Friday, November 6, 2015

Bike Fit Blog

A few thoughts on triathlon bike fitting

I’m going to go out on a limb with this one.  It’s going to be polarizing, I’m not gonna lie.  But keep in mind this is simply my opinion.  (of course, it happens to be the RIGHT one)

Just kidding about what’s in parentheses.

When I think about cycling in a triathlon context, I ALWAYS ask myself one – very simple – question during contemplation of products or services:

Is this going to make me faster? (or “is this going to make my life on the bike easier”)

Although to be honest I also ask myself if it looks really awesome and in that case I am willing to make an exception to the aforementioned mantra.  When I say “faster” I am really only using that word because it is easier and conveys more of what I’m trying to say. But I don’t mean that something has to make me faster, I really just want to know if it saves me something.  Does it create less drag? Does it integrate better my bike and nutrition? Is it an aerodynamically neutral option? My goal is to make me on the bike a more efficient package.  So everything I do revolves around that thought process.

 My body on my bike (so, my “fit”) make up 90% of the system’s aerodynamic drag while I am racing (or riding, obviously).  In many ways, my body is my main limiter to me going “faster.” (double entendre, wow!). So physiologically speaking, I need to train. I need to get fitter. But the other way I can get faster is by addressing the efficiency of my position, my bike, and my equipment and apparel choices.

Every position that is catered to triathlon (henceforth referred to as an “aero position”) should be juggling three separate goals:

  1. Aerodynamic/Efficient
  2. Comfortable/Sustainable
  3. Powerful

A fitting should be able to address all three of those things if your fitter has the experience, confidence, and knowledge of how to make all three of those things happen to you.  Too often I have seen positions that “adapt” a rider to their saddle.  There is no mention of body awareness or long-term goals and evolution when it comes to that rider’s fit.  Setting up the contact points in a fit and following program driven (yes, I’m talking about computerized fit systems) angle and distance measurements is barely even half the battle.  In fact, in the wrong hands, it’s a step back in the battle against good triathlon fittings. You can “hold” your body in numerous ways while having the same contact points.  So from a semantics standpoint, which part is your “fit?” Is it the contact points being set up for you? Or is it a discussion on how to hold your body and what to focus on to engage those sorts of proprioreceptive adjustments?

Well, at Inside Out Sports it is definitely both. It all starts at the saddle.  Finding the right saddle that properly supports your seat bones while eliminating soft tissue pressure and allows for the proper pelvic tilt to hold a sustainable, aerodynamic aero position can be – literally – life changing (and this time I truly mean literally as I have had people tell me that the right saddle was life altering).  This can open up an entirely new world of fit possibilities that many people just don’t know exist.  You CAN be aerodynamic. You CAN be comfortable in an aerodynamic position. You CAN be powerful AND aerodynamic. Many have always operated under the assumption that those are mutually exclusive things.

All it takes is working with a fitter who understands that dynamic and can relate it to you, your history, and your future goals as far as racing is concerned. Well, that and practice. Lots and lots and lots of PRACTICE.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ironman Louisville, or the "what if?" blog

So, where to start? That is, without a doubt, the hardest part of writing ANYthing.  For me anyway; I'm not sure if this idea holds true for other writers.  But figuring out that place to start and trying to say a lot without saying a lot, implying meaning and tone, and letting the reader figure out where this is going ... well that's tough.

You can gather a little bit in that initial paragraph.  James is having those "feelings" things right now.  He probably has been for a while after last Sunday.  It's really difficult to figure out WHY I feel the need to write a "race report" even though I did not manage to finish the race.  What is there to report on? No finish line was crossed. Placings in each segment don't matter.  How the swim went or the early stages of the bike, do they matter?  If no finish line is crossed...what's the point?

Well, a valid line of reasoning for someone after a defeat at the hands of IM perhaps, but not for James Haycraft. Yes, I wrote about myself in a blog about myself in the 3rd person. You shall like it.

I'll start like any regular old triathloning blog: a recap of how training went leading up to the race.

Training went really, really well.  I have never, EVER felt as focused on the process and the specificity that is IM training as I did this summer and early fall under David Tilbury Davis' coaching. It's difficult to describe those differences to be honest, but suffice it to say that when you are not maxing out your availability you can focus more on each individual movement and requirement as it relates to your specific goal. My goal this year was obviously singularly focused: crush Louisville.  So many a weekend was spent riding 4-5 hours with as much time as possible IN the aero bars and at or above race pace.  Riding in Davidson was a great analogue for riding in Louisville: constant rollers and long, uninterrupted stretches of mostly smooth rural pavement.  I had great and willing people to ride with who graciously let me sit on the front most of the time (thanks Jenny, Andrew, and occasionally Causebrook!).  I felt very, very prepared for the bike portion...unlike in past attempts where I rode my road bike 95% of the time in training (my OWN choice).

I wasn't running a ton of miles, relatively speaking, but I was running them really, really well.  Triple run days, some double run days, and one traditional "long run" left me feeling really prepared to run 26.2 at a fairly expeditious pace.  I remember feeling extremely "fit" in Cozumel back in 2013, but not really well prepared for the specifics of the race distance in particular.  Maybe it was mostly mental, but even with the benefits of hindsight it's tough to say for sure.

I had some ambitious, but realistic goals.  All goals are conditional however, as fitness really only gets you TO the start line.  Once the race begins you have to control the process of the race and not let it control you.  I can imagine Yogi Berra making some IM triathlon quote (you didn't know he was a triathlete...?) that is something like: "IM is 50% fitness, 50% mental, and 50% nutrition."

I feel fine describing my goals because, well, I was so far from hitting them (overall) that I could say almost anything and you'd have to at least pretend to believe me!

Swim - I was confident I'd swim under an hour, but beyond that I really had no idea.  The state of the current, where I started, wetsuit or not, etc.  That all played into it.  But if the current was strong I figured maybe 50-53, if it was not there maybe 55-58, and if the river started flowing in reverse then I'd just be praying to make it to the finishing ladder...

Bike - Goal was to average around 200-210 watts AP overall, with a stronger first section (220+).  I had played with Best Bike Split a little bit and I was expecting a ride of in between 4:55-5:05, give or take.  I figured this would set me up to be within range of the top 3-5 off the bike.

Run - Always the big question mark, eh?  Well, I felt PREPARED to run 6:35-6:45 for a while off the bike.  Not the whole thing, mind you...but a decent chunk of it.  I hoped a 3:00 +/- 5 minutes was in the cards.

So all in all, that would've added up to a pretty quick overall time, a huge PR, a likely Kona spot, and potentially an overall win or top 3.

So yes, ambitious.  But I'm not one to blow smoke up anyone's a** and I honestly felt that those goals were within my realm of possibilities if I was able to control the PROCESS of the race.

Anyway, the plan was set.  The training was done.  The drive was completed.  Race day prep was over.  Time to put the pedal to the metal.

Zach and I walked to swim start and got in line and as the morning progressed we gradually made ourselves race morning ready.  Put on the wetsuit, stuffed the backpack, got the goggles ready.  The line moved steadily until the race officially started and it was ON.

Swim - 56:32 (9th M 30-34)

I managed to squeeze out a quick pee as I was running down the dock to jump into the gloriously beautiful Ohio River.  Unfortunately it never departed my wetsuit so there was a bladder's worth of pee just sitting somewhere in my triathlon apparel.  I hoped that somewhere within the 2.4 miles of swimming it would make its way out of my leg hole.  Dare to dream..

I jumped into the water off the dock, making sure my goggles stayed on, and began swimming up the channel.  There is really only one word for what this portion of the swim was like: chaos.

People were, literally, EVERYwhere.  I was going all over the place to navigate through swimmers as I was swimming a decent clip faster than most that were in the water ahead of me.  I had started my swim at about 7:40, so roughly 10 minutes of swimmers were ahead of me.  Sighting was somewhat difficult as we were headed into the sun but the sun had yet to rise above the treeline so it wasn't as bad as it would have been had I started 20-30 minutes later.

In my head we were turning around the island that kind of separates the "river" from the "channel" but as it turned out we were going much further up the river than I had originally expected.  This part was quite difficult to sight as - if I remember correctly - there was some fog or haze sitting on the river.  It took me a while to find the official turn buoy but once I did I was happy to be done with about the first third of the swim.

The rest of the swim was much, much easier as now people were able to spread out and there was much less traffic in general.  To be honest, I didn't "notice" a whole lot of current as I went downriver.  The buoys seemed to be coming at me in a normal way but I was still kind of hoping for a fast time with the invisible current so I could brag about a huge swim PR.

Regardless of my desires, I was forced to continue the glorious act of swimming in the most polluted body of water in the United States (for 7 years running, what a superlative!!)

The further along I got on the swim course the less I had people around me.  Pretty late, one guy came flying past but other than that I was pretty much swimming completely solo.  I got to the swim exit to thunderous applause, but I can only assume it was general applause and not specifically meant for me.

Note that I changed the distance manually to say 2.4 miles. I wore the 220 on my wrist and it reported over 3 miles.  Unlike some other race reports, I will not blame swimming "additional mileage" on my poor sighting and open water skills. My watch was underwater for more than half of the swim, which would serve to explain the distance discrepancy...

T1 - 5:25

I didn't have a fast T1, but it wasn't too bad. I put on socks, shoes, flask, gels, helmet, sunglasses...and made my way out of the tent, which wasn't too crowded at that point.

Bike - 4:30ish....

I headed out on the bike and planned to hold my watts a wee bit higher for the first hour or so.  This would help get some separation from any crowds and set my legs up for the day.  Get them used to the pain, so to speak.  I managed to do this well and passed a good number of people all the way down River Rd.  It was quite chilly even with my apparel choice.  I had actually decided to wear my normal two piece tri kit UNDER a Pearl Izumi Tri Octane sleeved suit.  So basically in the swim I had the PI put on halfway and in transition pulled it over and installed my arms into the sleeves for the bike.  The thought was that I could simply take that off to have something a little more comfortable to run in without having to execute a full change.

But my little fingers were very cold, nonetheless.

I got to the out and back section and looked forward to seeing how far ahead the "leader" was.  I had made my way to the final climb before the pace car came the other way with several guys in tow.  I counted them as they passed and noted that I was in "6th" place (note I use quotation marks simply because of the fact that at Louisville you never know who is actually in the lead, it's why I feel like the lead bikers on the run were a bit silly) before arriving at the turnaround a minute or two later.

I came in a little more "hot" than I'd have liked but slowed smoothly and made the 180 degree turn looking just as pro as I normally do when wearing a big pointy red helmet, multicolored tightly fitting apparel, and blue shoes.  So yea, pretty amazing.

From that point I didn't pass too many more guys until I got through LaGrange and I snapped up two at once that were riding together.  I got a little lazy at this point as the course meandered through the farms and remembered the disaster that was Louisville 2010 when I went past the "spot."

By the time we got back on the main road I had to pee really, really bad. It was actually affecting more power output and my position. In my imagination, my bladder was so big that if I rolled my hips forward properly it looked like you were squeezing a balloon really, really hard.  I tried many times to meditate, focus, and let fly on whatever downhills were available but was completely unsuccessful.  I was embarrassed at my lack of pro status when it came to peeing on myself. The more pro you are, the better at peeing on yourself you are.  That's science.

As a consequence, when I arrived at the special needs station I pulled over to use a porto.  I peed, but ended up peeing a lot on myself anyway, ironically (if you've ever tried pulling a zipped up Pearl Izumi Octane suit down enough to pee, you know what I mean).  I got back on the road and was MUCH more comfortable in the aero position after that blessed relief.

I focused on getting back up the road a bit after giving some time up and was back through the farm sections in no time.  At this point, however, something started becoming a bit uncomfortable.  By the time I got back out onto the main road it was simply becoming unbearable.  It's a difficult location to describe, but it's essentially right at the point of impact from my car incident last year.  In that crash, I fractured a sacral segment on the "left" side of my tailbone (my left).  The connective tissue around there is collectively referred to as your "SI joint" and that's what had become...debilitating.  For lack of a better word. It was incredible.  I've not really experienced weakness like that before.  I could not move. I couldn't go down into my aerobars because I was afraid that I would simply fall onto the bike when transitioning between those two positions. I couldn't really pedal, because the torque application required "flexing" that area, so to speak.  I couldn't really stand up to pedal...

It was bad all around. I'm not sure why the sudden onset seemed to occur, but for the last 10-15 minutes I was riding my bike I wasn't even averaging 60 watts.  I coasted everything I could.  By the time I hit the turn off for lap 2 or, for me, going straight to the finish line in 20 miles...the whole field had passed me.  I got off the bike and asked race support if I could get a ride back.  I couldn't imagine "riding" another 20 miles.  I didn't think I could physically do it.

You can likely imagine the disappointment that comes with a decision like that.  I'm not really sure I can elaborate further with words, but suffice it to say that when you build your whole year around something and prepare exceptionally well, to have the rug pulled out from under you is very, very upsetting.  Yes, I have DNF'ed other races before.  Am I a quitter? Maybe in some senses I am but I did not feel that way about my day in Louisville.

I have definitely been upset about the race.  As I described above, I had high expectations.  I was ready to f***ing own this race.  It was mine.

But, things happen. Maybe there's a reason behind it? Maybe it's a sign that I am destined for XTERRA greatness? Well, that's what I'm certainly telling myself anyway.  I've definitely appreciated everyone's concern and messages of support, it means a lot to me.  The community is the entire reason I got into triathlon anyway, so while I didn't have a great race I had an amazing time watching others have a great race.

Then a week later I got to see more great racing at B2B, which only served to heighten both my sense of sadness over my own race but also that shared feeling of success you get when a close friend does really well.

I just wish that had been a personal feeling at the finish line on October 17th...

Until next time, IM. (which might be never, you thankless b*tch!)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why Ironman?

A long time ago (seriously, it seems like forever) I sent out a pretty large group email, the body of which is contained below (paraphrased):

...One of the things I'd really like to do is examine a bit about WHY people/athletes sign up for and - to a degree - why they almost feel compelled to sign up for it. In the sense that it is something you HAVE to do if you do triathlons.  I've encountered this mentality quite a bit at the store and talking to lots and lots and lots of varying levels of triathletes so I know it's there, but I am curious if any of you have any sort of things you'd wanna say regarding that.

Take, for example, the first IM you signed up for (or if you haven't done one yet maybe why you have or are contemplating signing up for your first one). Why did you do it? What motivated you to go down that path? What made you sign up for your most recent IM if it is not your first...? Etc

There are a large number of people I am asking this of and the full spectrum is represented, from first time never done it before to top 5 pros on this email list. So don't feel like your answer isn't "right" or "good enough" or anything. I am just interested in perspective; your answer IS the right answer because it is YOUR answer.  And all that jazz.

It was pretty vague, let's be honest. But how do you even begin to try and examine what the answer "means" without, at least, starting the conversation...? That's what ran through my head, anyway, when I posed this query to a large group of email contacts, friends, and acquaintances. 

The answers I got varied, but they didn't vary AS MUCH as I would've expected. While we all have our own personal context for why we sign up for an Ironman, the reasons all seem to be relatively similar. (more on this later)

If you wanted ME to answer the question I posed to those willing participants...well, I can't say I blame you for asking...

I began triathlon-ing in the summer of 2008. I had been running after college and once that got old and I realized I wasn't that great at it I decided to start biking again to try and relive my glory days of B and C level collegiate cycling.  I quickly realized I STILL wasn't actually ever going to be a "GREAT" cyclist and decided to complete the trifecta and pick up swimming (laps, not anti-drowning) to make sure that if I was going to do 3 sports I might as well just be average at 3 instead of average at 1.

Dude, a frame bottle? Loose clothing? WTH!!?? So not aero.

 I signed up for a triathlon that would fall in late 2008 called Patriots Internationl but unfortunately Tropical Storm Hanna dumped a bunch of weather on coastal Virginia that weekend and the swim in the James River was canceled. Consequently, my first multi-sport event was a duathlon. 

There are few things more lame than duathlons.  Well, when you're expecting a triathlon anyway, duathlons are MUCH harder than triathlons. But that's a whole other subject area that we just aren't going to try to examine today (or any day really).

It was terrible. Miserable. Horrifying. I had such high hopes of mediocrity and when the actual experience was even worse I thought I'd seen it all.  (I'm being dramatic, the race was fine). Be that as it may, I had already signed up for New Orleans 70.3 the week prior to Patriots so my first triathlon was going to be a 70.3!  

Compression socks? What is going on!?

It went well enough, I had a great time (and crossed the line saying "I have NO IDEA how my friends do two of those in a ROW!?" to my parents) and met new people and generally got into a really fun group as the spring and summer progressed. 

I spent most of my weekend training with guys that were doing Ironman Louisville 2009 (Fletch, Behme, Woody, and Brad).  I was doing 100mi bike rides and 2+ hour long runs with them and I then met Ashley who talked about how he was doing B2B Full that year and I said: "Why not?"

Obviously much has changed about myself, my abilities, and my thoughts regarding triathlons in general since that point in time...but a few key phrases stick out to me:

"At a certain point you have to stop over analyzing and worrying and just get over yourself."

"It'll be fun and challenging. I'll see how far I can push myself..."

Glad it's over

Sometimes I wish I still saw things that way. In a way, that's what Louisville this year is for me: it is simply a challenge.  I have time "ideas" obviously, but just finishing is a challenge enough. I remember quite well walking most of the first loop in 2010, feeling sorry for myself; thinking I was such a terrible athlete because it had gone so poorly.  Yet right next to me were people whose races were going great and they were simply pushing on and happy to be out there.  

It's easy to forget why we do stuff, sometimes, especially in the face of self-imparted and peer applied pressures.  

And, out.

Monday, September 28, 2015

XTERRA USA Championships

It's not often that I travel to exotic locations to swim, bike, and/or run.  Well, with the exception of New Orleans, Cozumel, Park City, Tucson, Santa Barbara, Miami...etc.  Other than those times, I don't often go cool places to race or exercise.  I wanted to buck that trend this year, especially when I raced down in Alabama back in April and qualified for XTERRA World Championships (in Maui) and XTERRA USA Championships (Ogden).

If I hadn't committed to racing Ironman Louisville way back in December of 2014 I would undoubtedly have built my season around racing Maui.  But, for better or for worse, I signed up for Louisville and in that moment my focus for 2015 became that race.  Still, I didn't want to give up completely on racing another national level XTERRA event and so, after careful calculation and negotiation I signed up for XTERRA USA in Ogden, UT.

I have really only been riding my mountain bike consistently for the past year or so, but I had the opportunity to ride it in Park City, UT back in 2013 as part of a Scott Bikes dealer event.  So I had some idea of the terrain that I could expect for the Ogden race: hilly, loose, rocky.  Riding out there is VERY different when compared to east coast trail riding.  Over here we have lots of roots, short/steep hills (in the "foothills" anyway), grippy "dirt," etc).  Out in Utah the climbs are LONG, the surfaces are slippery, and there exists an abundance of rocks (but very, very few roots).

For the past couple of months my training has been extremely specific to my goal race of the year.  That is not a pre-excuse, but it gives you a good idea of what I've been doing and what I am "used" to.  Being good at XTERRA is - in many ways - the complete opposite of being good at IM.  Still, I am quite fit, and I was really excited to race.

Luckily for me, I proved an extremely competent negotiator/manipulator and managed to convince my friend Jeremy - who lives in Atlanta - to fly out to Utah for a long weekend.  So we met at the airport on Thursday and drove to the VRBO I had chosen, which was a "guest apartment" (essentially an above garage studio apartment, but very nice) on the east side of Ogden.  It was conveniently located with easy access to the race venue (about a 25 minute drive through a canyon to get to the resort) and downtown Ogden, the location of the expo and post-race festivities.

We didn't do too much that day other than recover from a day of flying and travel but on Friday we packed up the sweet, sweet Chevy Impala and headed out to scout the race.  I wanted to ride some of the course (preferably only the downhills, but that didn't end up being the way it worked out...) and we thought it'd be a good idea to kind of figure out a way for Jeremy to have easy access to several locations.

Parked, but ready to roll
Jeremy, LITERALLY, scouting the race course
The bike course views are absolutely stunning
Like I said...
 At the end of the day we had come to several conclusions:

1) I was not going to ride the time I "expected" to ride. This course is extremely physically demanding
2) Jeremy's day would involve a fair amount of driving
3) The course was gorgeous
4) Ripping the two descents at race pace was going to be...interesting.

Be that as it may, we finished out our Friday and woke up Saturday morning relatively early (but not too early, given the 9AM start time - did I mention how awesome XTERRA is?!?!), got ready, and headed over to set up for race day.  It was COLD (sub 40 degrees, but expected to reach mid 60s and be completely sunny) but not altogether unpleasant at the swim start.

I didn't have a chance to warm up, but felt ready to race.  They started the male pros at 9:00, female pros at 9:01, and age groupers at 9:04 (or something close to that).

Swim - 22:52 (27th OA)

I was on the front row and at the sound of the horn dove in to start the clockwise two loop triangle swim. The start was extremely chaotic.  We were headed directly into the sun for the first leg of the triangle and the buoy was only about ~250 meters away.  So that whole stretch was pretty much a mad house fight for position.

That theme carried on throughout the first loop and it was only on the second loop that I felt I was able to establish a rhythm of some sort and start passing people who started out much too hard.  I wasn't really swimming "hard" but I felt long and powerful, which any guy obviously desires...when swimming.

I exited the water with plenty of people in front of me but no real idea of where I was in the race.

T1 - 1:37

My T1 time was slowed by putting on socks. I definitely have some improvements I need to make when it comes to XTERRA transitioning.

Bike - 1:41:31 (49 OA)

I think this section needs to be started with a brief summary of how different these trails are than our east coast trails:

2) Rocks
3) Zero Roots
4) Slippery, loamy "dirt"
5) yea, climbing

I had biked most of the course the day prior but had excluded the first 4ish miles of the race, 1-2 of which was on paved road out of transition. I did not realize, however, that once off the paved road we'd essentially be climbing for the next 45+ minutes, including the trail section I had not "scouted."

I passed a couple of people and got passed by a couple of people (including XC Olympian Todd Wells, who was riding MUCH faster than me...) and generally set a relatively conservative pace up through this climb out of the canyon.

Throwing out the shaka for the camera

I reached the first descent and managed to "PR" vs. Friday's scouting ride which was pleasing to see in hindsight.  Learning a descent, especially a fast, loose one like this is generally paramount in XTERRA racing.  I made up some ground on some guys that had passed me on the ascent and we crossed Old Snowbasin Rd for the second time.  Jeremy was there but I did not see him as I was focused on not running into the guy in front of me.

And so began the long, long climb up to Sardine Peak. Going from the end of the first climb to the start of the second had taken approximately 5-7 minutes.  It was back into one of the two or three easiest gears on the cassette and the start of another 40 minute climb to the top of Sardine.  It was more strung out at this point and I got passed again early on in the climb. I didn't feel like I was going "easy" but I also had trouble making myself go any harder.  At this point of my training (from a long term standpoint) I am extremely proficient at holding 200-220 watts for 4-5 hours.  This is not really how you ride an XTERRA bike course...

I got to the top of the final climb and let someone go past me right as we started the descent. Unfortunately for this guy he almost went off the side of the mountain at a sharp right hander early on and I re-passed him as he stood precariously on the side of the trail having barely regained his balance after coming to a stop on the edge.  I really enjoyed this descent and was able to get back up to someone that had passed me about 2/3 of the way up the climb and we flowed through the rest of the downhill pretty quickly.  I did almost nail a tree at one point (seriously, NAILed a tree) but luckily managed some ninja-like contortions to save my body from that wear and tear.

As we climbed briefly back into some singletrack to get back into the resort area I lost contact with my descent buddy and rolled into transition.

T2 - 1:04

I actually had a bad T2. I could not find my spot for what felt like forever (though I was probably only "searching" for 15-20 seconds before I found it).  There were no labels anywhere and you had to just kind of remember where you put your stuff... Once I located my shoes and run belt I managed to get out of there pretty quickly.

Run - 47:31 (45 OA)

My legs felt very loose and snappy as I ran through the parking lot and I am pretty confident that if this had been a road run I'd have done quite well. Sadly, however, it was not on the roads.

I came around one of the resort's buildings at the edge of the pavement and saw an absolutely terrible sight up ahead.  We were essentially going to run up a ski run to get to the woods. Yuck. It was about a 6-7 minute climb and I actually walked a portion of it because it was simply that steep. I had caught up to a guy (and passed a few others) and I was walking alongside him at the same pace he was "running."

We crested the "top" and continued onto singletrack that was still going uphill but at a slightly less steep grade.  As I rolled into the downhill portion my right hamstring flared and then grabbed quite tightly. I was forced to pull off to the side of the trail to stretch it several times before it loosened up again.  This was a bit disappointing but I can surmise that it was due in no small part to the enforced short stride that steep uphills impart on your gait.  Your hamstring, when running that way, is under a lot of tension throughout the gait cycle and has basically no chance to "loosen."  So when it all of a sudden did...well it didn't like it very much.

I lost all the spots I had gained but was able to get back running again and carried on pretty normally for a while.  The course gradually climbed for about 35 minutes (with a short descent early which is where I had to stretch) before starting to level off and at that point I actually had to stop and stretch a cramping right hamstring again.  I had gained back most of the spots I had lost (but had gained before losing) but now lost them again. (confused yet?)

But luckily I was able to mitigate the issue and get rolling again.  When working, my stride actually felt quite good.  I finally made my way back to the guy that I had originally paced alongside up the first climb and as we descended I prepared myself for a little sprint off.  We were not in the same age group, but I will never forego the opportunity to place one spot higher overall.  Luckily, I managed to edge him out in a nice sprint across the line.

2:54:35 (5th AG, 35 OA)

I was pleased with this race.  It was an incredible opportunity to go someplace gorgeous and do a spectacular and difficult event. I am also surprised - being so used to road triathlons - at how difficult XTERRA purposefully makes courses.  It's like if they encounter two options as far as course design goes, one is easier and one is harder, they will ALWAYS choose the harder one.  That is great and a welcome change from the monotony that can become road triathlon.

I would love to do this race again after preparing specifically for IT.  I am excited to toe the line at Louisville but a race such as an IM requires such specific preparation that you tend to lose a lot of the non-IM related abilities and fitness.  While I'd obviously prefer to place higher in my AG than 5th this was a national championship level event so the best of the best (and the best of the WEST, more importantly) come out to play..

Next year...

Monday, September 14, 2015

Those creative juices

It's interesting, but predictable, that my blogging has almost completely slacked off since we last spoke.  Or rather, since I last talked and you pretended to listen...

In the past I've managed to maintain a healthy hobby practice, a healthy workplace practice, AND a healthy blog.  This year, however, things have been a bit different.

Insofar as triathlon is concerned, the most important 4 weeks in my year are now upon us (well - me really - but I'm making this include you too).  It is officially race week for XTERRA USA Championships in Ogden, Utah.

I am truly, deeply excited for this race.  Very rarely do I get the opportunity to travel to cool destinations (this is self-imposed, obviously) because the attraction of the race does not surmount the cost of travel.  This time is different, as the desire to compete on a national level in the XTERRA world is very high for me right now.

Here are some awesome things about XTERRA:

1) Race start time - this weekend the race starts at 9am! 9AM!! A race where you don't have to wake up at 3am to eat breakfast and be out the door by 4:30?? SIGN ME UP.

2) Amazing views

XTERRA Richmond (oh wait, this probably doesn't encourage participation/excitement...)
3) Shorter races

Let's be honest: the length of an IM is just silly. We are all mature people reading this, right? We can all come to a general consensus like the rational people that we are and conclude that 140.6 miles is just too far.

Those are three "pros" that jump to the top of my head.  So all of that is to say that I'm very excited to head out to Utah on Friday.  My bff from college Jeremy will be meeting me out there so hopefully we can have a great time out at elevation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bike Racing and Travel

Last Thursday I was able to participate in my first bike race since...well, since the last one.  The aforementioned last one was - what felt like - a long time ago.  Marking my third attempt at racing around on two [skinny] tires this year, the first night of the Crossroads Classic was in Mocksville, NC.  The course was short and very, very fast.  The start/finish straight was a slight rise and fall (with the line being at the "crest"), into a fast and narrow bottlenecking right turn.  That road was all downhill to another fast, right turn with ample room into a flat road with - you guessed it - another right hand turn at the end of it. Post Turn 3 was all uphill into an uphill right hander to the start/finish area.

It would make a very fast course with positioning being important (admittedly, as it always is in a crit). I watched the Cat 4 race where Ross handled himself well, narrowly missing out on a crash in turn 1 on the penultimate lap.

The Cat 3 race started and - as usual - I didn't really know anyone in particular to "watch out" for.  I tried to get near the front off the start but unfortunately was not able to. I spent the next couple of laps somewhere in the middle of the pack, having to sprint out of each turn.  This would be a sucky way to race so I attacked from the middle on the climb after a few laps and ended up off the front for the start/finish road.  I ended up being off the front for a lap or two, which wasn't really my intention.

Turn 2, thanks Ross the Boss for the pic
Eventually I got swallowed back up again but tried to remain near the front now that I could choose my position a bit better.  Being on the front or near it allows you to ride the course MUCH smoother as you don't have to yo-yo off the back through and around and after the turns.  A steadier effort is always better, especially for a triathlete.  I was noticing that on this particular course I was able to make up quite a bit of distance on the turns if someone got ahead of me so it felt good to have that confidence. 

More of the race went by uneventfully and then we got to "3 laps to go" remaining.  We went through that lap and then with two laps to go the pace picked up a little bit.  On the uphill stretch I attacked and got off the front again for the start/finish line but this was responded to quickly but my goal was ultimately to get through those first two turns in the top 3-5 spots.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) I ended up being in the front spot through those two turns on the final lap.  I was able to navigate it safely and put my head down on the back stretch  and resolved to just stay at tempo/threshold on the front.  Unfortunately somebody decided this would be a good time to go sprinting past and brushed my shoulder when they did so.  I was very frustrated with a move like that because they had an entire road and had no need to cut it that close at ~35 mph (I was probably going  25ish).  I didn't feel like contesting a sprint that was full of guys like that (plus, I was tired) so I got to the finish line having been passed quite a bit in the last 400m.  

A good workout and a good week of biking. I don't get too many opportunities to race bikes anymore given that it frequently conflicts with the triathlon season's goals so it was fun to do a night race (by the last 10 laps it was basically dark with only street lights...a little sketchy) and get in a good second bike ride of the day (yes, that's another excuse for ya). 

I also took a quick trip home to New Orleans this weekend.  I haven't been home since Christmas and haven't seen a couple of my brothers since then so it was a nice opportunity to fly home and have everyone be there.  The chances of this happening with any frequency are certainly diminishing as we all get older...

Travis taking a drink. No this wasn't staged, at all..

Sailing back into the harbor after a boating dinner

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

So, this is just filler

A lot of people I know are currently in the throes of passion as it regards to their feelings surrounding their late season fall races.  They're still deeply in love with the thought that they have an IM (I'm just going to use that as my example here as it works better for my storyline) scheduled 8-12 weeks from now (say, Wisconsin to B2B) and the endless possibilities that event presents them in their mind sends little tingling goosebumps down their arms and the back of their neck.

It are those thoughts that currently buoy your spirits and push you through each day. You don't think about the - let's say - 11 weeks of training you have before race day. You don't think, maybe, about those races you have in between that are probably going to suck and you'll get to say stuff like:

"Well I'm training for IM so this is just a "B" race."
"I've lost all my short-course speed!"
"I didn't taper so I'm really tired!"
"Whoa that 100 mile bike ride yesterday really deadened my legs for the 5k today."

But no, you don't worry about that right now.  Right now, you're sitting there and maybe drinking some coffee.  Maybe you're at your work desk and you're staring down the barrel of a pretty ho-hum day (or maybe it's a crazy day) with that thought nestled in the back of your head that in a relatively short period of time you are going to show yourself and everyone around you what you're really made of.  Your colleagues at work may not really care or understand and that's ok.

But these moments in time are important. Because as race day gets closer (say, late August) it certainly won't get any "easier."  You will be more tired, you will be more irritable, you may have a new baby, etc.

But support yourself with that vision you almost certainly have of your race. See yourself crossing the finish line, fatigued but exalting in your own excellence.  Hopefully you were patient on the bike and had a good run!