Athlete of the Month
The Team Sheeper Athlete of the Month award is handed out to a member of the team on a monthly basis, 7 or 8 times a year. The AOM is someone who made a notable contribution to the team or did something remarkable. Selection is made by nomination and voting by the membership.
You can nominate anyone and the nomination period is usually during the first week or two of the month. Look for notification that nominations are being sought. When nomination close, the voting starts and once all the votes are tallied, the new AOM is crowned.
Besides bragging rights for a month, our AOM gets some goodies from our gracious sponsors, such as free shoes from TRH, a massage from SMI, gift certificates from GoRide.
Fleet Feet Menlo Park is proud to sponsor this month's athlete who embodies the spirit of Team Sheeper. We believe running can change everything, that an active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle, and that we all have an athlete hidden within.
May 2011 Athlete of the Month"He could win almost any month, but this month was full of big performances."
"Kicked off an impressive month at Wildflower! Then accomplished huge feat of OCR, rode like the wind at Sonoma wine country tour with 3 centuries and won Fearsome tri. Trifecta plus!"
"Just awesome. "
" 'ironman.' "
- Fellow Teammates.
Instead of answering the usual AOM questions (I’ve done that before, last year, and not that much has changed in my life since then, so, if you are interested, look back in the annals of Team Sheeper history) I thought that I’d share a “race” report.
A while back, Tim shared a website of a small race in Santa Barbara with a few, select, extra hardcore members of the team (aka Special Ops). This race was old school: no registration fee, no support (you have to provide your own transportation and aid stations), no marked course. Just get from Point A to, well, Point A since it is a looped course, as fast as possible. The first 10 miles are on the ocean (O is for ocean) and you have your choice of watercraft (as long as it is human powered). The second 26 miles are on foot; 12 of these miles along the beach, 4 on pavement, and then the last 10 climbing up trails in the canyons (C is for canyon). The last 38 miles are on mountain bikes, riding along the ridge (R is for ridge) and then returning to the starting point. Ocean + Canyon + Ridge = O + C + R = OCR Challenge. Here is a basic map of the course (blue is kayak; red is run; orange is bike; start and finish are at Refugio Beach):
Tim and I decided to do this race, individually (relay was never really an option). There was an application form to fill out and this is where the first indication of our innocence became apparent. On said form, you were asked to indicate what type of watercraft you were going to use. There were four or five choices and none of them were familiar to us. After a brief consultation with kayak coach Hani, we decided on 16’ kayaks. We felt pretty comfortable about the run and the bike, but were both unsure about the kayak.
Kayak coach Hani suggested that we practice our surf entries and exits and self rescue (i.e. what do you do if you flip the kayak…) and so Tim and I went down to Half Moon Bay with Hani a few weeks before the race to acquire these skills. Hani explained how to launch a kayak from a beach in his usual, patient way: make sure that your skirt is secure before launching, do the “gorilla crawl” to get into the water, paddle like hell to get through the white water. That part was easy. Landing a kayak on the beach with waves was a little more challenging. I was successful the first time. It took Tim a few times before he got the hang of it. Lastly, we practiced the self rescue, which first requires you to flip your warm, comfy kayak into the cold, wet ocean and become stuck upside down under water before popping out of the skirt and resurfacing. Getting back on the kayak is challenging (especially with you being wet and really cold) and Tim and I decided that we were going to do everything in the race to NOT flip and stay together on the kayak to help each other out, just in case. That was the extent of the preparation on the kayak. Thanks to Hani for the lesson and for lending us kayaks for the race.
On to the race: we recruited a crack support crew, consisting of Steve Young and Mackay Sheeper, jointly nicknamed Team French Fry based on the four orders of In ‘n’ Out Burger fries that they polished off together after the race. Here they are:
On a Friday morning in Menlo Park, The Beast was loaded with two bikes, two kayaks, a bunch of gear, and Lisa’s homemade banana bread and we headed down to Santa Barbara.
Needless to say, thanks to German planning, we were the first ones at the race “start”, which was between campsites 60 and 61 at Gaviota State Park. Race registration consisted of a fold-up card table. No lines, no body marking, no fancy bracelet, no timing chip, no USAT card. Tim and I lined our kayaks up along the beach and they were soon joined by a wide variety of other watercrafts.
We were happy to see that the ocean was calm and that there was no wind. Still, there was some trepidation about spending 2 hours out on the ocean. Here are we discussing strategy and the finer points of whether the spray skirt goes over the or under the jacket.
The race was officially started with a yell or whistle, I forget, and so Tim and I proceeded to follow Hani’s instructions and get in the kayak, secure the skirt, gorilla crawl towards the water, etc… While still on the beach and preparing to launch, the race director suddenly came running up behind us and yelled: “You are supposed to paddle!” What was he talking about? Wasn’t everyone else following the same, safe, common-sense instructions? Apparently not. When we looked up, most of them were already in the water and 0.25 miles down the course. Sit-on-top kayaks, paddle boards, and every other type of watercraft apparently are faster and easier to launch than a kayak. But, no worries. Our goal for the kayak was to 1) not die and 2) not flip. So, we had time. It was a beautiful morning. Tim saw some dolphins, the pelicans were skimming across the surface, the Santa Barbara oil slick was strong, and it was quite warm. We each had water along and stopped every 15 minutes or so to drink and have some food. We caught some of the sit-on-top kayaks and were pacing off of a stand up paddleboarder, who was surprisingly fast. Everyone else was too far ahead to see. We stayed together, as planned, and made wagers about which land mass in the hazy distance we were going to land at. It was always one further than expected. Paddling for 2 hours was manageable but, not having done much paddling in preparation for the race, my muscles were not properly adapted.
Once we saw the pier that indicated the end of the paddle we got quite excited and into our “triathlete” state of mind: transitions have to be quick! So, instead of waiting on the outside of the break and reading the wave sets as Hani had told me, I courageously ploughed right towards the beach, had a “huge” wave break on me, and flipped my kayak in the shallow water. If there was ever a kayak-gear yard sale, this was it. Everything was bobbing in the white wash, except for my sunglasses, which I had, McGyver style, tied around my neck with an old shoe lace. Falling in the water was actually quite refreshing, because the enclosed cockpit of the kayak and the water / wind breaker that we had been wearing were both very warm. Tim elegantly beached the kayak after having watched me make a fool of myself. Steve and Mackay were waiting for us, helped us carry the kayaks up the beach, and had set up a great transition area with run gear all laid out. Having completed the portion of the race that we were most worried about, we felt a lot more confident and comfortable heading out on the run. The tide was low, which created a fantastic running surface and the conditions were ideal: hard packed sand, hazy sun, walkers and joggers out on a Saturday morning. A great venue for a run and to make up some of the lost time. We started cruising southward and passed a guy eating a roast beef sandwich while running. Hmmmm, probably tastier than our gels and blocks. We also passed the guy on the standup paddleboard that we had been pacing off of. He was wearing boardshorts. You can see, the crowd was very different than what we usually see around a tri (more about that later!)
Having sat on our butts with our feet stretched out in front of us for two hours, all while exercising basically wearing garbage bags, our legs were not exactly loose. Running did not come easily. The muscle groups in my legs would rotate the complaints: first the hamstrings, then the hip flexors, then the quads. I did not feel smooth, light, and easy. Instead I was running jagged, heavy, and labored. We were still moving along at a pretty good clip, estimated at 7 minutes / mile, but it was hard work. I decided to be quiet about my legs and just continue running. Tim was also not running smoothly and bolted to get some water. We eventually ended up together again and finished the 12 miles on the beach in around 1:30, which ended up being sub 7 minute miles because of a few stops. Along the way we had to wade through a slough and so had asked Steve and Mackay to meet us at the end of the beach run to provide clean and dry socks and shoes. They were right there waiting for us. Tim was getting blisters and asked Steve to pick up some bandaids before the next “aid station”. We did a quick shoe change, refueled on water, and started heading up the road to the start of the trail on a shallow, steady climb of 4 miles. At this point in time we were in race mode. Not necessarily with each other, but with people that we knew were up the road and with the historical results that indicated that almost everyone took 5 hours to complete the run (marathon). In my mind there was no way that it was going to take us that long, so I wanted to prove myself right. We had just run the first half in a little over 1.5 hours. Yes, there was climbing ahead, but it wasn’t going to take us that long. We pushed up that road pretty hard. As long as we were running, the legs felt ok. But whenever we had to stop (traffic lights), the legs started seizing up and cramping. We got to the next “aid station” and didn’t see Steve. The night before we had discussed that this was the most vital point to meet up for the following reason: next up were 10 miles with 3,500’ of climbing and no access to water or support. Did I mention that we were in race mode? We weren’t going to wait for Steve. We had to go! But what to do about water and calories?
One of the beautiful characteristics of this race is the support that everyone helps each other. We had provided water to a racer at the end of the beach section when his support vehicle was not around. That favor was returned to us by a guy who was supporting his wife and waiting for her. We stocked up on water and calories and started heading onto the trail (as luck would have it, Steve arrived 30 seconds after we had left, slightly delayed by the request for bandaids). Tim and I had a brief discussion of whether it was a good idea to have left without seeing Steve, but decided that it was since we had all the water and food that we could have carried (not quite true) and we didn’t know where Steve was (perhaps he had gotten lost). The first few miles of this portion of the run were hell. The trail undulated, skipping across a creek and among the ferns. Running downhill was an absolute no go. Every time the trail pitched down our quads would cramp. I tried walking down the trail backwards, which was a little better, but dangerous. In this picture we look like we are laughing, but actually they are grimaces of pain:
We laughed at / with each other because we looked and sounded like old men. It was the joint misery that made it tolerable. After a few miles of this (moving at 15 minute / mile speed) we found a fountain and reloaded all of the bottles that we had. Tim preached to keep on drinking and that our legs would feel better in 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes never came. At the fountain, we were passed by a young guy in full tri gear (neon-yellow sunglasses, compression socks, maybe even a one-piece racing suit). He said something about being a former pro and then headed up the trail in front of us. We were also playing hop-scotch with an older gentlemen, saggy pants, cotton shirt, wool socks, wearing a WS100 cap. He was legit. The triathlete was not. We eventually passed him and he was the only one to DNF. Luckily, the trail was mostly uphill (we were climbing from sea level to 4,000 feet, after all) and we could run quite well in those sections. A few parts were so steep that you could only walk. The trail made running quite tricky as well, with lots of loose rock and some steep drops. Otherwise the landscape was fantastic, with the entire hill side spotted with wild flowers and dramatic views of the ocean and canyons. As we got further up the trail, the accumulated fatigue of 2 hours on the ocean, the run, and lack of water started taking their tolls. We were dragging our feet and hitting our toes on rocks, until I decided to very closely inspect the local rocks and ate in on the trail. That was right about the time when we also started counting, and then rationing, our calories and water since we were running out of both and didn’t know how far we still had to go. To get my mind off of things I started telling Tim stories about the hikes that I did with my parents as a child and how we got stuck on a hillside in Spain once and had to return the way we came from, a bee keeper eventually saving us by giving us water and honey. Apparently not much has changed…still out in the middle of nowhere, not really knowing where I’m going, and without any water or sugar ;)
At some point we finally popped out of the trail and onto the road along the ridge, where Steve and Mackay were dutifully waiting. We were very happy to see them! Much water and some calories were enjoyed, before heading up the final 2 miles to East Cumbre peak, where the bikes were waiting for us. Look at our faces and our stride length:
This is not a model of good running form; I wouldn’t even call what I am doing running ;)
It did end up taking us almost 5 hours to run the marathon. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. 3 hours to travel 10 miles. On the way up, we had discussed whether or not we’d even be able to ride our bikes. With our legs so cramped up we were in serious doubt about turning the pedals. Luckily, the first 7 miles or so were downhill, so we could coast and slowly let our legs adapt to the new motion. We made the same mistake again of getting into race mode and didn’t allow the support crew to catch up to us. While the first 15 miles were on road (and therefore accessible) the last 20 or so were on trail. When we got to the road-to-trail transition we again didn’t meet up with Steve. You would have thought that we’d learned our lesson. Nope! We started off on the trail with some water and calories. Both would become valuable and limited commodities at the end. I knew that we were climbing up to a mountain called Broadcast Peak. When we started on the trail in the far distance I saw a peak with antennas and dishes on it. Needless to say, this was Broadcast Peak and it seemed so far away:
This was the lowest part of the day for me. We’d already been racing for 8 hours, were tired and crampy, and had to climb up to this distant peak. But, the ride was actually not that bad. The gradient was quite shallow and the trail was easy to ride on. It was just a matter of getting through it. One or two “Fast Freddies” (aka double-caffeinated GUs) helped me up the hill. Near the top, Tim and I started trading calories, ensuring that both of us got to the top without bonking, because, once on Broadcast Peak, all we had left was a 7 mile descent along deserted country roads, a rip-roaring roller coaster back to the campsite. We rolled into the finish area, which was a bunch of people sitting by the beach and enjoying a beer, and were greeted with cheers of “You are the first solos!”
Our race attitudes had paid off! Although not verbalized, it was my goal to beat all other solos and give Tim a good run for his money. The fact that we both suffered from the same issues at the same time made the “getting through it” part more manageable and we were able to keep an eye on each other to make sure that we got through the day safely. In the end, we were on the course for just over 10 hours, a very similar time to what an Ironman would take. In that sense it was good training, physically and mentally, and learning how to get through the rough spots when “Freddie Soft” is telling you to turn around. The comic nature of our run made going on a lot easier.
Thanks to Tim for being a great race partner. I’m not sure if he really was interested in my youth hiking stories, but he got to hear them. Special thank you to Steve and Mackay for being a great crew. In retrospect, it was a fantastic adventure. A day of exploring a wonderful spot in the world, following a route that we had some knowledge of and confidence in but was vague and unknown enough that we had to “feel” our way and ended up asking a lot of people for directions, and not taking ourselves too seriously. A significant and welcome change from the regulated activities and courses at Ironman. There is a time and place for both, but there is something to be said about such a home-brewed, family-run event. Perhaps we can put one on in the future!?!