Friday, July 25, 2014

Stumpy Creek International 2014

Stumpy is a great race. Very little more needs to be said about the event itself; if you live in NC and haven't raced it AND you read this blog I would be very surprised. Why would I be surprised? Because it's a good race and if you know me chances are you've raced it too. At various points in time the best triathletes in NC have been there.

2010 (first year) - Scott Woodbury himself takes the W, beating out Tom Clifford, Frank Fawcett and myself at 2nd, 3rd and 4th place overall.

2011 - Matt Wisthoff proces again that he is the best short course triathlete in NC or any of the surrounding states, beating Tom and myself in 2nd and 3rd.  Somehow I have a run time of 35:52 that year. Knowing that the run course hasn't changed I am not sure where that came from (Tom's run time was 33:32 for reference...)

2012 - Doug Van Wie comes crashing into our little NC party and takes the W ahead of me. My memory of this race is riding as hard as I could on the bike and finally making contact with DVW coming into T2 and then - as a result - having no legs left to run.

2013 - Finally my year as I beat Matt for the first time ever and Derek comes in a close 3rd place.

This year felt, in many respects, like a revisit of 2013.

There would be no Wisty making a late, long-haired appearance. I knew Derek, a late sign-up, was going to be the main competition at this race.  Despite knowing Scott was back in good shape I was caught a little unawares at how close he was at the end of the swim, bike and run...

The only interesting story from this past week other than the race was my brief journey into hell (sliiiiight exaggeration) during a mountain bike ride on Monday.  I had just gotten my brand new bicycle (Specialized Epic Expert with 1 ride to that point) and figured on getting in a bonus ride on Monday afternoon after getting my day's workouts done prior to going into work. I headed to the Backyard Trails and was cruising along when I came upon a section I'd never attempted.  For some reason I felt like it would be a good time to try this and so I did and fell over immediately on the beginning (awkward, downhill, super slow narrow left hand turn).  I stood up, turned off my camera and started making my way back on my bike and on the trail. I then felt a slight, painful sting on my ankle.  I looked down and noticed a bunch of bees/yellow jackets sitting on my ankles, quads and wrist. At that point, the pain became an immense rush of "HOLY SH*% WHAT IS HAPPENING" and I began screaming like a little girl and sprinting with my bike down the trail.  I sprinted, all-out, for probably 20 or 30 seconds (in my bike shoes pushing my bike, mind you).  The pain was incredible.  I then started trying to swipe away the little devils still attached to me. Once I had gotten them all off and gotten on my bike and ridden even further from the scene I took the time to do an assessment. As best I could tell, I had two stings on my right wrist, one on my left wrist, one on my right hip, one on my right hammy, five or six on my right ankle and two or three on my left ankle. I got back to my car, took some benadryl and basically (after eating dinner) went home and went to bed, hoping that the sting pain would abate and there would be no swelling (or that I'd wake up in the middle of the night in anaphylatic shock).  I woke up Tuesday AM and felt TERRIBLE (but alive). I took more Benadryl (luckily, it would appear as though I have no allergic reaction to bees...).  It took a couple of days for the effects to wear off but by race day I felt back to normal (despite having black dots around my ankles...ew).

Anyway, back to the race.

Swim - 21:36 (2nd)

I figured the swim would go as it "normally" does when Derek and I race: Derek takes it out hard, I catch up and sit on his feet the rest of the swim.  Well, that was sooooort of what happened. Derek took it out slower than Scott and I did (I was in the middle with Derek on my left and Scott on my right), which was confusing at first. He was testing out wearing his short sleeved tri suit under his swim skin (so sleeves "out," which is perfectly legal according to USAT rules - not WTC mind you) so I was kinda thinking maybe this was slowing him down.

After about 2 or 300 meters he disabused me of that notion and accelerated HARD so I moved to the left and jumped on his feet.  We remained in this position to the first turn buoy, at which point I looked back and saw we had a very slight gap on someone who I assumed was Scott and a pretty big gap to the next person after that.  Another 100m on Derek's feet then another left turn.  At this point it was a long straight stretch back to the transition area. Derek would surge every 2-3 minutes which always sort of caught me by surprised so I had to play catch-up to get back on his feet.  At the second to last buoy we turned and I saw Scott was still back there, only 20-30 meters back so at this point I thought maybe I'd try and throw in an attack on Derek.  We got to the last little section and I came around Derek and put in a hard effort just to make him stress a little bit. He breathes to the right mostly so I passed him on the left and felt him slap my feet a couple of times as he moved over. I then slowed down and cruised in for a bit.  But then, for a reason unbeknownst to me or anyone else, I surged again and came into the finish with Derek right behind.

Photo courtesy Craig Carver via JRC Facebook

T1 - 0:42

I sprinted through T1 but had a bit of an issue getting my helmet on so lost a couple of seconds there.

Bike - 1:07:04 (2nd)

Ahhh, the bike. I have traditionally had very good bike splits at this race...

I made my way out of the venue and up the hill onto Perth Rd and Derek was right there with me. He let me lead for about 15-20 minutes until we turned off State Park Rd and started a climb. He came around me up the hill and once he was ahead to try and match his pace was requiring about 450 watts up the hill.  Once we crested it was still heavy on the gas pedal at 300+ and I just didn't have the gas.

Over the next 20-30 minutes I watched Derek get slowly further and further away until he was basically out of sight. I had a lot of trouble motivation myself to push so was basically rolling along at below half-ironman effort.

Once I got back to Perth Rd and endured the hellacious pavement chatter I looked back and could see a lone speck off in the distance that I assumed was Scott.  I came down the hill into transition at a high rate of speed, mostly chagrined by my (lack of) performance on the bicycle.

She allllmost beat me into T2. Thanks Luke Aitken for pic

T2 - 0:50

Unfortunately, given the rain I had no idea where the dismount line was (although you'd think having done this race EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS HAPPENED I would have a pretty good idea of where the line was whether I could see it or not.

Nope.

So I hopped off my bike wayyyy too late and going wayyyy too fast and was basically careening towards the transition "zone." I had two options:

1) Go under the arch and carry on until who knows where while I slowed down so I could turn to my area (my area was the first rack on the right immediately after going through the arch).

2) Run into the inflatable and stop quickly.

I chose option 2. I ran into the inflatable, which was filled with - you guessed it - air and as a consequence my slowing was done safely and quickly. I looked back at Jenny who was volunteering at the dismount line and just raised my arms, completely non-plussed by the ridiculous bike split capped off with running into the inflatable. I walked over to my bike rack...

Run - 37:22 (2nd)

Not much to say about the run as there was nobody I was chasing and nobody chasing me (that I could see). I thought I heard Scott coming into T2 as I was heading out onto the run course but I never saw him out there.  I managed to even split pretty well if I am not mistaken and given how difficult this run course is I'd wager a 37:20 10k split on "cruise control" is pretty sweet.

Dat stride! Thanks Luke, again.
OA - 2:07:32 (2nd)

I was definitely not happy with my race.  Not from a physical standpoint but my mental attitude was just terrible.  Last year I WANTED to win and my performance reflected that. This year I just didn't want to lose.  That is a huge difference in how one approaches competition. You can guess which is better...

Here is a fun little video I put together from some clips and images taken by volunteers (Jenny), spectators and adoring fans all over the world.

Stumpy Creek International 2014 from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before Derek moved me to the second step of the podium.  He is a great athlete who takes care of all the little details.  I only wish I had been less of a wuss! Next time...

Which happens to be 3 days from now at Challenge New Albany!  It's shaping up to be a super fun weekend of travel and "vacation" that happens to have a half-ironman packed in the middle.  The mini van rental is about to be loaded up and a sweet drive into the "heart of America" will be undertaken with great pleasure.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A week of being all about America

S - 12,700 yards
B - 271.1 miles
R - 43.6 miles

Time - 23.42 hours

Stringing together back to back weeks of good training feels almost as amazing as cutting your fingernails after a long lay-off.  You may scoff at that analogy but please, let me explain.

Training is kind of like fighting a gorilla.  You don't stop when you get tired; you stop when the gorilla gets tired.  It's a never-ending process of trying to get better and improving very gradually over the course of long periods of time. It requires patience.  It gets a little crazy every once in a while.  There is risk involved.  There is pain; there is suffering. There is joy; there is satisfaction.

So basically, training is like fighting a gorilla for all the reasons mentioned above.

Why then, did I equate stringing together two good weeks of training with cutting your fingernails? It's a question I asked myself repeatedly while writing the previous paragraphs actually.  I was kind of wondering where I was gonna take that (somewhat odd) analogy.  But I've got the solution. I'm going to take it to level 10.

Your fingernails always grow. That is just what they do. The longer they get, the more they get in the way.  They do, admittedly, get far better at picking one's nose but that's about the only utility to be found in longer fingernails.  So, fitness is kind of like fingernail growth.  It never stops.  The only thing fitness does is get you more fitness.  It doesn't make you any cooler (as much as I am loathe to admit that).  It certainly doesn't make you nicer.  In fact, the lower your TSB the grumpier you are going to be.

(as an aside, if your significant other or spouse is in a heavy training phase they likely have a low TSB, which is exactly the reason why they are a PITA to deal with)

But what makes training great (or fingernail growth) is the ability to see results.  There are few things more satisfying than doing a nice, precise slice of the 'nails. Just like week after week of good training and growth, it is satisfying to see the result of that growth and then slice it off with a good race.  Because that's the goal in the end, isn't it?

Nobody wants to JUST be good at exercising.  Well I suppose cross-fitters do, but they are weird (if you can call that "exercising" hehe).  Everyone trains with a goal in mind. Well, mostly. The goal doesn't have to be a "race" per se, it can just be any sort of "competition." With yourself, your work buddies, your spouse, your kids, your man upstairs, your yard...etc.

On that note, it's been a good two weeks of training.  This week was marked by several special occasions:

1) Contained in the week was July 4th, which is the day AMERICA was birthed from the womb of Britain's lame tight-wad mother.

2) I raced my bike in Pisgah, NC

3) I rode my bike with good friends for 6.5 hours in the mountains of NC on Sunday.

Now, with regard to #2:

I DO like racing bikes. I like beating roadies at their own game.

(by the way, does any one find it INCREDIBLY satisfying that people say triathletes are just mediocre at three sports but then get their asses kicked by triathletes at THEIR sport? Because I do)


This time, however, the roadies had the answer: teams. It was a 5 lap race with a 1/2 mile twisty, curvy road as the start/finish lead up.  It was a pretty flat course with not too many opportunities to break up the group.  On either lap 3 or 4 two guys got away, one a member of Team Novo Nordisk (who had 7 or 8 guys in the ~35 man Cat 3 field) and one a member of Team V (I don't really remember the name of the team but they had either 3 or 4 guys in the field).  Given the strong presence of their teammates in the group this two man break got a little out of sight over the ensuing lap. I wasn't eager to do any work yet so I just sat in the pack and minded my own business.  Somewhere in lap 4 a guy from Team Cyclus got away off the front and bridged to the two guys (he had either 2 or 3 teammates in the pack).  In spite of having what are, quite literally, the ugliest kits in the history of kit design they actually function fairly well as a team.


On lap 5 it was time to do some work so I made my way to the front to try and get the party started.  But when half of the field won't work on the front because they have teammates in the break it is kind of difficult.  There was another "team" in the pack (Tumult Racing) but they had a bit of trouble getting all their guys to the front so it took a while for any sort of "chase" to be enacted. I was active at first but after a bit I figured it was futile and slid back to try and pick a good spot for what I assumed would be a field sprint.

The break stayed away (although the gap was closed down significantly) and we came up to the left turn leading into the half-mile slight uphill finishing straight. I was holding a good spot about halfway in the pack on the left side (at 200m to go the road opens up to be able to use both lanes so I have always figured staying on the left side was the most reliable option).  It seemed like a lot of the field was pretty tired so I didn't have too much trouble beating out the others in the sprint (for 4th place) but - as always - the sprint itself had a lot of crazy stuff going on as guys would sprint and then die and just sit up like there was nobody going full-bore behind them...



The next day we all made the drive up to Morganton, NC to do our beloved loop in the mountains.  There were a bunch of us and the weather was amazing so it was really a great day.  I was happy with the way I rode and I think everybody was pretty worn out in the end.  Most of us added in the super great Beech Mountain climb, which I hadn't done in about two years.  It is just as hard as I remembered.



Unfortunately the Garmin 510 touch screen proves problematic at times, but luckily I "saved" instead of "discarded" that file...



All in all, it was a fantastic week of training and weather here in Charlotte, NC so there is - literally - nothing about which I can complain.

Next week brings with it a mid-week mountain bike race (hopefully), some more training, and some more acquisition of memories. Get ready. Gonna be epic, as usual.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Post # 429

Blogging. It's a bit self-aggrandizing to be honest. As if, in writing a blog, I am telling the world that my voice somehow matters MORE than others.  The very act of creating, writing and publicizing a blog is a play to one's own vanity.

I read a lot of blogs. I find it onerous making my way through some of them.  Race reports, training updates, drama issues, etc. It becomes a bit much. Some never update theirs, so what's the point? Some people only post when something good happens, or when something bad happens.  They "forget" about a bad race and only talk about the good ones.

I blog every week. I think I've been blogging every week (admittedly missing a week here and there) for several years.  As regular as, well...you know.

So when I read posts like this I cringe. Admittedly, the original poster is what we, on the internets, call a TROLL. He posts stuff simply for the purpose of being antagonistic.

I like that his ear is pierced
Why do I blog? As much as I try not to feed the troll, I cannot help it. I get defensive. I think some people assume I blog because I like hearing myself talk.  Or maybe I blog because I am relatively good at triathlon/exercising and therefore my opinion matters more...

Let's go back in time a bit, shall we?

Here is my first ever blog post from back in August of 2007.  That was the beginning.  You can tell I am pretty young (23).  I am extremely new to running. I am not writing because I think anybody will read it (for the record a total of 5 people viewed that blog when it was originally written).

I wrote it because writing is cathartic. I write because I enjoy it. It helps me think through stuff. It helps.

Sure, it's also a platform for offering my opinion on stuff...but you get the good with the bad ;) (although obviously all of my opinions are the right ones)

I just LIKE writing. So, sorry for inundating you with blog posts this week. If you blog, why? Do you do it because you feel like you "have" to? Because all triathletes seem to have a blog? Do you do it to track a journey? Mark your path? See from whence you've come and where you're going?

If you write, I'll probably read it. I like your story. Generally speaking anyway. Life is just acquisition of memories. Blogging preserves memories.

Blog more. Whine less. Git r dun.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Male cyclists are dumb

That's a catchy tag-line to begin with, no doubt. But it needs to be said. Guess what? I'm a male cyclist.  I am including myself in this diatribe. I am a perpetrator of many a crime I am going to mention.  But it needs to get out there in the open.

We are dumb.
We are egotistical.
We are prideful.
We are male-centric.

And guess what? We don't like to let women be ahead of us on the bike.

Why?

It's a good question.  It's not just on the bike, really. Every sport I've done, guys don't like to let girls be "ahead."  I mean that not just literally, but also figuratively. Ahead in the skills department, ahead in the whatever department. Ahead. Not good for male psyche.

But I'm talking specifically about cycling. Personally, I don't mind drafting behind the ladies. It's a great opportunity to check out some good looking bodies without worrying about them noticing that you are creeping. It's a good position in which to find oneself, really.

There is, however, a huge issue at hand: guys don't like to let girls be ahead of them. It's really frustrating the way guys ride when they are around girls.  Because "he" is a guy, he can't let "her" be ahead of him.  That's akin to admitting she is stronger, better, faster, tougher, etc. Why is that so hard for "him" to admit?

Let's be honest, girls are WAYYYY tougher than guys.  That's been proven time and again in all different realms.  I mean, first off, they have babies. I, for one, am super happy that I will never have to get another human being out of me.

Chicks are tough.

So why, dudes, can you not let a girl be faster than you? Why can you sit behind me at ~300 watts and not feel bad (AND complain about not being able to pull through because you are old and/or tired and/or weak) but when a girl is pulling at ~300 watts you pull around her...why?

That is the question you must ask yourself, gentlemen.  WHY do you feel it necessary to be in front of a girl, just because she is a girl? I know plenty of lady cyclists who are as strong and stronger than most of the guys that ride bikes. But those guys that are weak feel the need to prove that they are strong to the womenfolk.

Word to the wise, bro: girls don't like guys who ride like n00bs. They're not impressed by guys that need to do their "measuring" on the bike. As much as I love proving to the ladies out there how amazing I am on the bicycle, the realistic and logical part of me knows that they just. don't. care.

So fellas, let me reiterate this: a girl CAN be stronger than you on two wheels.  In fact, they frequently ARE stronger. Guess what: you are probably not as strong as you think you are. So, be realistic and be content to not ride like an a-hole.

On a sidenote: got in some good training this week.  22 hours in total.  Feels like a breath of fresh air.

I also did Blood Sweat and Gears for the first time this past Saturday.  While not the best route in the NC mountains (I like "our" loop a lot more actually) it was a great and well-supported event.  My back gave me some issues late in the ride and I did not ride as strong as I would've liked towards the end but that is a consequence of me riding too hard at the beginning.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction!

Cresting Snake Mountain. Pain.

Go team!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

XTERRA Clemson

This week actually brought with it several races and some testing.  Well, racing is testing. Testing is racing. Racing is also training. Unfortunately training is just training.

That's all I got.

On Wednesday evening I headed up to Charlotte Motor Speedway to do another 10 mile time trial around the left-turn only course.  I successfully got my race finished before they started pulling riders due to an impending lightning and thunderstorm.  In between heading up there and eating Five Guys I managed to set the second overall fastest time in an almost-identical-to-last-time of 20:32.8 (compared to 20:32.2 of last month).  Conditions "felt" slower, however, so I was not displeased.  I paced it extremely well and was happy with my effort level.


Where it gets TRULY interesting, however, is when you compare watts/kg produced during the time to the time itself. I will have to solicit help to calculate my "virtual" coefficient of drag but I averaged 2 more watts to go point six seconds slower.  The differences between the two races other than the variables that cannot be controlled (weather, course traffic) were that in race #2 I did not wear shoe covers but I DID have a new helmet (which tested faster in the A2 Wind Tunnel back several months ago).  So I can only surmise that conditions were slower.

Whew.

On Friday afternoon I embarked on my second driving adventure of the week (#1 being the adventure of trying to get north out of Charlotte on any interstate between the hours of 4pm and 7pm) by heading down I-85 to Clemson, South Carolina for my second XTERRA race.  My goal was to leave early enough (taking the afternoon off work and NOT getting paid, womp womp) to drive down and pick up my packet while doing a little course recon on the trails.  I knew this course was advertised as being more technical than Tsali (which is basically wide open and "easy") with a good, strong mix of climbing (not really any descending actually).  So I knew, barring accident, that it would set up well for my skill-set.  Or at least well-enough to not worry overly.

Unfortunately, traffic was so bad I did not get to packet pickup until 5pm and I did not wish to go ride an hour on unfamiliar trails after 6pm in the middle of nowhere (this race venue truly was in the middle of nowhere).  So I went to the hotel and watched several episodes of  "The Wire," which I can't seem to get enough of lately.

I set my alarm pretty early for an 8am start and ended up making it to the race site just after 6pm, leaving me plenty of time to set up and warm up in all three sports.

The race was a 1000 meter swim (I was pretty skeptical of the distance when looking out at the swim course but I realized I was comparing it to a 1500 meter swim, which is a horse of a different color, in hindsight), an 11 mile bike, and a "4" mile run.  No timing chips so T1 was combined into the swim time and T2 was combined into the bike time (i.e. the split was taken as you exited transition).

Swim + T1 - 15:42

I had seen a TMS-IOS team member prowling around the race site before the start and based on racing him once or twice I knew he was a good swimmer so my plan was to take the swim out pretty aggressively.  True to my word, I took the first 200 meters at basically an all-out effort (or for those of you who care about semantics, I took it "all out" only in the context of knowing there was still 800 meters to go after that).  I had a straight shot to the first buoy (counter clockwise triangle) and upon making the first turn took a quick glance over the shoulder to see where the chasers were situated.  I had created a good gap so from there to the second buoy I just tried to maintain threshold pace (this was difficult as the initial 200 meters had created somewhat of a backlog of complaints in the shoulder/lung area).  Around the second buoy I took another glance and noticed my gap had increased so I put my head down and finished the swim strong, running up the gravel path and entering transition area.  I put on gloves, helmet, socks and shoes so I don't imagine this was an especially speedy transition but I was leaving when the next racer was entering so I hoped that was enough.

Bike + T2 - 51:43

The bike began with a rolling uphill fire road before getting into some twisty turny stuff.  At the end I looked back to see if I could see any chasers and fortunately I did not see anybody behind me. The course climbed over the next couple of miles and would vary between open fire roads with significant climbing to twisty single track winding around and through creeks, valleys, etc.  It was actually a really fun course, much more so than Tsali. I really felt like I was mountain biking this time. I was having some trouble on the technical stuff; the trail was not very "flowy" and it was difficult to get up any speed.  This was no fault of the course; this was primarily the fault of my own skill (or lack thereof).  When you are technically proficient you carry speed on difficult courses much better.



Anyway, I eventually made my way back to transition and hopped off the bike with nary a person in sight (other than all the spectators).

Run - 24:12

I managed to put on my game face and shoes on in quick succession and headed out for what I knew would be a challenging run based on traipsing along the first .5 miles during my warm up pre-race.  As you can see in the hyperlink embedded in the word "run" above this paragraph: it was no joke.

The end-game of the run is that if they had given out an award for "Most Timid Runner" I would almost certainly have earned it with the way I was running the trails.  I resolved to push the sections I felt capable of pushing (the open flat/rolling fire roads) and that worked out well but unfortunately for me there was less than half a mile of that type of surface.  Womp womp.  Oh well.  There were some walking climbs (straight up) and some trotting climbs and there were basically lots of climbs.  I finally slogged my way up and down enough of them and ended up crossing the finish line in first.  Yippee!

Full Results

Another fun week in the books. Just the way it should be...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let's catch up, shall we?

Alright so it's been at least two weeks.  Suffice it to say that from a training standpoint I have been...training.  It's been happening.

I did a bike race last weekend, which was fun.  To be honest, bike racing can be extremely frustrating but the flip-side of that is that it can be extremely rewarding.  Out smarting an entire field or timing your sprint perfectly or getting in the last attack that breaks your chasers and rides them off your wheel (as an aside, there is NO better feeling in triathlon-related activities than riding someone OFF your wheel) as you bring home the proverbial glory (as far as amateur bike racing goes).

I was frustrated at the SC State RR Champs because I felt as though I should've won.  On the third of four laps I started instigating a little bit just to try and get people "moving." One team had been on the front the whole time, doing what they described as "controlling the race" but what they were really doing was burning themselves out to no end goal. On the third lap we needed to get started with actually racing and weed out some of the weaker competitors where possible.  So I attacked several times just to try and get people "nervous."

The lap splits (15mi laps) went from 22.8 and 22.7 mph (for the first and second laps, respectively) to 24.9mph average for the third lap.  This burned the legs of some of the group and by the start of the fourth lap the pack had thinned a bit. We climbed the stair step section (harder part of the loop) and made out way to the first turn and somewhere on the back stretch I created a "break."  We ended up with about 5 guys total and a 10s gap on the pack.  10s is not a lot, but it is when you have a cohesive group consistently pulling and rotating.  Unfortunately this group was not that, at all.  I would pull, nobody would come around...I would drop back and they'd all surge and scatter.  After a couple of minutes of this I looked back and saw the pack sitting about 200 yards back.  At this point I decided the break was going to get swallowed up in a mile or two (maybe 10 miles to go at this point) so I dropped back to the pack.  While I was dropping back a member of Team Cyclus crossed the gap and got in the break.

As I got back in the pack I noticed that Team Cyclus had 4 guys near the front of the group...  I started working on the front trying to help them get organized but Cyclus was doing a great (and extremely frustrating) job of blocking for their teammate in the break that was now GAINING time on us.  I was getting more and more agitated as I kept trying to get to the front and have a rotation that didn't involve a Cyclus guy but it proved unfruitful.  With about 3 miles to go I attacked off the right side because I was so annoyed I was just gonna try and catch them myself.  While I didn't quite catch them, I did manage to make up a fair amount of space and put in a big gap on the pack.  I ended up coming in 6th place, behind the break finish but well ahead of the field sprint.  All in all, not too bad, albeit very frustrating. .

Now, moving on to this week.  I did some more training. It rained a good bit. Did some training. Did some work... etc. You know the drill. Got to go to the Wind Tunnel again and help with some demonstrations...that part was unique.




Then I went up to Williamsburg on Friday to race at the Rev3 Williamsburg Olympic.  I was excited about this race for several reasons:

1) It's in Williamsburg, a place very close to my...heart.
2) It was an olympic distance, which I enjoy
3) It offered a prize purse to the overall top 3
4) Many friends had signed up for the Half distance race

Now, regarding #3: Rev3 eliminated the pro waves of their races earlier in the spring.  Personally, I think it was a great and smart move on their part.  They really tried to help the pros for several years and paid out big money to them but Ironman still received more "support" from pros than Rev3 but they gave back FAR less. Chasing the almighty sponsorship dollar, because sponsors care more about WTC races than Rev3s despite the fact that many Rev3s were actually more competitive than Ironman counterparts.  Oh well.

So the prize purse was to the age group field.  So it was basically like doing a "local" race in the sense that yes, I have an elite card but I race in my age group.  They didn't even have an "open" field a la JRC races. My wave would start at 6:40 and I knew there were some ringers in the group.  Rudy Kahsar was on the list (but didn't start), John Kerry (swimmer extraordinaire), Nic Sterghos (former duathlon nat'l champ), etc.  I figured it would be a good race and that I should still be in the running for top 3.  Well, the day started and here's how it went!

Swim - 20:05 (6th in wave)

The swim started out aggressively, as usual.  200 meters in and there was still a pretty large group with one off the front and then a pack right in front of me.  The swim was against the current for 1/3 then with current for 2/3 (although the current did not "feel" very strong in either direction).  By the time we got to the first buoy the group of swimmers around me had diminished dramatically until there were only 3 in front of me and one behind me (and John way off the front).  I lost contact with the group of 3 after the first buoy and the guy behind me moved around me to take the lead by the second buoy.  From there it was a straight shot and I tucked in behind (ended up being Ian King) my leader and we had a merry little time getting to the final turn buoy.  The pace seemed a bit inconsistent, but it's always hard to tell exactly what's going on during the swim.  We rounded the last buoy and caught someone that had dropped out of the chase group as we lunged and dolphin dove the last 100 yards (very shallow exit).  Ian and I made our way onto the beach and up the long transition run.

Here's a bit of what the finish of the swim looked like...


Fancy a stroll?

T1 - 2:32 

I had a pretty clean transition but unfortunately I took my bike the wrong direction (I went the way we went last year) but luckily I had a loud crew of Behme and Lisa to steer me in the right direction (thanks...!).  I got on the bike having lost Ian and the other guy (Ben Williams) due to my poor sense of direction.

Bike (25mi) - 1:00:15 (4th maybe? It's kinda hard to decipher)

I caught up to Ian and Ben within about 5-7 minutes and passed Ian after about 10.  I didn't know who Ben was, not that it really mattered, and figured that John and Nic must've been off the front.  On Centreville Rd I accelerated past Ben and then just before Jolly Pond Rd he passed me again.  Jolly Pond is kind of a fun road to race on, although it is a bit sketchy.  We would do two loops of this road (JP to Centerville back to JP) so it was important to not crash on the first loop.  Or really on the second I supposed...

Ben ended up pulling away from me a bit on this road once we caught sight of Nic and I really just didn't have any power to go with him.  My quads were burning something fierce so I tried to keep the effort level high but had mostly lost sight of them by the time we turned off JP onto Centerville.  Once on the second loop of JP there were lots of other olympic distance racers so it became a game of not wrecking anybody and not getting wrecked myself. Towards the end of the second loop of JP a group of three guys came rolling past me.  They were very close together...and all three had the fastest bike splits...

Anyway, I ended up 4th in their train but it looked like the guy in 3rd was really struggling.  As we turned back onto Centerville I accelerated past the group to see if it would break him as the others increased their pace to match mine.  Fortunately, it did. He was drafting pretty hard anyway so I didn't feel too bad. A big guy in red ended up passing me back in the last mile or two and we rolled into transition a group of three.  

T2 - :35

I had a pretty good transition and made my way out onto the run ahead of the others.

Run - 37:51 (I have no idea honestly)

I pushed the first mile of the run pretty hard to be out of sight and out of mind.  This mile consistent of entirely shaded and very rolling gravel trails.  It was both great and frustrating at the same time as it felt difficult to establish a solid rhythm and pace but it was nice and shaded.  The course popped out of the woods and onto a greenway/path/sidewalk after about 1.5 miles and we headed up a short out and back section.  As I popped out Kerry ran by on the roads in the other direction and I soon saw Nic and Ben giving chase.  I made it to the turnaround and got about 20 seconds down the road before I saw the nearest chaser.  The next 1.5 miles were all on this path and relatively flat so I was able to get my pace back down before heading back into the woods.

The second loop started much like the first although this time there were plenty of other races on the course so it became a bit more entertaining.  Blah blah blah I made it out of the woods again to see Ben immediately (so I assumed Nic had already passed) and it took me a bit of running before I got to John.  I felt at this point that I had a very small shot to catch him as I had made up quite a bit of time on him in the first lap and a half.  Once to the turnaround point I put my head down and pushed the last 1.25 miles pretty good (mile splits of 5:41 and 5:35 avg pace) to the finish but unfortunately didn't have enough time to catch anybody other than myself.  Womp womp.

Must. Get. OXYGEN!


I then got to spectate everyone else racing for the next 3+ hours, which was great fun.  Overall, I'd say I was pleased with my race. It was a good solid effort and while nothing was great, everything was good. I'd have liked a few more watts on the bike and I *think* if I had really put my head down I could've stayed with the faster swimmers (only ~30 seconds up) but that would've taken some good suffering. My run time itself was not impressive but the course did not feel especially fast and my road-going splits were all in the 5:40s so I am happy with the effort level.  

It felt good to do my first road triathlon since being hit by the car.  I think I am mostly back to where I was, fitness wise, but I am still unsure health-wise.  My back was bothering me a bit during the bike and it's just frustrating feeling like you're SO close to having all the elements put back together but not being quite there.

Oh well! Time heals all, as they say. Or maybe they don't, but that's what I'm sticking to!


Monday, June 2, 2014

XTERRA Tsali

In all honesty, I feel as though I haven't accomplished much this year.  I raced at New Orleans on March 30th and since then have done basically nothing but try and get healthy and feel normal again.  The accident with a car was a definite setback and one of much greater import than I realized at first.  It was a physical blow obviously, but it was also a mental blow.  My confidence has been lacking ever since the beginning of April when I was last in what I would consider "good" shape.

That's all talk, of course, as I am definitely in good shape NOW, but I haven't done any RACING to confirm that.  I love racing. Period. I wouldn't train if I didn't race.  Competition drives me and I imagine it drives many triathletes and athletes in general.  It's part of what makes sport so fun; that inherent desire to constantly improve and better oneself.  By this time last year (in 2013) I had already raced 5 times, including 2 half ironmans...

I have really grown to love and appreciate trail riding this year.  I had a mountain bike last year as well but I did not use it or embrace it quite as much as I have in 2014.  Luckily for me, there are triathlons that are off-road.  Yay! I would get to kill several birds with one stone (or for those that don't like analogies such as that, I would get to accomplish multiple goals at once)!

1) Have fun
2) Race something different
3) Work on skills in areas I am lacking
4) Make myself better
5) Race
6) Did I mention racing?

Mr Behme had suggested XTERRA Tsali a couple of months ago and in spite of some initial concern over my well-being with regard to trail running (I don't have a good history of running on trails; in fact I have almost no history of running on trails due to my fragile little baby ankles) I signed up along with Sebastian.

Sebastian was able to provide a great deal of advice and help as he has done XTERRA before (and done it very well, having won XTERRA Whitewater last year) and this was something completely new to me (and I think Behme as well).  Tsali is a humongous trail system about an hour west of Asheville and is one of the most popular trail riding spots in NC (and in the general region).  The trails are often described as "fast," "flowy" and "fun" so it sounded like a good one for me to do as my first off-road triathlon attempt.

I had designs on trying to win, as I knew my fitness was good.  I figured it would be my lack of experience and technical ability on the bike and/or run that slowed me down.  But the main competition I knew of would be Sebastian and I expected the big German to know my plan (swim hard and try and be out of sight for run and bike) and have something up his sleeve to counter that!

Packed up and ready to leave

The three of us drove up to Tsali on Saturday morning and got in one loop of the bike course (semi-technical flat for 15-20 minutes than a lot of climbing and some rollers, basically), a little jog and a brief swim in the lake.  It's great with XTERRA to be able to get a look at the bike course as going into the race blind would really slow you down.  It's not like road triathlons where you can just blaze away and know that nothing scary is going to happen (like rolling down a tree-lined slope into the lake 100 feet below you) if you take a bad line through a turn...

A great spot for dinner at the NOC


Nothing to see here, just two dudes sharing a bed

We woke up early Sunday morning and headed over to the race site, laying out our gear for the different transitions (swim to run, run to bike) of XTERRA Tsali. Everyone started gathering down at the lake where the swim start would be and the start proved to be very informal:

Announcer to group of athletes (some of whom were in water most of whom were waiting on the boat ramp): "Everybody ready?"

Raises air horn

"Goo!"

Pretty simple and quite different than road triathlon...

The race did not use timing chips so I'm not really sure whether the "transitions" were included, but the swim was supposed to be 750 (it was probably more like 600 meters), run was 4.5 and bike was 10.6.

Swim - 8:07 (1st)

I was lined up on the "right" and had a pretty straight shot to the first buoy.  The swim was a simple triangle and the first leg would be the longest.  I took it out fairly hard but tried to stay smooth as I wanted to be able to maintain the pace.  Someone over on the left was also going at a pretty quick clip and I knew Binny would be hot on my heels as he and I had been treading water together at the start.

The first buoy came pretty quickly and I made the left turn and took a glance over my shoulder to see that I had some nice separation from the chasers.  XTERRA athletes definitely, in general, seem to be weaker swimmers (compared to their bike and run legs) which is definitely a nice reprieve from racing pro road triathletes, who apparently have no weaknesses.

The second leg of the triangle was quick and at the turn I took another glance and saw that my gap had grown a bit so I made my way smoothly to the swim exit.  We had all set up a little transition area with towel, shoes, and run number (I also gave myself the option of socks for the run but ended up going without) laid in a chosen spot.

I exited the water and put on my shoes and grabbed my run number before heading onto the trail and the 1/2 mile climb straight up!

The swim exit and start of the run up the trail

Run - 29:30 (2nd)

I had seen two swimmers within about 50 yards of me as I exited the swim so I knew I needed to run smooth and fast to maintain my gap.  The climb up to the main trail was pretty difficult and in hindsight I almost wish I had walked it as by the time I reached the top and gotten onto the trail my calves were on fire!

The run and bike courses basically wind around the peninsula we were on so they would climb for a bit then descend down into a "cove" and then climb back out, so there were some opportunities to look behind and check for any chasers.  For quite  awhile I did not see any and I was happy about that.  I did not feel as though I was running particularly "fast" as I am pretty timid on trails.  Luckily, there were only a few parts of this run that would be considered "technical" to any degree (some may even argue that statement, but that is my view) but there was a LOT of climbing and descending.  I am only good at one of those!

About half-way through the run I saw someone across the "cove" coming towards me FAST.  It took him another couple of minutes but eventually he came up to me and passed me on a downhill like I was standing STILL.  I haven't been smoked on the run in a long time (unless you count any pro race) quite like Charlie (only knew the name post-race) smoked me. He was relatively quickly out of sight but I was hoping that he was a great trail-runner and that maybe I could make some time back up again on the bike.

As I was running the trail around and behind transition I could hear cheers as (I assume) Charlie got to his bike and made his way back out onto the trails.

I arrived at my bike, put on socks, helmet and mountain bike shoes and headed back out onto the trails.

Bike - 48:33 (6th, maybe?)



The first 10-15 minutes of this trail loop are pretty uneventful.  There is nothing very hard but you are going fast as I assume you are rolling downhill.  The vegetation, however, is pretty close (as in, your bars are wider than the leaves) and I regretted not putting on gloves within the first 5 minutes, if only just for protection against the slapping of leaves and such.

There are a couple of spots on this loop that are actually stunning.  Somewhere around 15-20 minutes in you come up on this big rock and you can see clear across the entire lake to your left (no trees blocking your view as the trail runs right along the edge) and it is truly gorgeous.  The mountain lake is clear, the air is clear and it is just so different than anything IN the city.

Setting up the bikes, transition 2 in the background

But quickly you must climb, and the next 20+ minutes of the course are basically spent climbing then descending a bit then climbing again back up higher.  Eventually we reached the last segment, which was a rolling fire road that was actually pretty fun.  I thought at various points, that I could hear bike-like sounds both ahead of me and behind me but I never saw anybody else the entire ride.  I knew the gaps were relatively small but in trails someone could be 10 seconds behind you and you'd never hear or see them.  Very, very different than road triathlons.  Makes it a bit scarier!

I came back to the loop behind and around transition and crossed the finish line, knowing I was in second.  I was a bit surprised to have been so roundly beaten up on the run (seriously, maybe I shouldn't be surprised but it's been a long time since I've been beaten so soundly on the run...I can't get over it! It was a great experience actually, ha!) and I chatted with the winner for a bit, who is from Guam.  Binny finished shortly thereafter and Behme arrived with nary a scar on him.  None of us crashed, and all of us had a good time.

I was, admittedly, a bit sad to come in 2nd.  I shouldn't be, given that it was my first off-road triathlon but nonetheless, the fact remains.  The athlete that came in first has actually been racing XTERRA as a pro this year (mostly overseas where he lives) so definitely a great amount of experience in those legs.

OA - 1:26:09 (2nd)

I have to say: XTERRA is a LOT of fun.  The atmosphere is VERY different than road triathlons.  At least, based on this one singular event I have done, anyway...  People generally seem to be a lot more laid back and the atmosphere is a LOT less tense.

Awards, appreciated by all and attended by...basically all. 

The awards given out were pretty great and it seemed like basically everybody "got" something (due in no small part to the relatively small number of racers at ~100).

From a physiological standpoint, this was definitely different than my road triathlon experience.  The swim was basically the same, but I am a lot faster relative to the competition than on the road (that part is nice).  The bike is basically 100% "on" or "off."  There is no "steady" output like on the roads.  The run is similar to the road but it is WAY more up and down.  The organizers are not trying - at all - to make the course more "manageable."  Their goal basically seems to make it suck as much as possible.  In a good way.  The technical aspect of trail running and riding is something that just takes experience.  My fitness is far ahead of my actual abilities, which is a refreshing change!

I was actually glad this was a swim to run to bike as I think that is "easier" than the traditional SBR.  Running out of the swim isn't really that bad, but I bet running trails after biking trails is pretty tough.  Heavy leg syndrome, anybody??

All in all, it was a great weekend.  We had a great time traveling and racing and it seemed like everybody that raced this weekend (Raleigh 70.3, Lake Hickory, Tomahawk) had a good race.  While I was a bit sad to not race Tomahawk again this year I had a good time missing out on it.  Let someone else have the glory every once in a while!

(he said, sarcastically)