2011 Fiesta Bowl 5k Race Report

Sunday I raced in my last 5k of the year, the Fiesta Bowl 5k in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had been nursing a hip flexor injury for ~6 weeks so I hadn't been running much and was a bit out of shape - but of course that wouldn't stop me from going all out in this race! My muscles were also a little sore from mountain trail running and yoga (neither of which I had done in a long, long time) but, again, that was hardly an excuse not to shoot for a PR!

Sunday morning was cold and wet with temperatures around 38F. While it felt cold before the race, I knew I would be dying of stifling heat minutes into the run if I bundled up. Fortunately Katie's father was there cheering us on and was able to hold onto warmup clothes that we took off shortly before start time. Katie and her sister, Kelly, were both running the race too and both of our moms walked it. Kelly's boyfriend, Mike, a much more accomplished endurance athlete than I, ran the race with me even though he could have zoomed ahead - it's always fun to have a buddy!

For this race I experimented with a new race plan. Instead of thinking of the race in terms of five kms, but running the first one faster (due to fast start) and the last one faster (due to fast finish), I divided the race into an initial fast half km, four hopefully consistent base pace kms, and then a fast half km (fast 400m followed by really fast 100m sprint to the finish).

With a previous PR of 20:45, I put together a race plan that would have me coming in at 20:40, using 4:13/km as my base pace.

First 500m: 1:53 (a 3:47 pace out of the gate, gradually slowing to base pace)
Four kms at 4:13 each (The course was pretty flat.)
400m: 1:36 (picking it up to 4:00/km pace)
100m: 20s (kicking it at 3:22/km pace)

In my PR 5k I had been shooting for a base pace of 4:17 but I actually spent most of the race at or below 4:13 until I faded a bit toward the end. Therefore my selection of 4:13 as my base pace was in hopes that I could keep that pace up now. The first and last 500m targets were based on my consistently hitting those numbers in previous races.

Mike and I secured a spot near the front of the pack and - all of a sudden - we were off! We had a nice wide street on which to spread out so I was able run comfortably without hurdling laggards. I hit 500m in 1:54 with an average heart rate of 159 BPM. One second off of pace was fine and my heart rate was in a good place.

We completed the next km in 4:12, right back in line with where I wanted to be. My heart rate averaged 174, which was also just about right. In the second km it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to sustain that pace as we finished in 4:18. My average heart rate had only increased to 175, though.

In the third km we hit some obstacles: a sharp turn, some uphill trail, and lots of muddy puddles to be carefully avoided in my Vibrams. By themselves they didn't seem like much but together they definitely slowed me down. I finished the third km in 4:29 (Yikes!) with an average heart rate of 176. I was 22 seconds off of pace and I could seriously feel the soreness in my quads. Mike looked over and asked, "How are we doing on pace?" My response: "Bad." You know I'm struggling when I use poor grammar!

The fourth km was more of the same: finished in 4:32 with an average heart rate of 176. At least now it was time to pick it up a bit - and pick it up we did! We finished the next 400m in 1:40 (a 4:10/km pace) and average heart rate of 179. As we rounded the last turn, it was a straight away to the finish line. Mike said, "Let's go" and we kicked it hard. There were two runners ahead of us and I just wasn't sure if we were going to be able to catch up to them. Having Mike there was extra motivational, though - we passed one runner and then, just before the finish line, the other one. The final 100m took 16s (2:40/km pace!) with average heart rate of 189 and a max heart rate of 196 (~my max possible heart rate)!

The final race time was 21:21, 41 seconds slower than my target. I was the 45th runner to finish (96th percentile), the 34th male (87th percentile), and 5th male age 30-34 (80th percentile). It was my worst race all year in terms of both time and finish placement. Race conditions were pretty good including cool weather and a running buddy for extra motivation - so what happened?

Well, my heart rate was generally lower than in previous races despite my running more slowly. A few possibilities:

1. This may just have been due to the cold (The warmer it is, the higher my heart rate at the same pace.)
2. My muscle soreness was preventing me from turning over my legs quickly enough to warrant a higher heart rate
3. After several weeks of not running much, my body simply wasn't attuned to increasing heart rate that much
4. I didn't have enough glycogen stored in my muscles

I'm not really sure about any of those but they're my best guesses so far. I'll look forward to my next 5k in February, where I will hope to make a stronger showing.

Enough about me, though; the best part of the race was that we had a whole team of family there! Katie's dad was steward of the clothes and official photographer. Mike and I and Katie and Kelly all ran while our moms walked. Several years ago my mom suffered a major injury that severely impaired her walking. This was probably the first time she has walked 5 continuous kms since then so I was very excited to see her near the finish. I jogged back a little ways to find her and was surprised to find that she wasn't walking - she was really moving along, cane and all! I walked in with her a bit and then, as she rounded the final turn, I could see that she had the eye of the tiger! She really picked it up and hustled through the finish line, passing one of her competitors! Way to go, Mom! I've always been proud of her professional accomplishments, but when she finished that race I may have been beaming even more brightly than I ever have before!

It was a good race, well organized and well run. After some post-race nutrition we packed it up and hopped on our flight back to Houston. Full and exhausted - what an appropriate finish to an already excellent weekend!


Merry Christmas from Arizona

Last weekend Katie and I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona for an early Christmas with her family (after an even earlier Christmas with my extended family over Thanksgiving). As in years past, it was a total blast! The twist was that this year we had a very active holiday.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and were treated to dinner at La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria in Scottsdale, walking distance from Katie's sister's (Kelly) apartment. Awesome! Any place that will add an egg to your pizza at no charge is A-OK in my book! I had the avocado pizza with pesto instead of cheese and I added all the free extras - so good!

Katie found us a nearby house to rent for the weekend which served as an excellent base of operations. It was big enough for us and our extended family to sleep comfortably and close enough to the action as to be convenient.

Friday began with a run up and over one of the mountains. This was just the opportunity to try out my new Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks. When we were there last year, hiking up and down Camelback Mountain had proved pretty painful in my KSOs but I'm pleased to report that the Treks did their job very well. After an hour or so of jogging up and down rocky paths in the cool, dry air, I was pooped but very happy with the experience.

Friday afternoon we went to Queen Creek Olive Mill, a local organic olive oil producer. Not only did they have a nice tour about the olive growing/pressing/bottling process, they had an attached restaurant with delicious and funky foods. I had the vanilla bean olive oil waffles while others tasted their many oils - including chocolate olive oil and [crowd favorite] meyer lemon olive oil. What a cool excursion!

Dinner was at 5th and Wine, which featured good wine and great food. I had a delicious bison burger and mac & cheese - hey, just because I was carb loading for Sunday's 5k didn't mean I couldn't enjoy some protein and fat too! It was a delectable finish to a great day!

Saturday began with a real treat. Kelly is receiving her certification as an instructor of Ashtanga Yoga, which I used to practice regularly when I was in Switzerland. Kelly took Katie and me through the entire primary series - 90 minutes of stretching, breathing, flowing, and meditating. I've really, really missed this and I clearly need to add it back into my routine. Kelly was the perfect yogi for us as I was just the right amount of sore after our session.

What do we do after a workout? Recovery nutrition! This began at the Scottsdale Farmer's Market, where we also shopped for Christmas Dinner ingredients, and concluded at Orange Table. The Farmer's Market was fantastic - big but not too huge and with plenty of variety. I had a vegetarian pumpkin tamale (Delicious!), which I promptly doused in guava lava hot sauce from the vendor next door. There were many dogs along with their owners, which made the experience even more pleasurable.

Orange Table was something else for breakfast. Not only did they offer delicious omelets (The Greek omelet was the consensus #1.), they also had something else on the menu that I would have been remiss not to try: jalapeno-pecan pancakes! I love spicy-sweet flavor combinations and this one hit it on the head. I'm actually getting hungry as I type just thinking about it again!

With our bellies full, we spent the afternoon and evening prepping for Christmas Dinner. More accurately, everyone else was prepping for Christmas Dinner. While they were slaving away, Mike (Kelly's boyfriend) and I were staying out of the way by occupying ourselves with some early Christmas presents: remote control cars! Once the novelty of racing them around the floor in a makeshift demolition derby wore off, we constructed our own track, using the couches, chairs, coffee table, cardboard boxes, and magazines to create ramps between sections of different heights. The end result wasn't beautiful but it served its purpose. Whether its purpose was to provide a path for the cars or rather to occupy the two of us such that we weren't crowding the kitchen and offering to "quality test" each of the dishes in process is still up for debate.

Dinner turned out to be delicious, as expected. Wild caught Alaskan salmon from the farmer's market along with many, many vegetarian-friendly accouterments ensured that we would all be well nourished for the race the next day. Instead of going to bed early to rest up, though, we opened presents, played games, and laughed a lot late into the night. I'll save the race report for a subsequent post but, suffice to say, the weekend was a huge success! Fun, food, and family - what more does one need in life?

Sonoma Day 3

Our final day in Sonoma began, once again, with exercise. Our friends went for a bike ride while Katie and I went for a run. I was very pleased that this was my first run in weeks during which my hip flexor did not feel injured - now I could get back to training!

After breakfast we set out in our car to explore the wineries around Healdsburg. First stop: Unti Vineyards. Unti's wines didn't jazz me that much but I did like that they produced several Italian varietals, including a sangiovese and barbera.

On the recommendation of one of Katie's coworkers we stopped at Dry Creek General Store for lunch and it did not disappoint. We strongly recommend the eggg salad with smoked salmon sandwich!

Next on the tour was Preston Vineyards, which had been recommended to us by a friend of a friend. While we loved that it was all organic, the wines didn't appeal to any of us and, for the first time, we poured many of ours out into the spit bucket. The olive oil they made there was delicious, though.

A bit disgruntled by that experience, we were looking for something to turn it around - and did we ever find it! As we were driving out of the Preston estate, we saw a sign for barrel tastings at Zichichi, a winery we didn't know but a proposition we clearly couldn't resist. Zichichi's wines were pleasant (Some of their zinfandel vines are 85+ years old!), their office walls were covered with football pictures, and they had an adorable doberman pincher puppy outside - we had our mojo back!

While biking that morning our friend had seen a sign for grilled oysters so we decided to go get some as a mid-afternoon snack. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Lambert Bridge, it was immediately evident that A. the sign had actually advertised wood-fired pizzas (We blame the misreading on the previous day's wine consumption.) and B. they were all out of pizza. Doh! Not to worry, though, their wines were great and they had some great dogs: a great pyranees puppy and a 200 lb saint bernard!

Our final stop of the day was to Christopher Creek Winery, where we tasted all of their award-winning wines. There was a kindly old man telling funny stories and pouring wine, which really enhanced the experience. My favorite there was their port.

Having missed out on our grilled oysters, by this point we were raring for dinner. The restaurant we intended to frequent turned out to be closed Monday so we picked up a late reservation at Cyrus, which was highly acclaimed.

To kill time before Cyrus we stopped into Willi's oyster bar, which had great seafood and good local wines to pair with it. This place was a real pleasure and we were almost sad to leave it for Cyrus.

Our table wasn't quite ready yet at Cyrus, so we had a cocktail in the bar. Their cocktail menu was very innovative and the drinks were great.

You can read our full review of Cyrus at Yelp but the short version is that we were horribly disappointed by our experience there. The food was generally good but not great and some dishes were very over salted. The wine pairings selected for us were mediocre, didn't pair well with our dishes, and were ostentatiously presented by a "wine steward" who knew very little about wine outside of his rehearsed speeches. Perhaps they didn't have the "A" team going because it was Monday night, but a Michelin two-star restaurant should not have "off" nights - especially at the prices they were charging.

Our closing dinner was a bitter disappointment but it couldn't take the shine off of what had been an absolutely wonderful weekend. We fell in love with California wine country and we will clearly need to return frequently to continue exploring!


Sonoma Day 2

After sleeping off our wine of the day before, we woke up to a rainy Sonoma morning. Instead of running we did a weights-free workout inspired by the routine that The SHOP put together for me back when I was house-sitting in Switzerland. This included lots of push-ups, plyometrics, and and other "grass-roots" exercises. During a break in the rain we went outside and I did walks up the hill while carrying Katie across my back. During one set of these a police officer actually rolled up to make sure that everything was OK!

After workout and recovery nutrition we once again set out to taste some wine! Instead of driving ourselves around for small tastings at several wineries, we took a different tack this day. We hired Magnum Wine Tours to drive us around to just two very small wineries where we spent a lot of time doing in-depth tastings with the owners.

Our first stop was Forth Vineyards, a tiny little Dry Creek Valley estate just outside of Healdsburg. The property is absolutely charming with a great deal of variety even for that tiny lot. Rolling hills ensure that some parcels have much greater sun exposure while others get more wind coming through the valley.  Near the house and winery is the most amazing olive tree I've ever seen. It was probably 12m high and spread out so far as to create an imposing presence on the deck. I'm used to short, bushy olive trees but this was the godfather of them all.

We sat down in the wine cellar, where Jann Forth walked us through their five wines: an '09 sauvignon blanc, a '10 rose', an '09 ALL BOYS cabernet sauvignon (with grapes from each of their vineyards named after their boys), an '09 Rebecca cabernet sauvignon (with grapes from the one vineyard named after their girl), and an '09 syrah. The Rebecca cab was very nice but the real winner was the rose'. As we sat around the cellar's tasting table, munching on homemade spicy cheese bread between wines, we learned a lot about the winemakers, their philosophy, and the unique characteristics of their offerings.

What really set this winery apart, though, was their canine "staff!" A golden retriever accompanied us everywhere and there were two huge great pyranees (170 lbs and 130 lbs) in the vineyards protecting the sheep that keep the grass low and organically fertilize. After playing with the dogs a bit we hopped back in our car for the next destination.

Garden Creek Winery in Alexander Valley was up next. As we crossed the eponymous creek to enter the estate, I was surprised by how this looked more like a farm than a winery: a big barn a the entrance, chickens off to the left, an old well in the center. And sure enough, that's how this land began when the current proprietors' father bought it back in the 60s.Today, though, the barn is a winery and almost all the land is planted with vines. While most of their grapes are sold to other wineries, they hold enough back to produce a few hundred cases of their own chardonnay and Bordeaux blend.

We were met at the estate by Justin Miller, who owns and runs the operation alongside his wife. We stayed outside to taste their 2009 chardonnay, which was minerally and crisp - really nice and not at all what I'd expect from a California chard. Then we went into the barn for a candlelight vertical tasting of the red (called  "Tesserae"). The 2005 of this cab sauv/merlot/cab franc blend was nice, but the 2003 was really coming into its own - great balance between the fruit and oak-derivative properties. Interestingly, they are the only winery I have known in the US to use carbonic maceration.

After plowing through several bottles at Garden Creek, we really needed some food! So our last stop of the tour was at nearby Diavola Pizzeria. I'm not sure if this helped or hurt our sobriety because we had plenty more wine there while feasting on hand made brick oven pizzas!

Opting for a day of wine tour instead of just driving ourselves around was a great idea. Not only did we have a designated driver, we found some wonderful tiny wineries that we never would have heard of otherwise. In both cases, we could have tasted these wines anonymously but the real pleasure was spending a couple of hours with the owners and really getting a feel for what makes them - and their wines - tick.

Day 2: another success!


Sonoma Day 1

After a flurry of post-CleanTech-Open meetings Thursday and Friday, Katie and two friends joined me for three days of wine tasting!

Thursday I met up with many Rice and IMD alumni in the San Francisco Bay area while winding my way 90 miles up to Petaluma, where I stayed the night with a friend of mine from TJ. Yes, I made it from San Jose to Palo Alto to San Francisco to Larkspur by way of public transportation - how refreshing, coming from Houston! I did, however, rely on my friend's chauffeur skills to take me the final leg to Petaluma.

My friend, Ashley, who is a full-time mom and mom blogger, has a great house complete with chicken coup, which made for an excellent breakfast! Thursday night she made an awesome welcome dinner for me and one of the neighbors - so welcome after days of hotel food! Friday, after spending the day back in the City, I returned to Petaluma to wait for Katie and our two friends.

This was an excellent decision because, not only did this mean another great dinner, but the same neighbor returned with his wife, who turned out to be AWESOME! Her name is Leslie Sbrocco and she is prominent wine critic in the Bay area - SCORE! Friday night dinner quickly became a vinolicious affair and we were quite happy by the time that Katie and our friends came to pick me up.

Katie had rented us a little two bedroom, two bath house in Healdsburg, which is a charming town. The little house was exactly what we needed: central location, great kitchen, and comfortable beds for sleeping off the wine!

Having never toured/tasted in California before, I deferred to our friend, who had been there several times. He put together a basic program (which still allowed for significant improvization) and Leslie helped us with a few more suggestions and hookups.

Saturday morning we woke up, all went for a run, and then had a great breakfast to prepare us for the day. Our first tasting was at J, which was pretty commercialized. There were many others tasting there and some of the staff weren't terribly knowledgeable. But some of the staff were knowledgeable (and personable!) and that made all the difference. Wine tasting - like most things - is really made or broken by the people involved. We tasted some so-so white wines, some better red wines, and some much better bubbly, which is what I really associate with J anyway.

Afterward we made our way to Kosta Browne, the winery behind 2011's top wine of the year according to Wine Spectator. There we tasted a good chardonnay and lots of pinot. Our favorite by far was the 2009 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir.

We wrapped up the day at Arista, where we had a GREAT pourer behind the counter. She was a grape grower herself so was intensely knowledgeable about the wines, the region, the climate, and everything else. We tasted so many wines that I can't remember them to post them here and we spent so much time tasting and talking with her that we shut the place down.

After a brief nap we rallied and headed into downtown Healdsburg for dinner. We began at Spoon for really innovative cocktails that compete with those from Anvil. Afterward we had a long, intense, and excellent dinner and Dry Creek Kitchen. Once again we shut the place down and the practically had to roll us out of there. Katie's full review is on Yelp. I would say that Sonoma Day 1 was a huge success!