Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 Corporate Cup Half Marathon Race Report

The Corporate Cup race has been around for a long time. 37 years the website says.  I had always heard of it but never ran it. This year, after the Sunbelt Meet, I just kinda felt like doing it. I usually do a early spring half marathon.  I didn't last year, so this year I felt like it would help with a little bit of the winter training motivation.

The race starts and finishes in downtown Charlotte. It is basically the Thunder Road (now Charlotte Marathon) half course.  So I had kinda done it before.  I picked up my race packet on Thursday since it was at that Run for Your Life over on Kings Street.  Friday packet pick was downtown, and I didn't want to have to deal the parking downtown and Friday traffic.

I've done some packet pickups before at this RFYL. Kinda on my way home, although the traffic afterward is not good.  Basically fight the traffic back up Morehead so I can fight the traffic on I-77. Hardly anyone was in there so it took like 2 minutes to get the packet and get out of there. More time to fight traffic.

Race morning, I fixed a bagel with cream cheese and I headed out around 6:30am.  It was nice not to have to fight traffic on I-77 for once.  Found the parking deck easy enough. Just took College up and then left onto 2nd street (well MLK Blvd now).  The parking deal for this race is pretty sweet.  Free parking in the Two Wells Fargo deck.  It's like a 1/2 block from the starting line. I parked on the first ramp so it just took me a second to get out and onto the street. But I didn't leave right away, I just hung out in the car.  I had a banana and a gel and chilled for a bit.

I just wanted to make sure I was parked.  I left the car around 7am and checked out the situation.  I found the start and then walked back over to the atrium where most of the people were hanging out since it was in the 30's.  I found Justin and Amanda and hung out with them for a while. I really didn't see anyone else.  Eventually I took another gel and headed out for a warmup.
Staying Warm
I just did a mile to get the body a little warm.  I did do some pickups and sprints to get the feel of the quicker pace.  I had grabbed an old long sleeve shirt out of my bike cleaning pile to keep me warm. I did run into my buddy Nathan and Matt, and their friend Christian.  They just kinda take this race as a training day and have some fun with it. Nathan asked me if I was going to race hard. I said, I don't know how else to race.  So I stood near the front, second row.  They played the national anthem and then I threw off my shirt, and we were ready to go.

At the gun, everyone went out pretty smoothly and quickly.  I didn't want to start out way too fast, like the 5:30 opening mile I put down at Charlotte Racefest a couple of years ago.  So I glanced down at my watch to make sure I was over a 6 min pace.  Honestly the first couple of miles were pretty flat and the pace of the first couple of miles felt relatively easy as I came through in 12:14 at the 2 mile mark.

The next couple of miles however, seemed a LOT tougher.  My breathing got a little out of control and I started thinking I would not be able to hold this pace.  By mile 4 you get out of downtown and start heading down the longer stretches.  I split over a 6:30 mile in mile 5, but started feeling a little better. I was still averaging 6:15's at that point.

By mile 6 I started to settle in a bit.  I would struggle going up the hills, but then make up some time on the downhills and flats.  I kept going back and forth with a guy who was really good at climbing the hills, but my pace on the flats was faster.  We went back and forth like this all day long.

I fell into a pretty good rythm after 5 miles. I got my breathing under control.  The hills were taking it out of me. However, as I crested them, I was able to push and catch back up.  I had brought 2 gels with me and had planned to take them at 4 miles and 8 miles.  I never really felt hungry, so then I didn't eat either gel.  I did take water at about 5 or 6 aid stations.  I eventually warmed and took my gloves off, and then later my head band. I had the intention earlier of throwing the gloves away.  Then I thought I may need them again if I make a turn and suddenly the wind was at my face.

Over the next 6 miles I averaged 6:22.5/mile to bring me to mile 11 and an overall average pace of 6:19.2/mile.  Now: The Morehead Climb.  It took a little bit, but the guy racing me finally caught me again and started to put some real distance between us.

So over the last 2 miles, when I should have been dropping the hammer, I slugged up the hill.  I mean, I didn't blow up or anything. It took me 13:07 to go from mile 11 to mile 13.  My racing buddy kept his 6:22 pace, but my 6:33 pace per mile put me 20 seconds behind him at the finish.  And of course he was in my age group. So I walked away with the "First Loser" award.

I came across the finish line pretty spent.  I shook hands with the guy who beat me, grabbed some bananas and water and then found a place to sit.  I sat there for a few minutes, not getting cold, even though the temps were still in the lower 40's.  A guy walked up and introduced himself to me.  He recognized me from my Big Sexy Singlet.  We talked about tri for a while.  Then I was ready to head back to the car.
I was finally starting to get cold, so I put on some warmer clothes and did a cooldown run.  That felt pretty ugly.  I just did a mile to try and loosen things up.   I then wandered around back toward the finish line to see if I saw anyone else I knew coming through.  I did see Heidi (from swim) but that was about it.  So then I just went to the atrium to see what kind of place I came in.  They had the little kiosks setup so you can punch in your bib number.  So then I saw I was second.  The awards ceremony was just for first place finishers.  For 2nd and 3rd placers you just picked up your award at the kiosk.  That sped things up quite a bit.
What is this thing?
I grabbed my 'glass' and just headed out.  It was nice to have a really close parking spot.  The attendant was just letting everyone drive right out, not even checking if they had bib numbers or not. So I was home relatively quickly.

Overall pretty happy with being able to hold the pace. I mean I didn't run super fast, but for the first week of March, not too bad.  My overall Garmin average pace was 6:20.5, but my slowest mile was only 6:34, so I never really died so that was good.  Official Results Here.  Those hills just get me.  It seems no matter how much I do hill repeats, in my old age those things just zap me.  We'll definitely have to work on that in the coming months.  But we'll get there.

Friday, March 3, 2017

2017 Sunbelt Swim Meet

Right after last year's Sunbelt Swim meet (my first ever swim meet) I was excited to do it again. As the year wore on, it kinda got pushed to the back of my mind.  Especially after my burnout to end the season, and my six weeks off.  When I did finally get back in the pool in late October, I started thinking more about Sunbelt.  I really wanted to do the 100 IM. That's Individual Medley. As in Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle. Yes all in one race. Fly/Back/Breast/Free as they say.
The Swim MAC Pool
So I started concentrating more on my off stokes.  Really trying to do more fly and back in practice when it was called for or when we had choice on a Fast Friday.  I definitely refined my backstroke.  Not sure if fly will ever be refined.  I also had to work on a lot of different turns. Since I was doing all the stroke 50's in addition to the IM, I spent a couple of practices where I just did a lot turns.

Seriously. Not growing up swimming, these things aren't natural. My freestyle flip turns have gotten better, but the rest, I needed practice.  Fly to fly and breast to breast are pretty similar, but fly to back is different. The biggest thing (for me) is that back to breast and back to back are TOTALLY different.   Anyways, it's not like the gun goes off, you run, hit the finish line and stop. You can be disqualified for not doing these turns and pullouts correctly.  So that's fun.
This year I was able to participate in both days of the meet.  It was back at the newly renovated Mecklenburg Aquatic Center (MAC).  I had swum at the MAC a few times before for lessons before I had started swimming with the Mecklenburg Swim Association (MSA) Masters team.  They upgraded the entrance, adding a workout room.  They pushed the far wall out further for more seating, and added more permanent seats on the entrance side.  The locker rooms were upgraded and I heard they also upgraded a lot of HVAC stuff.  The pool itself was pretty much the same.  I do not think they updated any of the diving blocks.
I arrived at the MAC around 11:45 am and parked across Stonewall Street at that government building.  The MAC parking lot was full, but there was plenty of parking across the street.  When I got inside, I found all my MSA teammates.  I put my stuff down and went over to cheer on Jeremy who was finishing up the 1,000 yard free (I think everything over 500 is free).  Pretty soon that event was over, and right at 12:30 people started doing their warmups.  I kind of stayed out of the frenzy for a while, and waited until it died down.  I did some warmup laps, practiced the different strokes and the different turns.  Then I did a few dives.  I had gotten a new pair of goggles just for diving.  In practice I had mixed results.  I did find that they did better when I put the straps underneath my swim cap. But still in the practice dives, the goggles only worked about half the time.  They didn't come off ever, but half the time they filled with water. Needless to say I was uber nervous all morning.  The warmups helped, but I was anxious to get that first race over with.
Watching and Cheering
50 Back, 5th, 46.39 (A New PR!)
Luckily in this event you don't dive in head first.  You don't start on the blocks.  You get in the water and pull yourself up and jump backward at the beep.  So no probs with the goggles. Off I went. I whirled my arms around (it felt) so fast that I was a windmill in a hurricane.  For some reason the clock didn't show how fast (I seemed) to be moving.  But I got to the flags, counted my strokes, turned on my stomach, did the flip and I was on my way back. A Full. Legal. Backstroke. Turn. Jeah! I continued my whirlwind on the way back and made a good touch at the end.  One event down.

200 Medley Relay 2nd of 3, 1st leg, 50 back 43.39 (A New PR!)
My next event was essentially the same as the first.  I led off the the relay which meant another 50 back.  I felt pretty good. Evidently the first race warmed me up some.  My split was 3 seconds faster than the open race.  Then it was Dan who did breaststroke.  Kevin did Fly. Paul brought it home with the freestyle.  We actually beat a team! That felt pretty good.
Coach and Jeremy
400 Free Relay, 2nd of 3, 3rd leg, 1:16.51 (A New PR!)
Next up was another relay, and my first dive of the day.  I was the third leg.  Brian led off, then Kevin again.  Then it was my turn.  As Kev is coming in I'm getting ready. I swing my arms like I've seen Jen do.  Not sure why you do this in a relay and not an individual race.  Maybe to time your leap.  Anyways, I erred on the side of caution as I didn't want to take off too early and get DQ'd.  I dove in as he hit the wall and just tried to push and make good turns.  I started to tire some in the 3rd 25, but I made the turn and pushed home.  Then Brent took off and smoked his leg.  Again, we beat a team in our Age Group. Booyah!

50 Free 11th, 34.26 [35.35 last year] (A New PR!)
This is the hammer event.  The 'Splash and Dash' as they call it in the Olympics.  Although in this pool we make a turn.  You jump in and just hammer. I don't think I really had my head around how hard you need to swim this.  Maybe next yeat.  I did beat my time from last year, though.

100 IM, 6th, 1:33.16 (A New PR!)
This was my marquee event.  I wanted to do this event because it sounds so cool when you say you swam the individual medley.  Like I'm a real swimmer or something. I guess mostly because it was a challenge.  I mean a year ago, there would be no way I would have ever considered it, but here I was.  I once wrote a blog about how I've never done a race just to finish. I can no longer say that. For me, the only goal in the 100 IM was to make all the legal turns and just finish the race.  No time goal. No place goal. Just show up in the standings.

So I get on the block, and I'm literally mouthing to myself "flybackbreastfree flybackbreastfree flybackbreastfree". Just a little mental exercise so I don't embarrass myself.  The beep goes off and I jump. I dive in and my goggles fill up with water. Both sides.  OK, I think, this isn't too bad. I can see ok on the Fly because your head is straight up.  Plus you spend almost half the length of the pool under water.  I hit the wall and make the turn. Now I'm on my back and I cannot see anything except a big white blur.  I feel like I'm literally blind.

I pull my chin down a couple of times just to make sure I'm going straight.  Then I'm thinking, how the hell can I make this turn if I can't see the flags to count my strokes?  I just keep going, hoping I haven't missed the flags. Finally I do recognize the flags and start my count.  I make another legal turn and now I'm on breast.  Again not too bad since your head is straight up again.  I try to push.  I make the turn and head home freestyle.  I still can't hardly see, but it's not as bad as the backstroke.  I hit the wall. And I have completed a legal 100 IM. Damn that felt good. I felt like a freakin' swimmer.

I hung around until the last events were over and then headed home. I was exhausted.

I left about 7:15am for the final morning session.  This time I could park in the MAC parking lot, as there were plenty of spaces there.  Definitely a lighter crowd on the second day.  I basically went through the same routine. Practiced some fly and breast and pullouts.  I did a little diving.  Goggles always stayed on, but sometimes got some water in them.

50 Fly, 7th, 41.06 (A New PR!)
I dive and get some water in my goggles but not too bad. I dolphin kick and stay underwater as long as I can. I come up and pretty smoothly transition to the butterfly stroke.  As I get near the end of the pool, I thought, well this isn't really too bad.  I actually feel pretty good.  I make an ok turn and push for home.  About 2/3 of the way back, the piano falls on my back.  I'm sucking oxygen like there is no tomorrow. All's I'm thinking is 'where the hell are those damn flags'.  I finally get to the end and touch. I roll out of the pool and lay there. That was rough, but I did it.
Hey! That's Me!
50 Breast, 5th, 47.62 [44.95 Last Year]
I had done this event last year. Maybe that's why I wasn't as mentally ready. Maybe because I wasn't so nervous about it.  Anyways, there is a specific way you can start this stroke after you dive in. You are allowed one kick and one stroke underwater before you come up.  I had been working so much on dolphin kicking as much as I could on my starts, that when I dove in here I did a double kick and then a pull with my arms. Yeah, that's illegal.  I realized I had done it immediately and I was just deflated.  I didn't really swim that hard. Then on the turn (right in front of the referee) I didn't kick at all.  Just and arm pull and then above the water.  I couldn't really push and just wanted it over.  I got out of the pool and went straight to the bathroom. I didn't want to see my teammates.  I took a few minutes before I went back over.  No one saw what I did, but 'I felt shame' as the saying goes.
MSA Lining up to Help count laps
100 Free, 9th, 1:15.69 [1:19.80 Last Year] (A New PR!)
So time for a little redemption.  I got a good start, goggles held, and I just tried to push. I made some good flip turns and was pretty happy to finish over 4 seconds faster than last year. Still DFL in the age group, but I was happy with the time.
Theo counting my laps in the 500
500 Free, 3rd, 8:05.07 [8:23.82 Last Year] (A New PR!)
Last event for me, last event of the meet.  The 500 (unlike all the shorter events) runs the heats from fastest to slowest. So I was in the 2nd to last heat.  It was kinda cool because 6 of the 8 lanes were MSA swimmers.  It was the MSA heat.  I had a good dive and my goggles stayed clear (YES). Kind of a big deal in a longer race like the 500. I was able to push some in the beginning.  I definitely slowed a bit in the middle. It kinda felt like a long triathlon swim, well that's what came to mind anyways.  Theo was counting laps for me and I eventually got into a (slow) groove.  I tried to start pushing in the final 150 and finished the last 50 strong. I even out touched my MSA mate Kevin by 0.7 seconds. I was pretty happy with the almost 19 second PR.

I went and got showered and changed. I came back out to cheer on the final heat.  MSA's Kim was swimming and MSA lined the pool.  We have people yelling on both ends, and all along the one side.  I was yelling and waving my towel on the starting block end.  It was pretty fun.  We were all cheering her on like she was trying to win Olympic Gold. After she she finished we all yelled and clapped.
The Coveted Prize!
That was the end of the meet. Jen said we were in 2nd place to Swim-MAC by 36 points heading into the 500.  It did not take them long to give the final results.  There were not a lot of people from the other teams left.  They came over the PA system and announced the top out of state teams.  Then they announced the in state teams.  Greenville Splash Masters . . . then . . . Swim-MAC Master. We all kind of looked at each other for a second. Then it sunk in. Then we all started yelling again.  We couldn't even hear them announce that we had won.  It was crazy, jumping, clapping, cheering, hugging.  I see a couple of guys start reaching into Coach Patty's pockets and emptying everything out. I guess they had this all figured out already.

Coach is going in the water.  She jumps off and dives in to thunderous applause.  She treads around a little bit and gives the #1 sign. Coach didn't say much going in, but this was really important to her. She had just encouraged as many people to sign up as possible.  But now, when she spoke about it, it literally brought tears to her eyes.  As coach says, MSA is about "We" not "Me".  It was awesome.

So everyone gets cleaned up and we head on over to Unknown Brewing for the post-meet celebration.  We grab a table and quite a few people come.  A few people bring in food, but I just replaced carbs with beer.  It was fun hanging out and talking with a lot of the people with MSA that I don't normally talk with.  There are a lot of people and there are different swim days and times and and lanes.  You tend to know just the people of your ability and your practice times.  It was great to hang with everyone.

Honestly, there is a lot of frickin' positive energy with everyone.  It makes a difference.  Not just at the meet, but everyday at practice.  Swimming with MSA was definitely one of the best things I have done.  A grand total of 6 PR's for this Meet! Gotta be happy with that!  So next year . . . what do we do to raise the stakes? Longer non-free races? More IM? We shall see.