Saturday, March 15, 2008

Prickly Pear Trail Race

The soon-to-be world famous Prickly Pear Trail Race took place down in San Antonio today. It's not quite a world class event yet, but the post-race food might have you believing otherwise. Let's just say that the beer was flowing, the fajitas were delicious, and the company was great. Sometimes I forget how much fun these Texas grass roots races can be!

Amanda, Fred (of Casa Fred), and I made an early departure for SA this morning, as we wanted to get to the McAllister State Park bright and early. We had chosen to race the ten-miler, and we needed to sign up on-site, and some of us (not Fred) needed to do a nice long warm up.

While Amanda and I were jogging around, testing out the trail, and loosening up our tired muscles, Fred was doing his version of a warm up, which consisted of sitting in the car with the heat running. To each his own, to each his own.

After scouting out the terrain, Amanda and I came to the conclusion that the race course called for a solid set of training shoes, as opposed to racing flats. Each of us was well prepared, and we had both types of shoes with us. I was really looking forward to racing in my brand new Saucony Type A2, as I have been absolutely loving them in my track workouts lately. Alas, it was not to be; this race was rocky and rough... at times. There were plenty of smooth surfaces, but the mixture of roots, rocks, twists, turns, mini-cliffs and hills did not scream out for a lightweight racing shoe.

We donned the heavier trainers and hit the start line.

There were probably 300 or so folks in the ten miler, and there was a 50k running concurrently (with 7:00AM star time, as opposed to ours of 8:30AM). Amanda and I found it odd that there was a large gap between the front line of runners and the actual start line. In triathlons we are used to doing, there is no gap between the start line and the people; in fact, there are usually people floating across the start line prematurely.

We took advantage of the gap, and lined up front and center. As soon as the started said "GO" I was off like a race horse. I had come up with a couple of possible race strategies during my warm up, but for some reason, my mind went blank when I heard him say "GO!"

I think Amanda tried to throw an elbow, and I am pretty sure she was gunning for the title of "first through 50 meters," but I managed to open up a small gap. I did hear some heavy breathing and footsteps right behind me for a few hundred meters, but for the most part, I was pulling away. Too fast, I might add.

The first mile was on an asphalt path that led us to the real trail. That first mile had one short uphill and one short down hill. The turns were wide open, and the footing was good. Either way, I was a bit surprised to hear my Garmin beep at the mile mark: 4:55. I've gone out too hot!

My on-the-fly strategy switching plan was to keep on running, not to look at the Garmin ever again, and to run until I blew up. Or until I hit some really rough trail. I held to the plan pretty well from there. I heard a spectator yelling for another runner not too much after I had gone by my second Garmin beep. Not knowing what my pace was, and feeling pretty spry, I kept on going. I figured I had better drop my pursuer, to prepare for the blow up that was imminent.

Somewhere between beep one and beep two, I found myself overtaking the lead cyclist. One of my favorite things about leading a race is that lead cyclist escorting me. I feel very driven to catch up to him or her. Well, in this case I actually had to call "on your right" to this guy. Poor fella was in a bit over his head with the rough terrain, and his mountain bike skills left a tad to be desired. I passed him, he said "go that way!", and was back to racing hard! (Amanda later overtook him as well, as he was lying on the side of the trail having crashed out.)

A few meters past the third beep, I quickly calculated that I had about seven more beeps to go. I was nowhere near finished, and I seemed to be slowing. I could no longer hear anyone behind me, and I could no longer hear anyone cheering for anyone behind me. I figured I'd better keep pressing, just in case.

Four beeps came, five beeps came, and suddenly the trail got a lot rougher. There were more tight switchbacks, more whoopty-doos, and more rocks and roots and ruts. And I was running WAY slower now. I had gone out too hot.

I was enjoying the race, because I have got some pretty rubber ankles, so I tend not to worry about the rugged terrain. I briefly thought of Amanda, who was definitely hoping for some fire roads instead of singletrack trail. She's a bit too cautious for this type of running. I had, however, gone out a bit hot, and I was now holding on.

Beeps six and seven went by, and I caught a bit of second wind. I had no idea of my pace, which turned out to be a good thing. I kept the pressure on, but the combination of terrain and heavier and heavier legs did not allow for the speedy paces I was holding in the first half. I sure did blow my sound pacing strategy! And I was loving it.

Finally I heard beeps eight and nine. I knew this section of trail from my warm up, and I knew some fajitas were awaiting me. I picked it up to finish strong, and to win my first running race since moving to Boulder. Those darn Boulder area runners would have really made me pay for going out too hot.

I just squeezed under the hour mark, a solid time for sure, but well off my early race pace. Duh. I looked through the Garmin splits, and noticed that my 3mile split was right at 15:30 (a speedy 5:10ave). The five miles went by under 27:20, so I was still in below 5:30 miles by that point. But the average sank from mile six to the end. I ended with a 5:59 average, and only 1:25 ahead of second place.

I felt really good about starting the race season out with a win. I had not won a race in several months, so it was very nice to be in that position again. My high lasted for about One Minute Twenty Five Seconds, when that second place runner came across the line. She looked really fresh. Did I look that fresh. Wait, did I say "she?" Yes, I won the race, and a stud of a local woman got second. I mean no disrespect to her, as she was clearly a great runner; I am just not used to seeing a woman get second overall. Way to go for her!

Truthfully, I was actually still very happy with the race. My high was not affected by who got second. A victory is a victory; competition is competition; and she gave one heck of a fight!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sponorship: A Right or a Privelege ?

I've been in this sport for sixteen years now, and I have gained experience at just about every level: from a novice struggling to finish my first sprint, to a veteran Ironman competitor pushing myself to finish at the top of an international pro field. I love the sport, and I love examining its ins and outs, from training to racing to living the triathlon lifestyle. From that examination come these thoughts on sponsorship.

While poking around on the internet Friday afternoon, I stumbled upon a few blogs (and a few blogger comments) which started me thinking about sponsorship in the world of triathlon. It's not only the blog posts that got me thinking. Hearing some of my fellow pro triathletes' opinions has made me wonder about the trends of our sport; and talking to various age group athletes, has presented me with similar questions.

What I continue to ask myself is this: why do so many athletes consider it their right to be sponsored? Why do they not realize that the support of a sponsor is a hard earned privilege?

First I thought it would be helpful to define sponsorship. Primarily, a sponsor is someone who assumes responsibility for another person, or who vouches for that person. Or to expand on that, it is someone who takes care of another. Be it in a financial, emotional, or physical manner, a sponsor takes responsibility for someone else.

In triathlon, as in other sports, sponsors take care of athletes by providing them money, equipment, and general support in his or her endeavors. Sponsors do this so that the athlete can perform better, so he or she can achieve certain goals, so he or she can make a living, and so the sponsor can share in the responsibility of the athlete's struggles and accomplishments. In short, they do so because they care about the athletes.

They do not do this because they have to do so.

My recent observations have told me that far too many triathletes assume that they deserve sponsorship for one or more of the following reasons:
a) They are (or think they are) really fast at swimming, biking, and running;
b) They are the most "loyal" customer of a particular company;
c) They just want to get free stuff;
d) They see that others have sponsors, so they assume that they, too, should have sponsors, and
e) They need sponsorship to feed their egos, because then they will be "sponsored athletes," like Tiger Woods.

At this point, I am afraid I'm going to have to call bullshit.

I find it absolutely appalling when I read about a disgruntled athlete who choses to boycott or discontinue use of a product merely because the company who produces it decides not to sponsor that particular athlete. If the basis of the sponsorship request was that the athlete believes in and uses the product, why does that change if the company chooses not to invest in the athlete? In other words, if you were going to wear that race outfit when you thought it was going to be free, why wouldn't you use it once you know you have to pay for it?!!

Additionally, I periodically hear an athlete talking badly about a company or a product: "So-and-so did not get back to me promptly when I asked them to sponsor me," or "this-and-that is an inferior company because they chose not to spend money on me." (Yes, it does cost a sponsor money even if it's purely a product-only deal.) If the athlete is talking smack about a company just because it has chosen not to sponsor him or her, it is pretty clear the sponsor made the right decision: nobody wants to be associated with a smack-talking whiner!

In contrast to the above reasons for seeking sponsorship, here are some pretty simple questions to ask prior to making that sponsorship inquiry:
a) Do I believe in the product?
b) Can I make the company more successful, or can I help it improve?
c) Will I make a good representative of the company?
d) Am I capable of clearly communicating the company's message to its customers or clients?
e) Do I want sponsorship, or do I need sponsorship?

In the end, we could not have professional triathletes without the generous support of our sponsors. Rather than be bitter, disgruntled or ungrateful, we should be appreciative that there are kind-hearted, giving businessmen and (and women) who chose to associate their companies with us as athletes. As an extension or a representation of the sponsors' companies, we athletes should stand up, be thankful, and take nothing for granted.

Sponsorship is NOT a right; it is most certainly a privilege... and one to which not everyone is entitled. And that's OK, too.