took us a little longer than expected, and we didn't really start our bike ride under about 2:45.

The first 20 miles were the worst part of the trip.  It was very urban, somewhat technical, and not particularly fun.  I suppose there's no better way, though, to get out of Newark (other than, of course, taking the NJ Transit further South, but that feels like cheating).  About 10 miles into the ride, we had a little picnic of Clif Bars and Gu in Rahway, where we took this picture:

Then we were off again.  At about mile 20, we hit one of the highlights of the ride, which was crossing the Victory Bridge over the Raritan River in New Jersey.  The bridge connects Perth Amboy to the North and Sayreville to the South.  With a 440 feet span, it has the distinction of being the longest precast cantilever segmental bridge in the country (whatever that means).  It was also the hardest hill climb in an otherwise completely flat course.

(This isn't my picture, but it's a pretty one of the bridge)

It was around this time that I got my first flat tire.  I didn't notice it pop or anything, I just felt something wasn't quite right.  Mike was riding behind me and he actually pointed out to me that I got a flat.  It wasn't really a big deal, since I had changed a flat before and I brought two spare tubes with me.  It was actually a nice little break from riding, and I got to practice changing a flat.  This was my first rear-wheel flat, so Rachel had to show me how to disengage the chain from the gears.  But other than that, it was a breeze and we were soon on our way again.

Two miles later,  I got a second flat, this time in my front wheel.  I couldn't believe it.  I had gone hundreds of miles with only one flat tire, and then all of a sudden I get two flats in 10 minutes?  What are the odds?  This time, I must have hit or run over something, because I suddenly heard a very loud hissing sound coming from below, and in a matter of a few seconds all the air was gone.  I had an extra spare tube, so again, it was no problem, and we were on our way again.

Then we got a little lost.  Our cue sheet told us to turn left on Cheesequake Road from Bordentown Ave in Old Bridge, NJ.  Well, apparently Cheesequake Road intersects with Bordentown Ave at two different locations, about a mile apart.  So that took us a while to figure out.  And then we had to renavigate because the cue sheet  told us to go on Old Water Works Road, which, we found out a little too late, was an unpaved road.  Ugh.  Fortunately, my new cell phone has a fancy GPS function, so we were not left stranded.

About 35 miles into our ride, we hit our first segment of the Henry Hudson Bike Trail.  The 22-mile trail transverses Monmouth County, New Jersey, from the marshy regions of the Bayshore to the woods and fields of Marlboro and Freehold, NJ.  Much of the trail is tree-lined, with some pretty views of surrounding wetlands, streams and fields.  By this time, it was starting to get a little dark.  It wasn't too bad, but the treetops blocked what little light there was.

Around mile 42, we made a stop in Keansburg, NJ for some pizza.  It felt good to fuel up and rest our legs a bit.

Our planned route had us switching over from the Henry Hudson Bike Path to the Bayshore Trail, a scenic bike path the hugs the waterfront of the Raritan Bay, and then across the Highland Bridge into Sea Bright (on the northern, barrier peninsula part of the Jersey Shore).  A random guy passing by in a truck told us that it was just a straight shot on Route 36 that would bring us directly to the Highland Bridge.  I'm not sure why, but we decided to take his advice, even though it deviated from out map.  Big mistake.  Before we knew it, we were on Route 36/Memorial Parkway, a scary highway with really fast cars and barely any shoulder.  Not a good place to be as the sun was setting.

Fortunately, this was about the time that I got my third flat tire.  Now, when this happened, I kind of thought to myself, "OMG, we're all doomed."  We're in the middle of a highway, 20 miles away from our destination, with no idea how to get there and I keep getting flat tires every few miles.  As I changed my flat, starting to get nervous about the whole situation, Mike looks again at the GPS on my phone.  He found a new route for us, taking us off the highway, across the Navesink River, into Rumson, and across the Shrewsbury River Bridge into the Southern part of Sea Bright.

It turned out that the new route Mike found not only allowed us to escape the scary highway, but it brought us to what I thought was the biggest highlight of the ride, the Oceanic Bridge.  The 2,712 foot bridge connects Rumson and Middletown over the Navesink River.  There's a marina by the bridge, and it all just looked really spectacular.  I wish I took a picture, but the one here gives some sort of idea.

Shortly after we crossed the bridge, we had FINALLY made our way to the Jersey Shore!  But we were still about 10 miles away from Asbury Park.  The ride from Sea Bright to Asbury, though, was a pleasant one, well lit and a straight shot down Ocean Avenue, and it's a route that we had all covered much of during the Metroman Triathlon.

As we rode down Ocean Ave, I felt energized and started pedaling stronger.  I went over a bump, and seconds later I heard Rachel calling my name.  Apparently something had fell from my bike.  Mike circled around and went to see what it was.  It turned out that my WALLET had fallen from my bag, which I had left unzipped since my flat tire about five miles ago!  Wow, I was glad Rachel caught that.  And I was glad that it didn't fall out about 2 miles earlier, when we were biking on the darker residential roads.  And I was glad that my keys, in the same unzipped pocked, didn't fall out.  Disaster (barely) averted!!

Off we go again.  As we reach Long Brach (about 8 miles from Asbury), we got ANOTHER flat!  This time it was Mike's tire, though.  I was so happy that, for once, it wasn't me who got the flat!  Since Mike had given me his spare tube, he had to use Rachel's.  Which meant that, for our last 8 miles, we had no more spares!

But finally, after 70 miles, four flat tires, and many, many, many hours, we made it to Asbury Park!  By that time, we were all completely physically drained.  But we were so happy we made it.  We were also famished.  So we biked directly to Old Man Rafferty's, where the other patrons' and waiters' jaws dropped when we told them we biked in from Newark.  We each had a delicious (and big!) dinner, topped off with two slices of their decadent desserts (peanut butter silk and rocky road cake)!  Yummmmm!  It was a great end to a wonderful, crazy and exhausting day.

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So one of us had the bright idea to do a swim race the next morning.  I don't think any of us could believe we were actually going to go through with it.  But sure enough, we all woke up at 6:15 Sunday morning to bike the 7 miles from Asbury to Sea Girt for the 15th Annual Sea Girt Ocean Mile.

To say my entire body was sore from the run and the bike ride the day before was an understatement.  I figured, though, that I could do the swim at an easy pace with no pressure.  My legs felt kind of like Jello, so there would not be much kicking.

When we got to Sea Girt, the ocean didn't seem too bad.  Alison, who lives in Monmouth Beach, also came down for the swim.  She said the water was quite choppy today.  But again, it didn't seem so bad to me.

I don't remember if I said this before, but I'm becoming quite the pro at running into the water and diving underneath the waves.  Just a couple of months ago, I couldn't make myself go under the waves at all, it just terrified me to much to have the waving crashing over me.  But now I think it's actually kind of fun.

Once we got into the water, though, it was like the waves didn't stop.  On my previous swims, we would just swim out past the waves and then the rest of the swim would be pretty smooth.  Not this time.  I finally realized what Alison meant by "choppy."  I felt like I was in a clothes dryer being tumbled around.  There was no way to escape it.  I kept going up and down, up and down, and getting pushed around by the water.  It was so hard, I couldn't swim in a straight line.  And to make things worse, there were absolutely no buoys on the course to help guide the way--only one at the start and two waaaaayyy down at the turnaround point, so they might as well have been invisible because they were half a mile away and I couldn't see where they were for most of the swim.

I honestly didn't know if I could finish it.  The field of swimmers had drastically thinned out, and I was just starting out the swim and couldn't see where the buoys were at the turn.  I tried to calm myself mentally when I realized that I would probably have to swim the whole race with no other swimmers anywhere near me.  For a moment, I got nervous, thinking that the lifeguards with with the rest of the swimmers, and I was all by myself.  It was a little bit terrifying.  And, my goggles were super fogged up, so it was hard to see where I was going.  And every time I stopped swimming to take the goggles off so I could see, I ended up swallowing a big gulp of seawater.  So it was easier to just put my head down and swim, hoping I was going in the right direction.

Eventually, some of the faster swimmers started coming toward me, which made me realize I was going in the right direction and I was approaching the turnaround.  A while later, I finally made it to the bouys, turned around, and headed back again.

But, again, there were no buoys on the course, and I had no idea where I was going, and the waves were pushing me in all different directions.  Probably 5 minutes after the turnaround, a lifeguard on a canoe stopped me.  He asked if I had already done the turnaround.  I said yes.  So he asked me why I was swimming back toward the bouys that marked the turn. I was so confused.  It took me a second to figure out what had happenned, but apparently the waves had pushed me around a full 180 degrees without me noticing it.  The lifeguard pointed me in the right direction, and sent me off, shouting out: "Concentrate on your navigation!"  How embarrassing!

I still couldn't see where that damn buoy was that marked the end.  A few moments later there was another lifeguard.  I asked her if I was going in the right direction, and she said I was.  Then I asked her if I was the last swimmer.  She laughed and said, "Not at all!"  This made me feel a lot better.  Of course, I spent the next few minutes wondering if she was lying to me, so I asked the next lifeguard the same thing, and he also said I wasn't.  By this time I had seen the buoy and was able to focus on finishing.  I could see the huge crowd of finishers gathered on the beach--and knowing that Mike, Rachel and Alison were there, I tried as hard as I could to show them a strong finish.  I heard them screaming my name as I exited the water and ran as fast as I could on my wobbly legs to the finish line.  As I ran by them, I knew they had been standing there for about twenty minutes waiting for me, but I was just so glad to get out of that water and finish.  

Of course, I forgot to look at my time as I finished, but I think it was around 49 minutes.  My slowest one-mile swim ever, and a full 15 minutes slower than my swim last week.  My place, I think, was 127 out of 145.    Still towards the bottom, but definitely not in last place.  I was happy, though.  This was probably my most challenging swim ever, and I made it.  Even better, it meant that I was done with exercising for the weekend!

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