Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent1 - How's Your Training Going?

Title is link.  I welcome comments on what people's experience has been in this week of "training" through daily prayer.
One note: I did get some comments about my suggestion to "not walk and pray".  Part of my intention with a list of things to not do, was to limit distractions. However, I know that walking and praying can be a wonderful way in which people commune with God; and I in no way want to limit the many marvelous ways we can commune with God.   It is up to each of us to look for ways to experience intimacy with our Creator.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coming down from the Mountain - a post-Quadrathlon report

Are you fo' real?  4th Place OVERALL!  1st Place in my age group (that's what the trophy says). 4:18:35 total time.  My previous years' times were 5:12 in 2010 and 5:15 in 2011.  What the heck happened in 2012?

Granted, some of the previous years' best competitors didn't show up, which would have affected my place, but not my time.  I blew myself away!  And had no idea I was doing as well as I was doing.  All I can say is, thanks to all who supported me (Bruce's wonderful texts reminding me of my place in the world: "Mt. Taylor is the sacred South mtn and associated with the color of turquoise. Respect her and she won't kill you. Paz"), and to a wonderful wife, who, with two kids, still permitted me to train.

The beginning: Craig Hanna introduced me to the quad in 2008. We formed a team, "Los Pucos (sic) de El Oasis." I did the snow shoe portion, and was hooked and competed as a soloist in 2010 and 2011.  Still I had little idea about racing, training, etc. It was always for fun (and still is).  But, this year was different - without really noticing - I took it to another level.  It began in the fall of 2011. To support Antonio Lopez, I ran the Santa Fe Half-Marathon, which he'd helped organize.  Gerzain Chavez, my doctor and an elder in my church told me after that event I should consider running a marathon, something I'd previously never intended to do.  He also introduced me to Hal Higdon's book: Marathon, from which I learned of online training programs.  I adapted the Marathon 3 training program to the elements and demands of the quad, and it really helped me to focus on each day's activity and to have realistic training goals.  Training became a joyous journey, as the destination of the quad loomed before me. I was consistent, I followed the program as best as I was able to, and my body responded and got in shape like never before.

However, the week of the race, Ruby brought a germ home from school, she got sick, Zia got sick, by Thursday Trasie was sick...Friday, we were supposed to have left to a conference in Albuquerque, but, had to change plans.  I was freaking out with all the germs floating around.  I was torn, thinking I needed to care for my family at all costs, while worried that I was going to be doomed for the quad.  Christiann Stapf came over to help out with the kids and Trasie, and Trasie encouraged me to play it safe, so I wore a surgical mask any time I came into the house.

I was also more nervous than previous years because there was more at stake in this race. I'd organized it as a fundraiser for my church's women's group - sociedad feminil - which added a little more pressure, as well as good motivation to perform (more on that below).

I hooked up with Dan Guevarra - who was skiing as part of a team - and we hit the road Friday evening and made it to Grants for the spaghetti supper by 7:30.  There, we met up with one of his teammates Fred. They've been doing it now for 10 years and won a prize for their age group.

After supper, we took our gear up to be loaded on the trucks.

All the skis and snow-shoes and other equipment gets hauled up to the run-ski transition point. We have to ensure careful labeling with our number of each item so that the volunteers can keep track of our things.  It's always interesting to see other folks' equipment and what some of their strategy is. Now that this is my third time as a soloist, I felt good about my minimalist approach: I sent up just my skis, boots, and a backpack with my snowshoes and already attached tennis shoes - no fluids, no food, no extra clothes, no change of socks...just go with what I've got.

The race began an hour earlier this year than previous years: 8 am.  Which meant getting up at 5:30am to eat breakfast.  With this in mind Fred, Dan, and I check into our room, got all our gear ready, took a soak in the hot tub, and called it a night about 11.  For the pre-game breakfast, I brought my own granola and had it with yogurt, as well as a bagel.  As for hydration, most of what I'd read was to hydrate good during the week before the event, and not over-hydrate on race day.   So I kept fluids reasonable that morning.

After breakfast I went to lie down a bit, and then left the motel at 7:20 and was parked and getting things ready by 7:30 (I could have used an extra 15 minutes).  I got my numbers attached to clothing, helmet and bicycle, took a quick  7 minute warm up jog, shed some warm clothes and stashed all my stuff in the car, got on my bike and headed to the start line.  They started 30 seconds early by my watch, and I was scrambling a bit, weaving between other cyclists to find a place, and then weaving after we began moving to get up ahead a bit.

My $5 gloves I bought at Ace hardware were a perfect shell for some liners I had underneath - the temperature at the start was 25 degrees.  I was excited and had to balance my pace with the impulses of adrenaline and competitiveness competing with my need to warm up a bit and not get carried away. Slowly, I found a good pace, and was passing folks and joining various groups.  By the time I hit the big hill at mile 10.5, I was alone and standing up, wishing I had an extra low gear.  There was a nice headwind in that last 3 miles.  The photographer said to me as I passed him just before mile 13, "Nice Headwind" to which I responded, "Thanks...Oh, I mean, yeah."  (You just get used to everyone saying "Nice Job.")  The uphill went by quickly.  

Transition was simple.  Dropped bike and bag and took off running.  It was at this point last year I was beginning to drag.  Not this year.  Started off with an 8 mile pace which I maintained for about 2 miles, then as the route got steeper I slowed to between a 9 and 10 minute pace. Running felt good. I do well going up!

I had no idea what place I was at that point. I'd seen many bikers ahead of me. I'd passed a few folks on the run.  My skis weren't ready for me when I got to them, but Dan was there to help out and I got them on as quickly as I could.  I maintained a 16-17 minute pace over the 2.5 miles.  Heartbreak hill was as daunting as ever.  So thankful for Gerzain's skins.  The views were spectacular.  I passed a few folks on the uphill ski, and by the time I got to the ski shoe transition, the guys there volunteering told me I could stop where they were, and they'd take care of my skins.  Wow! Special treatment as opposed to previous years where I was on my own.  Just as I was unlacing my ski boots, I heard someone say, Josiah, your skis are here Josiah.  Josiah is the legend who wins every year.  How cool is that, he and I were at the ski shoe transition point at the same time...only, I still had to go up on the shoes, and he was going down on the skis. He's a beast...and I was glad to have seen him this year.

As I took off on my snow shoes, running at about a 10 minute pace, I heard a guy say, "you're in fourth place." I thought he was talking to someone else coming down from the mountain.  After making my way through the short stretch of pines to the clearing at the "edge of the world," I saw the volunteers there who always have a small bar of various spirits to lift the spirits of competitors at that point.  I gave them my number and they shouted my name, "Way to go Chester, you're doing great!"  I told them I'd see 'em on the way down.  I made the long 600 foot assent to the top of the volcano. I saw one person in front of me.  I would have loved to have caught him, but not a chance on that slop. A brisk walk was all I could manage, taking advantage of a few dug out steps by competitors who had tread them.

I made it to the top! What a spectacular clear day, and from that point you could see for miles and miles.
Like this, but only there was snow at the top!

There was no time to bask in the glory of being at the top.  I gave my number, which someone wrote on a pad of paper, I crossed the timing chip detector point which gave me an affirmative beep! Someone shouted the proverbial, "You're half way there," shout. Yikes and Yipee are the mutual sentiments.

I booked it down, and it was steeper than I had remembered, so I had to watch my step and not be too distracted  by what was out beyond.  I had decided on my way up the mountain I was going to have a spirit of some sort from the guys at the bar. They really make it fun. I'd decided on Vodka, as the Russians seem to think that treats the body well in cold weather. I shouted to them, "Vodka!" "Sorry, we only have tequila or Jack Daniels," was the response. "Jack Daniels!" I shouted back, as I approached the table.  The guy was still opening the bottle when I got to the table, but he was cranking that cap with all his might, his thick gloves spinning, his bulky jacket pumping.  He opened it, and as he poured I had to cut him off from pouring too much!  A quick swig and I was off again.  The change in shoes from this year and last made a huge difference. With the exception of the very steep uphill, I was able the run the entire course.  Later I found out that my time on the downhill shoe was 8 minutes four seconds.  The second fastest time for the course. The fastest, of course, was that of Josiah.  He beat me by four seconds...hmmm, how much time did I waste getting a shot of Jack Daniels? Well, maybe Josiah got a shot too, but I doubt it.

I strapped on my skis as quickly as I could. The volunteers did great helping with the transitions, for the most part. The guy who helped me load my snowshoes into my backpack must not have realized how uncomfortable skiing with the cleats of the snowshoes poking in your back would be. I got to find out that one the hard way, as I skied about 3 miles that way. I passed one person at this transition point, but he quickly passed me again on his skate skis, which he navigated much better than I my "traditional" skis (see above photo). With some of the slight uphill sections of this portion, I was very much regretting not having any grip wax on my skis.  Something to keep in mind for the future. That may have saved me about 2-5 minutes to have that extra grip.  But, when the downhill portion was truly downhill, I was flying!  Very appreciative to Alpine Sports for tuning my skis (for which they charged me a six pack of beer :!) I had to really ease up on those steep turns, but I noticed that when I kicked into a hard core ski wedge, the tracks in front of me were parallel and narrow.  My time down on skis was 18:20. Those tracks down were in the 11 minute range.  I passed a group of folks, huddled around a fire at one of the more intense curves who yelled, "Step on it! GO! The guy's just ahead, kick his ass!"  I'd wished I could've gone faster, but appreciated the encouragement! The last portion of this part was a gradual uphill, for which I had to work some major muscles that had received very little attention in my training, and I had to do my best to "skate" uphill. I eventually got a bit of a rhythm, recalling my days in the course I took at Wheaton College, on cross country skiing for which I received a credit hour.  I was wondering how I got through that course knowing so little about skiing or how to wax and care for skis...there was an old girlfriend in that class, maybe they taught it and I just missed it...As most of the final stage of this portion was uphill, and to top it off, to cross the chip detector point one had to ski on a slight hill, I whimpered across to finish this portion.

I made it to a few volunteers who greeted me enthusiastically, telling me how great I was doing.  I saw Dan who looked a little stupefied.  He mutter something like, "Nice job, Chester; you're doing great!" I still had no idea what place I was in, I figured top 15 somewhere, maybe top 10.  This was an easy transition. Take the skis and boot off, they took care of the rest, they practically shoved my shoes on my feet and tied my shoes for me.  It was awesome!  In the transition, someone said something like, "It's easy from here!" To which I responded, "this next portion is the hardest part!" The down hill run.  It's down hill, but it's hard on your tired knees and aching body.  I took a swig of water and was off.... I felt the soreness, and tried my best to grit my teeth and bare it.  I wasn't able to go as fast as I would have wanted.  I was sub-7 for the first two steep miles, but then slowed down to about 7:30 for the last three.  I was hoping to be sub-7 the whole way.  It's a tough section. Body is just pounding with every step; I imagine it like running with wooden legs, that have no give and just rattle your spine. I passed many people who were on teams still making their way up.  They all gave me the congratulatory, Nice work. Exhausted, I got tired of responding verbally, so I either smiled or gave a thumbs up.  I got thirsty on this part, and my gel shot I had pinned inside my pants had leaked (have to work on that technique), and I only got about a half a shot.  Still, I was pushing on. This is the portion where the endurance and perseverance and mental toughness sets in the most.  You're virtually alone, almost home, but this is a major, not quite yet section.   With less than a mile left, a lonely woman at a rest station new to the course this year, attempted to entice me with a quick beverage. She was on the opposite side of the road from where I was, and I knew I was close to the transition where I would have to slow down anyway and there would be plenty of drinks. She, like the voice of a siren, lifted her arm with a cup in hand, and said, "Sports drink?" I waved a no thank you and pushed I wished I'd of taken that drink...

I told myself I only needed one more drink, preferably a sports drink, and I would make it to the end.  I got to the transition, and there were a lot of volunteers, tables, and general activity of volunteers and spectators milling around.  I saw a person up ahead from where I was in a yellow neon jacket signaling for me, letting me know where my bike and gear was. As I approached him, I passed several booths, but in the previous transition, one didn't even have to ask for a drink, it was just shoved in our faces. So, assuming this to be normative, I shouted to the crew helping me out, "Helmet, Backpack, and sports-drink." They were good on the first two, but on the third-on the sports drink- one asked, "is it in your bag?" I said, "no." Off someone went to grab me one.  I quickly put on my helmet and bag. And saw a "GU" gel just there. The runner wasn't back yet, but he was close. I was impatient, and tired. I said, "forget the drink, I'll just have this GU."  I tore open the packet, downed it, and mounted my bike just as the runner was hurriedly trying not to spill the sports drink. I looked back, and pushed forward, "Your drink!"  "no thanks!"  Someone laughed.  I was moving...still thirsty, and knowing it's good to chase a gel with water, I went for the remaining water in my water bottle...As I pulled it out of its cage, it slipped from my grasp and as if in slow motion, fell to the ground. Time seemed to warp. Instinctively, I went for my breaks to stop and pick it up. My front brake locked as I was attempting to stop while going down hill and probably at a speed of 18 mph.  I went straight over the handle bars.  My bike flipped over me. My hands and knees were ripped open by the asphalt, and what they weren't able to slow down in my fall, my jaw, shoulder, and head finished the job - crunch, went my helmet. This was the first time I'd ever had a major fall while road biking at high velocity.  "EXPLETIVE!!"  I looked back for the water bottle and limped to retrieve it. I looked up to see who saw me, and while I wasn't out of sight from the transition point, I didn't notice anyone alarmed by my current condition. I mounted my bike, my knees and hands were pulsating. I noticed that the seat of my bike was crooked, but not unbearably.

  My knee hurt to peddle...but not unbearably.  I simply had to coast this first portion, and will myself to keep going. More than once I wondered if I would finish. All that work only to crash and be to injured to finish....I told myself over and over as the pain became more intense..."keep going, keep going, keep're almost there!"  What is it about the downhill bike section of this race. Last year, a flat tire with 9 miles on the tire I couldn't change (tubular), meant 9 miles of peddling on a flat into 40 mph winds.  This year, a fall, for a stupid stupid mistake!  Trasie pointed out later, "you could stop for a shot of Jack Daniels, but you couldn't stop for a sports drink when you needed it...." Think Homer Simpson "Doooh!" Not only did I wonder if I would be able to finish, but I wondered how many people were going to pass me now.  Blood began to drip, but I wasn't sure from where. It dripped on my clothes, it dripped on my speedometer, it dripped on the blasted water bottle.

I finally did get to a place on the course where I felt secure enough to get that swig of water.  There wasn't much there. I felt like Steve Martin in The Three Amigos. "Just makin' memories." There is one portion of the "downhill" bike that is as steep uphill climb.  It was here that I had to test my knees, and test my manhood.  I had to push through any pain I was experiencing if I was going to finish this race.  I shifted into my lowest gear (10 speed), and stood up and peddled with everything I had...Finally, I made it to the top of that hill, and was feeling okay, not ready to give up yet.  And, even feeling better. I had been able to work out much of the soreness in my knees.  I was still bleeding more than I would have cared to (a good way to become dehydrated). But, I was going to push on.  I was averaging between 2 and 3 minute miles...but the mile markers couldn't come fast enough.  I made it past the jail. I made it to the transition of county maintained roads to city maintained roads.  I peaked back once with about two miles left to see if anyone was near one in sight.  I made it onto the bumpy, potholed and patchy roads of Grants. I was almost there.  That last mile was the longest...and finally I came to the final stretch.  I looked up to see if Trasie and the kids had made it, seeing no sign of them (the previous year they had a big sign!), I assumed they weren't able to make it. I cruised across the finish line in less than dramatic fashion. I heard a few cheers and claps. I road a bit up the road to cool down; turned around and someone was coming toward me, "What was your number? We couldn't see it?" "73," I weakly shouted back.  I went around to the back of the host building to go to see about accessing the bathrooms from there, to by-pass the bystanders and avoid any comments about the noticeable blood dripping from my chin and doting my outfit. The back door was locked.  I walked (limped) back to the front, and there was Trasie, Ruby, and Zia!  "What are you doing down here already?" She saw the blood, "Don't tell me, you had an accident! You didn't finish!"  I told her the whole story.  She was so disappointed she didn't get to see me cross the finish line.  She couldn't believe I was done so soon. Neither could I.

 4:18:35 total time. I predicted 4:45.  It was only after I cleaned up a bit from the blood that I saw a posting of early results. It was there I saw my name...Chester Topple 4th place overall.  WOW! Just Wow!  I couldn't believe it.  Even though the fastest guy, Josiah, beat me by a good 47 minutes, I was still pretty impressed.   

The rest of the day consisted of us going back to the hotel to change and clean up, getting a bite to eat at Canton Cafe, going back to the event site, picking up gear and running into Justin Miller, grabbing my free gift from Santa Fe Brewing Company, and collecting an award at the closing ceremony.  Ruby Gene was a trip. She wasn't sure what I'd done, but she knew it was special. She wouldn't leave my sight. If I went to the bathroom, she had to go too. If I went to see about my gear, she was right there. And she kept saying things like, "Look, Dad, he has a bike just like you!" Or, pointing to someone in a yellow shirt, "Look Dad, a yellow jacket shirt, you love yellow jackets!"  She was enamored! Me, too.

It was awesome to do the event this year. I was so appreciative for all those who took me up on my attempt to do this event as a fundraiser.  Because of the incentive I added to the pledge form: amount x2 if I set a personal record, x3 if I placed in the top 20, x4 If I placed in my age group, and my solid performance, I brought in a bunch of dough (around $2k) for Socieadad Feminil! And, I'm happy for them.

One last note: I had agreed to preach at the Grants Presbyterian Church before the event. I was too tired to put a sermon together Saturday, but I'd thought a lot about it before Saturday. Sunday morning, I woke up, put together an outline in about an hour, and preached on the Transfiguration and our need to listen to Jesus in our walk of discipleship. A neat gathering of people came to church that morning, and all were impressed that I competed in the quad, and many had stories of their volunteerism or of family member's participation.  It was nice way to complete a wonderful weekend!

Now...what's next??!!  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Healer - Mark 1:29-39

Title is link. Fourth sermon in series on Mark 1 (pretty much lectionary - but presenting Jesus as revolutionary, drawing heavily on Ched Meyer's - Binding the Strong Man. 

Friday, February 3, 2012