Thursday, February 21, 2013


A couple of weeks ago, my dad and I went to an event at the Carter Center with Al Gore.  The former Vice President was promoting his new book, The Future.  There were about 500 people there.  It was fun for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the event was held in the same room where my wife and I got married five years ago.  (It was my first time in the Cecil B. Day Chapel since then!)  It was also cool because I got to hang out with Mr. Gore for about twenty minutes before the event.  He gave me a signed copy of his book:
My dad was in Congress for eleven years, and by the time that Bill Clinton was elected President, my dad had some experience under his belt.  Given that President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and my dad were all southern Democrats, they got to know each other well.  This meant that I got to have some really cool experiences growing up, including running with the President when I was a sophomore in college.  (This also meant that my dad was voted out of office in the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.)  My dad has continued to be friends with former President Clinton and especially former Vice President Gore as all three of them have transitioned into life after public service.

Near the end of the program, Al Gore was asked about one of his other books, The Assault on Reason.  In it, Gore basically argues that various things have led us as a country to prefer short-sighted, a priori explanations and solutions rather than thoughtful discourse and reasonable propositions.  (I agree, but that's beside the point.)  When asked why he thought that Americans seemed particularly susceptible to knee-jerk public policy, he responded that he thought that our passive digestion of media was partly to blame.  "We watch, on average, five hours of television a day.  That's bound to affect us!" he said.  "Imagine if you did anything five hours a day. What if you played tennis five hours a day?  Your body and mind would certainly change.  What if you ran five hours a day?  Well, George Darden probably does run five hours a day, but what if we all did?"  [Emphasis added . . . because how cool was that???]    

Despite what the former Vice President said, I haven't been running five hours a day.  I have been focusing on my running a bit more lately, though.  I'm convinced that I can run faster than I have in the last year or so.  Thus, in addition to going to a masters swimming class three times a week--more on that in some other blog entry--I have been training for short-distance races.  So far, I have competed in three of them, and they have gone well!  I have lost a few steps, but I have done all right for a 38-year-old triathlete who until January hadn't run a straight-up road race in nearly ten years.

The first of the three races I ran in the past month was the Polar Bear 5K.  It was my first event as a member of the Atlanta Tri Club team, as you can tell from the shirt I'm wearing in this race picture, taken by one of my new teammates, John:

It may look like I'm in the lead of the race.  I'm not.  I'm in second.  Less than a quarter-mile into the race, a guy moved into first, I moved into second, and that's the way we finished.  My time--16:29 according to my watch--was almost two minutes slower than the PR that I ran as a twenty-year-old collegiate runner, but I was nonetheless very happy about it.  My goal had been 16:40. 

My last 5K was in 2003 at the Crisman Memorial Road Race in Amherst, NH.  I won that race in what I consider one of my finest moments in sports, but that's another story.  Since 2003, I've ridden a bike far more than I've run, and when I have run, it's mostly been of the "find a comfortable pace off the bike and stay there" variety.  In the first 200 yards of the Polar Bear run, I was screaming at myself to get out of my comfort zone.  "Go, go, go!"  I felt like I was sprinting nearly the entire time.  I told Kacie afterwards that I felt like I had one fast gear.  I got into it almost immediately and just stayed there.  My first mile was my slowest mile.  My final mile was my fastest.  I'm clearly not accustomed to this anymore, which is precisely why I decided to do some shorter races this winter and spring!    

A week later, I ran the Chattahoochee Challenge 10K.  Here's a shot of the start from the race web site:

The race played out very similarly.  In the first mile, two guys ran away--the guy in the middle of the photo with no shirt and the guy on the right with the yellow singlet--and I settled into a third place group with two other guys.  Just past the one-mile mark, my companions dropped off, and I was left chasing the two guys who were twenty seconds up the road.  They remained twenty seconds up the road for the remainder of the race, and  I finished third overall in a time of 33:53.  Of note, I won two Rubbermaid coolers for my run.  That was a bit random, but certainly welcome!  My goal had been 34:10, so I was even happier about this race.      

Two weeks after that, I ran the Run the Reagan Half-Marathon.  This race has a particular meaning for Team Darden because it was the first endurance event that Kacie ever did.  It was five years ago, and we had been married for under a year.  During that first year of marriage, she realized that being out of shape and non-competitive didn't really suit me.  Thus, she suggested that we train for a duathlon together.  We did this race as part of our buildup.

[For those of you who might be doing a double-take right now, let me be clear: Kacie did her first endurance race--the Run the Reagan 10K--in February of 2008.  She did her first Half-Ironman in 2009, her first Ironman in 2010, and her first Double Ironman in 2012.  In the summer of 2013, she's part of a two-woman team racing bikes across the United States.  Kacie don't play.] 

I was coming off a four-year hiatus from running in 2008, and I ran just under 1:27:00 for this half-marathon then.  My goal this time this year was to run sub-1:16:00, but I felt like it might be a stretch on this out-and-back course.  Why?  Here's the profile, snipped from Strava:

On race day, it was cold and windy, with a pretty stiff headwind to the turn-around point at 6.5 miles.  Then, as is clear from the profile, the way back was predominantly up, with a couple of real leg-breakers past the ten-mile mark.

The race started, and I settled into third place.  (Malcolm Campbell, local bad-ass and two-time defending U.S. Masters cross-country champion moved into first.  I had no expectations of being able to run with him.  He consistently and very easily put 10 seconds per mile on me, and he ultimately won the race by a little over two minutes.)  I soon passed the second place guy, and as had become the norm, I ran alone for the next long while.  At the turnaround, I could see that the guy I passed was about 100 yards back, and then there  was no one for a long way.  Around mile nine, he caught up with me, went by, and put about twenty yards on me.  He had a terrible habit, though, that kept me in contention: he constantly looked back.  Hardly ten seconds would go by without a glance over his shoulder.  Clearly, he was faster than me given that he had caught me, but he was so hung up on where I was that he lost focus on the road ahead of him.  Let that be a lesson to all who run: if you focus on what's behind you, it will slow you down.  

I could tell by the way he ran that he had more "pop" than I, but because I would close the gap to him every time the course went uphill--which was a lot--I could see that I was a bit stronger.  Thus, I caught and passed him on the last hill, just before the thirteen-mile mark.  Wouldn't you know, though, that the course ended on a downhill.  He out-kicked me, and I finished third.  I had run 1:13:24, though--more than two minutes faster than my goal and more than thirteen minutes faster than the last time I ran this course.  I'll take it!  I'll also take the $100 I won.  Woo hoo!

So why all the running?  Like I said above, I do feel as if I can go faster than I have been.  Indeed, I made it to Kona largely on the strength of my run, but I feel as if I have more in my legs.  And I believe, both as an athlete and as a coach, that the best way to improve one of the three individual disciplines in triathlon is to focus on it at the cost of the other two sports for some period of time during the "off-season."  (The quotation marks are because there's no real off-season for endurance sports.)  I'm doing two or three high-quality rides a week, but cycling is on the back burner for a little while right now.  And even though I'm going to masters swimming classes and certainly improving in the pool, my main focus is running.  It's coming along well.  I'm hoping that this 1:13:24 on a hilly course in February will mean that I will be able to run closer to 2:50:00 on a rolling Ironman run course in September.  There is a lot of work to do between now and then.
Moreover, I missed running.  Running is what I did first, and it's where my roots are.  I enjoy cycling, and I'm willing to spend a lot of time in the water in order to take part in triathlons.  Running is where I come from, though.  It's who I am.

The next couple of weekends are focused on Kacie's RAAM training, and then I'm heading to London with my mom for spring break.  I'll return from London the day before the Publix Georgia Half-Marathon.  I'm running that and looking forward to it, but there's no telling what effect the jet lag may have on me.  We'll see.    


Friday, February 15, 2013

Training Camp!

Over the last month, I have been woefully lax in writing blogs.  There are about ten things that I need to be writing about, including:

--Joining a new triathlon team, the Atlanta Tri Club;
--Getting a shout-out from former Vice President Al Gore during a speech he gave in Atlanta;
--Healing my arm and getting back to masters swim class;
--Renewing an old sponsorship with Cycleops and getting a new one with Swiftwick, both of which I'm really psyched about;
--Finishing on the podiums at two recent road races;
--Experimenting with Newton running shoes
--Helping my wife train for RAAM;
--Joining Strava;
--Breaking the rear derailleur off my road bike, thus requiring me to get a new bike (which I haven't yet bought);
--Starting work as a coach; and
--Gearing up my own training for my spring goals and for my big goal of the year, Ironman Wisconsin

As I look at that list, I realize that 2013 is off to a rockin' start!  (We also re-financed our condo, but who wants to read about that?)  I'll certainly be writing about each one of the things above, but it would make for an unweildy blog if I tried to condense it all into a single entry. 

2013 began for me in Florida, at a training camp with my wife.  The Dardens know how to do a training camp.  Even though they seem to be suddenly in style, we've been taking long weekends in Asheville or having stay-train-cations at home for the last several years.  For our late December/early January training camp, we went to Fort Lauderdale and rode our bikes.  Then we rode some more, and then a little more.  After that, we rode a lot more.  Then I ran a little bit while Kacie rode some more.  By the end of our eight days in Florida, I had ridden nearly 700 miles.  I set a new one-week personal record of 676 miles.  Dern.

On January 4th, I was leading the Strava Cycling Base Mile Blast, a challenge to see who could get the most miles in the first month of the year.  Of the over 40,000 participants world-wide, including pro cyclists, I was sitting in the overall lead with about 440 miles.  (Kacie had not yet joined!)  Once I returned to real life, I dropped in the rankings, and I finished the month just under 5000th place.  But I was in the lead on January 4th.  Don't forget that part.  

Most of our rides were on the A1A between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs.  Along the way, we saw some of the most stunning houses we've ever seen.  

In addition, we did a group ride that went through downtown Miami:

And with a lot of help from Anne, we did a 133-mile ride that went from Homestead, FL, on the mainland, to Key West:

We hung out there for a few hours before we returned to Fort Lauderdale:

       (Note the shorts and short sleeves in the first week of January.  That's the reason we went to FL!)

The downside of riding in southern Florida is that there are no hills.  I had less than 1000 feet of climbing the entire time we were there.  It was an easy price to pay, though, given that (1) I was still a bit out of shape as a result of my broken arm and sprained wrist, and (2) Kacie could more easily stick on my wheel on the flat roads, so we got to do all of our training camp riding together.

We've gone climbing a time or two since we've been back in GA.  Last month, we had our first of what will undoubtedly by MANY trips to the North Georgia mountains with Kacie's RAAM partner Dani and our friend Zach:

(How do you like that jersey I'm wearing??)

Between training camp and all of the time I spent at Energy Lab in November and December, I was actually good-to-go when we got on the climbs.  As you can probably tell from the shot above, though, I put on a few pounds in the last few months, so carrying those over some 10-15% grades was not a lot fun.  Why the weight gain?  Even though I still trained a bit in the two months after Kona, I completely relaxed my eating standards, and things like this found their way onto my plate:

Believe it or not, that's a crabmeat meatball on top of some homemade pasta with vodka sauce.  Holy crap.  Things like this actually exist.  And they're kinda awesome once in a while.

So now, I'm back to my regular routine, with a few twists given my goals this year.  I've been going to masters swim class three mornings a week, and I have the short-term goal of not missing any Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes until I leave to spend a week in London on Friday, March 8.  (Three weeks down, three to go!)  I'm also running more and doing more fast running, given that I'm convinced I can be running faster than I have been.  (I have a half-marathon tomorrow!)  Cycling has taken a backseat volume-wise, but I'm still spending three sessions a week working on my power and maintaining my fitness.  After I get back from London, I'll start riding my bike more.  And finally, I've been laying off the crabmeat meatballs and slowly taking off the weight that I put on during my off period.  At age 38, that happens more slowly than I might like.