Friday, June 26, 2015

Charleston doesn't have any noseless saddles

Besides being a great place with good food, beaches, sun, and long flat roads...Charleston is a place full of something very odd when it comes to the triathletes that call it their homes. The reason for this phenomena is not clear other than to say that it's likely rooted in the fact that there is no strong triathlon retail presence in Charleston or the surrounding areas.   Well, to be honest, there may be some retail presence but the possibility that the fitting services provided by the various retail locations is sub-par.

Nobody in Charleston is riding a noseless saddle. Well, almost no one. It might as well be no one, honestly. Go to a triathlon in Charlotte and you're very likely to see what may almost be a majority of noseless saddles at this point. I haven't taken a survey and I don't have the desire to do such a thing but I would be willing to bet that I am right.

This stood out to me in no small part due to the fact that on Sunday at the sprint race I saw a great many people in what I would consider to be "sub-optimal" triathlon positions on their tri bikes.  Many were quite upright, they looked uncomfortable, many weren't in their aero bars even early on in the race (flat/safe roadway), lots of steerer tube spacers, etc.

Now, there is nothing "wrong" with this exactly. As I tell many people, there are many different ways to get from T1 to T2. I do very strongly believe, however, that if you are purchasing a bike that is expensive (of course, "expensive" is relative) then the REASON you are doing that is because you want to be more competitive.

A road bike is kind of like a swiss army knife.  It's got a bunch of really great tools and knives that will accomplish just about any task you set for it. A triathlon bike is like a samurai sword; it is good for one very specific thing.

Or maybe: a road bike is like a pickup truck. A triathlon bike is like an F1 car. Sure, you can race the pickup truck on the track but...well, it's not going to be as fast. But that F1 car can't do anything else but blister that track.

From a general purpose standpoint I VASTLY prefer riding my road bike. It's more comfortable in many ways (at least, insofar as it concerns general purpose riding), it's more dynamic, it's very nice, etc. But I purchased a tri bike to go fast between T1 and T2.

Here is the problem that I have with Chaaaahhhlestun triathlon positions:

They could be sooo much better. The first person who brings in a great position on a noseless saddle to their little circle of friends is going to be a trendsetter for the whole community.

This is John Howard; he used to be the man. In the second picture he is riding the bike in what I would deem a "triathlon appropriate" position. His body is steeper "over" the BB, his shoulders are more forward, etc. I think in the second picture he has become reach-limited to an extent but the point of his picture was a demonstration of the different posture one "should" hold on the bike.

Now, in the olden days, you were supposed to ride like this (the second picture) on a "traditional" or "nosed" saddle. Guys could get away with "picking a side" and rolling their hips forward to achieve the desired pelvic angle and overall body position.  Ladies, however, do not have the luxury of "picking a side." In their world there are NO sides. So they were left either suffering through it or sitting back on their saddle with flat hips...

You can see in this picture above that somehow I am riding the most forward 2-3" of my saddle. I am likely selecting my right seat bone as the main support mechanism but unfortunately I am also 100% sure that much of the "middle" soft tissue is also sustaining a lot of pressure.

As I have mentioned previously, the goal of a good triathlon fit centers around SUSTAINABILITY. So in the picture above I am

1) aerodynamic
2) powerful

But that is NOT sustainable. It has nothing to do with any of the "normal" issues associated with "bad" triathlon fitting is revolves completely around the fact that the saddle is putting a ton of pressure on soft tissue. On guys this leads to numbness (which is not a comfortable feeling in that and the more frontal area...), on girls this leads to not sitting like that anymore due to potentially extraordinary discomfort.

So what do most people do that are new to triathlon and new to triathlon fitting when they encounter a saddle like that with aero bars?

They sit like this guy is: backwards on the saddle (because that's the only position that's sustainable from a "comfort" standpoint), hips rolled "under" them, lots of torque/tension in their middle and upper back, etc.

Here's another example:

Once you provide someone with a proper support system and instruct them on how best to utilize it, however, you can take someone that is COMPLETELY new to triathlon bikes and the position and get them more like:

It all starts at the saddle. Everything good and bad that is fit related likely has its roots somewhere in and around the saddle area. I cannot overstate that.

Chaahhhhlestun needs some noseless saddles injected into its triathlon community, STAT.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

More racing with more placing

I always like to include a clever tag-line in my blogs. Something to draw you in and maybe say "Wow, that guy - he is a clever one!" Just enough (but probably said to yourself, quietly) to get you to click and read.

Sometimes, in an even more devious fashion, I like to put something in at the end that makes you remark and potentially comment so I know people ARE actually reading the whole thing! It's very secretive of me but, in the end, it works quite well.

So as you read this blog, ask yourself: "I wonder what he's going to do this time...?"

Then BAM, it hits you, right in the face. And you comment.

Williamsburg was a bit of a letdown. The sense of "I could have done much better than this" was strong in my mind after the race. That's ok though, it can definitely make a positive influence on your overall motivation.

Like seeing someone brag about their overall win when you know you got off the bike almost 10 minutes ahead of them... (but admittedly failed to execute on the run). Oh well.

I will say, not that you asked me, that one of the BIGGEST differences I've noticed in my "approach" to age-group vs elite racing is that for the most part I assume that racing AG there is always a "weakness" in my competitors.

This is obviously not always true, but for the most part athletes competing in their age-group have a weakness. There are a LOT of good bikers, but a relatively few good bikers AND runners. There are a great many "weak" swimmers.

(by the way, I realize this isn't completely fair, but bear with me as it is simply a generalization)

In the elite field, there are NO weaknesses.  Even someone that is a weak swimmer...wait, I am actually a weak swimmer. Dammit. But you get my point, right? It is very, very rare to encounter someone (in the male professional field) who has a glaring weakness and is still "good."

Luckily, I am "good" at all 3 sports. I am not especially far above average in any of the three (over any of the others) and I am not weak in any of the three, relative to my age group peers.  It is interesting to feel that way after three years of racing at the back of some pro fields. In those races I always just assumed (after the swim) that I wouldn't catch anybody. Now I assume that I will catch anybody that was ahead of me out of the swim, if anyone is ahead of me out of the swim.

Before you go thinking that I'm all elitist or something, just realize that this is a pretty realistic assessment of my thinking. I am not saying it's right or that it's wrong, just that

So now that brings us to this past weekend. Andrew Lerner, Jenny, and myself got all loaded up in a pimpin' minivan and headed down to Charleston for the weekend. There were two events on our dance card:

CCA Time Trial (this was a combined NC/SC State Championship) on Saturday and race #2 of the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series.

Jenny and I both won the overall race at the SC State TT back in 2013 (though neither of us are SC residents so we didn't get to call ourselves "state champs") so we were hoping to come in near the top again this time.  Andrew had never done a TT that wasn't multiple laps so he was hoping to find a reprieve from having to remember how many he had done...

Fast machines
Well, it was warm. Very warm. Relatively windless, flat course mostly exposed to sunlight. I suffered. I had a good ride, but not a perfect one. My time of 53:18 for the 23.4 mile course was good, but not great and netted me 3rd place Cat 3 (top 10ish OA).

I got my butt kicked but got in a good workout. Can't complain about that too much, eh?

I don't have a good picture of myself so I'll post this good picture I took instead:

The rest of the day was spent doing beach-y things: paddleboarding and going to the beach. I once again proved my prowess on the paddle and only fell off once, but it totally wasn't my fault.

We ate some delicious food courtesy of Jenny's memories of  Charleston and consumed a giant adult beverage, which - in this picture - appears to be larger than my face.

Early on Sunday morning we headed over to James Island (fitting, no?) to race the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series.  This weekend marked the second race in the extremely long-running series (25 years?) and would be a perfect cap to a solid weekend.

After picking we picked up our packets I headed over on a little detour to the ol' porto. I had seen one kind of nestled in the trees that wasn't very crowded and although it was still dark outside I hoped to be able to see while inside.  Unfortunately, when I opened the door I discovered that I could not, in fact, see. At that precise moment - realizing I was helpless and blind, obviously - I felt an object land on my arm.  It was a slimy, wet object. It grasped my arm. It felt to have four appendages and was kind of sticky.

I freaked the *** out, let out a little "yeeoooooOOOWWWw" and ran away from that porto. Obviously, it was merely a frog. But WHO KNOWS where that frog had been while inside the porto. It was obviously a "disgust" scream that I emitted and not an "I'm scared s*itless by a little froggie" scream.  Obviously.

Anyway, I made sure that nobody heard me and scooted off to set up my stuff for the race.  I had a small long-shot goal of holding onto Jenny's feet for the 600 yard swim so I needed to get amped up.  Luckily, the frog surprising me (note: not "scaring" me) had my adrenaline pumping through me like...

Well, I couldn't think of anything funny and/or witty.

Now here's where I tie in what I said above about weaknesses. My general assumption is that most age group triathletes are "weak" in the swim (relatively speaking). I had noticed the guy that won the Cat 5 TT on Saturday was racing so I figured he'd be a threat on the bike and, probably, on the run (since someone that's quite good at one aerobic sport is usually quite good at another aerobic sport).  BUT, until I'm proven otherwise, I figure I'll be the one being chased after the swim.

Swim - 7:54 (5th)

The swim was a very simple rectangle and we started out with a bang. Or as much of a bang as one can have when the water feels like it's ABOUT 90 degrees. I think this might take the cake as the warmest swim I've experienced.  Others in my memory are the Tuesday night JJF race last year at Cane Creek, Latta back in maybe 2011ish, and Stumpy Creek in 2012 I think.  Absolutely miserable.

Luckily, this swim was only 600 yards.  I lost the shot at Jenny's feet (plus one other guy was swimming "with" her) around the first buoy but found some feet to sit on most of the rest of the swim. The guy in front of me was not swimming a particularly straight line which made sitting on his feet pretty difficult and I lost them a bit towards the end of the swim. The swim was uneventful and I had a pretty big gap on anyone who I thought might be a contender (although to be honest I didn't know anybody at this race from a competitive standpoint).

Easily the best swim exit picture I've ever gotten (Brian Fancher Photography)

T1 - :54

Had a pretty quick transition to and came out in 3rd (after having gone in 4th) with just Jenny and one gentleman hot on her heels ahead of me.

Bike - 27:42 (1st)

The first part of the bike was pretty...interesting.  I'll call it sketchy because it kind of was. It's not a negative comment it is merely an observation on the array of stuff we could potentially encounter in the park itself. Sweeping turns and/or surprise turns, potentially debris in the road, and I myself encountered a car stopped in front of me in a median area which prompted me to swing to the left of the median.

Great photos from Brian Fancher (at a reasonable price even!)

I passed Jenny and the other guy during the park exit sequence and put my head down for the rest of the ride. There was a very short out and back  sort of triangle thingy at the other end of the course which allowed me to gauge my lead and Jenny was actually the first next athlete I saw so I figured I was doing alright against the male competition.

I held decent enough power (about in the middle of the range of what I was targeting last week at Williamsburg Half...) and maintained good miles per hour and got off the bike with a pretty strong lead on second place (who was still Jenny).

T2 - :25

I had a fast and efficient transition. Nothing to see here folks. Although I did not anticipate the bike dismount line and consequently only got one of my shoes off prior to bike dismount. D'oh!

Run - 19:23 (5th)

I headed out on the run feeling pretty smooth but ultimately slowed down pretty quickly for a few reasons:

1) I wasn't worried about being caught
2) It was stupid warm

That's pretty much all there is to say about the run. There was a brief out and back at the very end where I saw the second place guy was about 40-50 seconds behind me but I was not worried about him catching me and cruised into the finish comfortably in first.

Always good when nobody else is in the picture with you (Brian Fancher Photography)

OA - 56:16 (1st)

It was only when the second place guy crossed that I actually knew who he was: Nathan Buttrick. I remember his name because - well - it stands out and because he was 6th OA at IM Lake Placid last year, just in front of the guy who received the check from The Real Starky (and he won TryCharleston half this year very comfortably).

I was definitely pleased to take the W after a hard day prior and was even more pleased that everyone in the car made it onto the podium. Jenny barely won, coming in 8 minutes ahead, and Andrew narrowly missed edging out my run time to come in 2nd place in his AG.

A good trip all around!

5th, 2nd, 1st

Friday, June 19, 2015

Another thought or two

Alright, now I'm on a roll. Like I said before, I don't really blog/write too much about fitting. It's a service for which I am paid (through Inside Out Sports) and I don't really make it a habit of giving away advice for "free." Actually, I do. One of the greatest things about walking into IOS if you are a triathlete is that there is SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE housed within its walls. I'm not really even talking about me (which I usually AM doing, harr harr). So, take that for what it's worth (which is a lot, actually).

So yesterday I mentioned juggling three things when it comes to triathlon bike fitting:

1) Aerodynamics of the position (i.e. system efficiency)
2) Comfort of the position (i.e. sustainability of #1)
3) Power output

One of the more common questions I hear is "will this affect my power?"

The answer is, almost certainly, "yes."

Now, before you get all scared about it let me tell you WHY it's "yes."

First of all, your power output will most probably be lower in your aero position. How much lower is a function of a couple of things:

1) Time spent in that position doing intervals
2) How low you are in that position (and various other angle/limitations/etc, basically the fit itself)

Generally it seems like - with practice - you can get that discrepancy to at or under 5%. Using a purely personal example if I ride as hard as I can for an hour on my road bike I am likely to put out somewhere around 300 watts (give or take).  If I ride my tri position/bike as hard as I can for an hour, I am likely to put out somewhere around 280-290 watts, give or take.

I am not a shining example of practicing my tri position. Practice what I preach, not do as I do. Or something like that. In the reference above, I am averaging about 27ish mph on the tri bike. On the road bike, I'd be lucky to be much above 23-24 (on the same course with the same wheels).

So, it simply takes practice. Should you be willing to sacrifice a bit of power for the sake of a more efficient tri position? I say "yes."

Very, very rarely are you having to put out FTP+ power on your tri bike in triathlon racing. In fact, the only time I ever do that is when I am doing a sub 40k TT which essentially simply means I am doing the CMS 10 mile TT up in Concord...

See if you can tell what the difference is between these two POSITIONS (not the apparel/equipment).

In picture number 1 that is maybe mile 10 or so of the Rev3 Florida half from 2013 I believe. The second picture is somewhere in the middle of a 10 mi TT. In the first picture I am probably outputting somewhere around 80% of my FTP.  In the second picture I am probably outputting 110% of my FTP.

It is very apparent what that does to my position.  For the most part, both of these pictures have the same contact points. Or at least, within a few millimeters of being the same (slightly different aerobar extensions).

When trying to ouput that much power my upper body is completely engaged in the generation of that power. My hips have rolled "flatter," my lower back is torqued, my arms are locked and tense, my hands are gripping the extensions like they are on a roller coaster ride. My ENTIRE body is trying to put out more power.

In the first picture my hips are rolled forward a bit better, my back profile is far more relaxed (not quite as curved), my hands are resting lightly atop the extensions, my neck is a bit more relaxed, etc.

Again, nothing (much) has changed on the bike itself between those two pictures, what's changed is what my body has to do to affect power output.  Number 2 becomes unsustainable after about 20-30 minutes (I don't know exactly as I've never tried to put out 110% for more than 20 minutes...). Number 1 should - in theory - be sustainable for...ever. Now, obviously that's not completely true but it really just depends on you - the rider.

Is your longest race of the year a half distance? Then you need to spend at LEAST your projected time in your aero position.  You need to practice at race intensity. You need uninterrupted stretches of aero bar time.  It's very difficult to completely replicate a race context in the "real world" in terms of course, distractions, output, fuel, etc... but you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't give it a real whirl.

That is how you help optimize that triathlon position and the resultant bike split. It involves a lot of trial and error and it involves a lot of PRACTICE. There is no magic bullet.

Find the right saddle (EVERYthing starts there). LEARN how to ride the bike in that position.

(both of those two things should be accomplished with an effective and knowledgeable fitter and a little trial and error with the saddle choice).

Then...wait for it.

Practice the s*** out of that position.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A few thoughts

Are you ready for a little demonstration? I hope so. It's going to be great. Seriously, it really is.

When it comes to triathlon and bike-related purchases, I try to boil it down to one very simple question:

"Is this going to make me faster or not?"

It really is that simple. Well, actually that's not true. I also ask myself:

"If not, does it look REALLY FRIGGIN AWESOME?"

Head down, eyes up, that's the way I like to ___ 

So somewhere within those two parameters is where I try to establish a context for everything having to do with the bike insofar as triathlon is concerned.

Admittedly, most things seem to actually both be faster (probably) AND look pretty sweet.  Of course, sweet is a relative term, but I'm always right about what looks best. Probably.

Me myself and I make up about 90% of the system drag on a triathlon bike. That is true, generally speaking, of everybody on a bike. Your body is the main limiter in going fast. That is both true physiologically and physically.

Step 1 = train the engine
Step 2 = refine the position

Each position change (and I'm kind of including bike purchases in this because the bike itself is somewhat irrelevant in this post) must meet several criteria:

1) Efficiency (aerodynamic)
2) Comfort (sustainability)
3) Power

So let's say we've already got you well supported (you like your saddle and it allows you to do what you need to do to achieve the position you want) and all the contact points have been set. What next?

Well, you've got to learn how to HOLD your body.  You can adjust contact points (armpads + saddle basically) all day long and gather all kinds of data but at the end of the day if you don't know and aren't told how to hold your're up a creek without a paddle.

I'm going to use our favorite Nascar driver Landon Cassill as an example (and I don't think he'll mind, hopefully!).  Landon has been an extremely attentive student of the bike world. He quoted the "rules" at me one time, which makes him A-OK in my book.

He has made the realization that if you want to go fast[ER] (or you can think of it as making your life EASYer] on the bike) you have to subscribe to the law of marginal gains, so to speak.

So step

1) aero position that is sustainable
2) bike underneath you
3) apparel
4) equipment and accessories (i.e. helmet, hydration, fuel storage, etc)
5) components (wheels, tires, tubes, etc)

So he's made a lot of good choices. He gets good mph for his watts/weight. He's thinking to himself "Hey I'm pretty aero."

But, what Landon didn't realize was how his body position (the way he holds himself on the bike) was potentially affecting his overall aeroness.

On the left you'll see a "normal" position. That is how he got on the bike and just sort of "settled" into an everyday, no problem position. Overall it's quite good considering Landon's really only been riding the bike for a bit over a year. From a contact point standpoint we could maybe have a productive discussion about removing one or both of the Aduro spacers under his bar.

But the real noticeable thing is how different these two positions are in terms of their system efficiency. Nothing contact-point wise has changed between these two sets of pictures. Nada. The only thing that's changed is basically how he's holding himself from the mid-back and "up." He's thinking about "sinking" into the armpads, relaxing his shoulder blades together, tucking his head a little bit. And the difference is HUGE. From an aerodynamic standpoint that change is probably worth more than having a P5 vs. a P2. Almost certainly, in fact.

And nothing has really changed on his bike. The ONLY thing that's changed is how he's aware of what his body looks like when riding.

Admittedly, the right side of the picture will take some practice to get used to. To be aware that you're holding your head "correctly" and to be aware that you need to "sink" (I use those terms because they work for me but whatever promotes those types of feelings is the important part) into the bars. Let your little bitty support muscles stop working so hard and rely on the big stuff (BONY support) to hold you up. Train those neck muscles so that you can ride whatever the duration of your race may be.

Anyway, food for thought.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Challenge Williamsburg

Challenge Williamsburg half distance triathlon was set to be my first long course race of the year. As such, I was nervous about it. There are several reasons for this:

1) 4+ hours of racing is a long time
2) Follow up of #1, the first time in a season has some unknowns
3) It was going to be really warm
4) I hadn't ridden my tri bike for 56 flat, straight miles since Miami last October

But, oh well. All of those plus 99 cents will get you a cup of coffee. Well actually they won't, coffee is too dang expensive these days.

Be that as it may, Jenny and I drove up to Williamsburg on Friday afternoon and arrived at our (exceptionally crowded) Comfort Inn hotel.

41mpg with 2 people, 2 bikes (1 on top), and gear. #Diesel

Saturday brings with it (as does any long course pre-race day) a bunch of stuff to get done that involves a lot of driving and walking. This race was no different. The hotel was about 10 minutes away from T2/Finish/Expo and about 20 minutes away from Swim/T1. This plus Challenge's somewhat strange timings of events on Saturday meant that most of the day was spent doing logistical stuff in very, very hot weather.

Race day brought with it a very early wake up alarm and a mistake I haven't made in all the years I've been competing, a lost contact. Anyone who wears contacts has probably experienced that moment of sheer panic when it goes from being on your finger to down in the u-trap of your sink's plumbing. I can't race with glasses (the swim would be...complicated) so that meant one contact all day. This would do three things:

1) Be exceptionally annoying
2) Alter my depth perception
3) Give me a sweet headache

Oh well, not really a whole lot you can do about it unless you carry spares on trips (which I actually normally do...).

As we arrived at T1 we completed all the pre-race normal stuff that one must do (we had set up T2 the night before so we wouldn't have to rely on the shuttles and wake up extra early that morning) and headed down to the swim. They announced the water temperature as 80ish so definitely not wetsuit legal. The swim course was actually reversed from last year but the water appeared to be pretty darn smooth so I was hopeful of an uneventful swim.  My goal was to get near the front and stay there by hopefully drafting some feet.

Swim - 29:46 (4th)

Our wave (all males 39 and under) walked out to the start line (this involved about a 100 meter walk to get to waist depth water) and I settled myself on the left of the crowd. At the sound of the horn I took it out pretty hard and quickly separated myself from those around me.  Our first turn was maybe 250m out and I got to it roughly in third position.

There was a guy directly to my right (face to face I mean) who I tried to swing wide a bit to avoid but somehow he stuck right with me (face to face) through the right hand turn.  We then had quite a long stretch (downriver or upriver I don't really know) and I got to know this guy's face intimately.

I have done a few pro swims I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a professional male swim pack is chaos.  That's not even an ITU draft legal swim pack which I am confident in assuming is much, much worse.  All that is to say I am well acquainted with guys that swim like aggressive a-holes.

This particular swimmer took the cake.

We made another right hand turn and the swimmer who had been on my feet started moving up on my left.  I realized it was Marcus when he breathed my way as he pulled up on my left hip.  The guy to my right must have seen Marcus moving up as well and proceeded to somehow move even closer to me and move ahead.  Marcus was giving me a fair distance but this guy acted like he wanted to be as intimate with me as our surroundings would allow. I finally gave up on being in the middle of a pincer attack and dropped back, basically swimming on the guy to my right before dropping back on his feet.

I'm not normally one to slap feet but I slapped the sheeit out of this guy's feet. He swam immediately to Marcus' right, just as he had been doing with me.  I did not understand this strategy.  I just sat back and enjoyed a ridiculously easy last 800 meters or so of the swim of this race.

With about 400m to go I started grabbing river bottom and after a couple of strokes of that I just stood up and started walking behind the two guys in front of me. I was going the same pace but expending a lot less energy so I kept walking for a bit.  A guy on a kayak gave me a kind of funny look but I assume many of the pros had done this as well. It felt a little ridiculous but hey, all's fair in love and triathlon.  After a bit the aggressive swimmer noticed me and started dolphin diving. He did that most of the rest of the way in and built up a 20-30 second gap on myself and I had a 20-30 second gap on Marcus.  We had a pretty big lead over anyone behind us and the top two swimmers had a decent lead on the three of us.

Work mode, engaged.

T1 - 2:14

I was pretty efficient in T1 and was just leaving my rack when Marcus got to his bike. I remarked on our lovely swimming partner as I departed. Apparently I was pretty annoyed to go to the length of chatting up Marcus about it ha!

Bike - 2:15:35 (1st)

I headed out onto the bike, which started on a little chunky path, with intent in my mind and savagery in my brain.  I got onto the main road and saw the annoying swimmer just ahead and moved past him expeditiously. I knew the first 15 miles or so were going to be dead flat on almost perfect roads so this would be a great chance to settle into the watts and position and motor onwards and upwards. More the former though...

Before too long I caught up to the lead two swimmers from my wave and passed them as well, moving into the "virtual" lead. I figured the rest of the bike would be pretty boring, steady, and full of rural coastal Virginia sights.

Needless to say I was not disappointed on any of those fronts..

There's not really a whole lot to say about the bike. Nothing really happened that was interesting until the last 15 miles or so and that's only because the course back on roads we used to frequent back in the ol' college days. I had passed a few of the female pros and seen how far ahead I was of the competition on the out and back but really enjoyed going past the dam, up and down reverse carwash hill, and back to Centerville on Jolly Pond Rd.  The half course is about 100,000x better than the olympic.

I came into T2 feeling pretty good but knowing it was quite warm outside...

T2 - :59

Nothing to say here, didn't really waste any time.

Run - 1:55:20 (crossed 9th)

I had a good feeling going into this run that limiting the damage was going to tbe the strategy of the day. I actually felt pretty good immediately off the bike and through the woods I managed my efforts well up the hills and back down again. I passed Jenny some time around mile 1 or so and we exchanged pleasantries on the general goings-on during our respective races (or something like that) before my pace carried me ahead. Once onto the asphalt section it became extremely and overpoweringly apparent how warm it was.

I carried through pretty well and had a lead biker at this time so it was motivating to go through the transition/finish area and carry on back into the wood.  At this point some 40+ guy rolled past me and my lead biker went with him. I was fairly confident that he was on his first lap and therefore a whole lap behind me (minus the start offset) but I'd let them figure it out as I didn't feel like speaking.

The strings were starting to come unraveled a little bit and I was just sweltering. I walked up a hill but then managed to run most of the second lap, albeit a little more slowly.

My lead biker had come back before the end of that lap and with over half done I still had thoughts of managing the damage for the W. Unfortunately before the turnaround a tall guy in blue passed me and asked the lead biker "Hey! Where is he?!" I pointed to myself and said "I'm right here, nice job."
As he passed me he let out a little yell and said "BOOYAH" and I immediately put him a lot lower on my respect list.

Good job and all, but cheering for yourself? Give me a break. I've NEVER passed someone and done something like that out loud. Maybe in my head to myself, but seriously?

This was likely exacerbated by the fact that I felt like s**t.

Jenny caught up to me as I was walking up the hill on the road and told me to run with her. I did once we got through the aid station but then I had to let her depart my glorious company at the start of the fourth lap.

Needless to say, the fourth lap was a little bit of the same, moving forward, up and down hills, in the shade, back out into the sun, and so forth and so on. I crossed the finish line, glad to be done.

4:43:56 - 9th OA - 2nd AG

Overall Results

I think it's somewhat funny that I didn't get passed until lap 3 but once I did get passed I moved all the way back to 9th! That doesn't happen to me very often as I definitely consider the run a strength of mine. The fitness is certainly there to run fast, which I hope to prove this weekend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

XTERRA Pelham or "XTERRA Southeast Regional Championship" or "USAT Off-Road National Championship"

My title is an homage to that famous dark comedy "Dr. Strangelove." If you can name the second half of that movie title I will officially be impressed.

I don't want to bore you with a recap of my week but suffice it to say (so yea, I'll bore you actually) it involved some attempting to recover from the hard effort on Saturday while simultaneously getting in some nice work (is that paradoxical?) leading up to the Saturday race.

IOS has been particularly busy of late, so there was a lot of helping other people get ready to race while we all got ready to race in various formats, so to speak. I departed Thursday evening after work to drive to Jeremy's house in Atlanta where I stayed the night (and got majorly creeped on by his two cats who were obviously completely unsure of who the strange quadriped was in their house) before departing for Birmingham in the morning.

Don't look it in the eye
I managed to get in a pre-ride of the entire bike course on Friday morning and was left pleased with the state of the trails and the nature of the course.  It was going to be hard but not extremely difficult from a technical standpoint with one exception: Bloodrock.

Where's the line?
I decided rather than risk riding it I would plan on just dismounting about where the cyclist is in my photo and running it down the rocks. A creek runs through (or stream, whatever) and it makes the most difficult part the...well, the most difficult part.

There's a very long climb in the middle of the course that serves to separate some fitness related hangers-on and I knew that part would be a good place for me to try and walk away from some of the competition.

That thing in the middle was tough

I got in a loop of the swim as well, with nothing special to report there. It's a simple triangle and during the race we'd have to get out and then run back in after going through an archway.

I feel like I've seen this before...
Chad and Lori Williamson had graciously accepted my self-invitation to stay with them for the evening and after farting around for a few hours (I guess it's ok that you go to your job on Friday, Chad and Lori...ughhh FIIIIIINE) and consuming a great americano at Seeds Coffee (recommendation courtesy of Chad) I went over to their house.

Why yes, that is a picture of my coffee
We had a great meal and did a lot of chatting and I went to bed with lots of sleep time ahead given the 8:20am start time for the race in the morning.

After some quick morning ablutions the drive down to the race site was quite expeditious and there was even a Dunkin Donuts nestled right at the exit to Oak Mountain State Park. Now this is a race I can truly wrap my head around. I get my normal breakfast, I don't have to wake up too early...etc. Very choice.

I set up my transition spot and basically did a little warming up and walking around. I felt pretty normal, I suppose. I don't know anybody that's really FOP at a National level in terms of XTERRA so I was somewhat flying blind I suppose. It was kind of nice to do it that way.

Swim - 22:24 - 12th

I lined up on the front line kind of near the left and at the sound of the cannon (it was literally a 12 gauge shotgun shell that fired out of a little mini-cannon, kind of awesome) everyone started off expeditiously. As the first 100 meters passed it was clear that someone on my left was swimming fast and someone away on my right was swimming fast.  I should mention that they started all men under 49 in the same wave, so it was a pretty big field.

After a bit I scooted on over to the left to try and grab the feet of the guy closest to me but I lost him around the first turn as he and the other guy started to work together.  As we finished the first lap (exit and get back in) I saw I had a nice gap on the rest of the guys (we had already passed some of the pro women) and I got back in and swam pretty smoothly through the end of the second lap.  I ended up passing Lesley Paterson somewhere close to swim exit as everyone was cheering for her as I exited the water...

T1 - 1:00

My T1 time was generally slower than others I think because I took the time to put on socks. I ran out on to the road and hopped on my bike and...

Bike - 1:31:12 - 14th

My right hamstring cramped.  I was able to coast a little bit as we were on the roads and it was slightly downhill so I went ahead and put on my gloves as I hoped it was just a very temporary glitch but as it turned out the cramp wouldn't go away so I got off my bike and stretch it for real. I lost some spots and most of the gains I had accrued while swimming which was certainly frustrating but it was either stretch the stupid thing or quit and be all sad about poor little me.  I chose the former.

No hamstring, no! Bad hamstring!

I got back on the bike and managed to get pedaling again (no Andrew, not peddling) and caught up to some who had passed me pretty quickly. The trails were quite slippery as every wooden surface was damp from the rain the night before and earlier that morning which made every exposed root very precarious. There were also lots of wooden bridges on these trails and consequently there was a lot of slipping and crashing.

I tried to pass a girl but then messed that up and kind of had to bail off to the side and two guys behind me passed everybody so I then had to catch back up to the girl and then catch back up to the guys. Unfortunately for those two the one in front wrecked going across a wooden bridge and then the guy right behind ran into him and they both fell over.  I had enough of a gap in front of me that I was able to cut around them and make the pass.

The ride continued uneventfully for a while and I came up on another pro woman who also crashed right in front of me as I was getting closer.  I managed to not run into her and asked if she was ok as I scooted around.

The theme here is pretty apparent...lots of wipeouts!

The next notable part of the bike ride was the long, long climb up to the top of what I can only assume is "Oak" mountain.  I dislodged one of the guys that had been sitting on my wheel (Greg Schott) and set a strong tempo up the first part of the climb.  The other guy that had been behind me left for a while and then ended up coming back before falling off again (he was in my AG) and I tried to keep the pace relatively tough to discourage any getting back on from anybody.

Near the top of the long climb a guy with "35" on his calf came absolutely roaring past me with the guy that had been with me in tow.  I accelerated a bit and jumped on the wheels, happy to take a tow over the last part of the climb. At the top there is a short flattish section with a very slightly downhill and near that the front guy attacked like I've never seen somebody attack on a mountain bike. I'm surprised leaves didn't start falling from the trees with the amount of watts this guy was putting out.  The guy in front of me managed to stay for a bit (I didn't even try) but then got broken and the lead guy had a little gap going into the downhill section (which led to Bloodrock).  I caught back up to "30" and as we turned off the fire road we came up on the lead pro female (Lesley P) and the guy tried to pass her but crashed in doing so (this is the second time he wiped out in front of me).  I managed to avoid him and pass Lesley right before Bloodrock where I hopped off my bike and ran down the rock instead of riding. It just didn't seem worth the risk of gaining a few seconds by riding it slowly and gingerly.

The last third of the race is a mix of technical bends and more bridge crossings.  Lots of twisting and turning so that it's hard to keep your speed up and maintain a rhythm.  I tried to continue to keep the pace high and towards the last bit started catching glimpses of a guy in a Colorado Triathlon kit up ahead of me. At this point I wasn't really sure what place I was in because I KNEW two guys had been off the front in the swim (and I couldn't really keep track of passings and being passed that easily at the beginning because there was so much of it) and I KNEW the only person to have passed me and stayed in front of me in the second half was that guy with "35" on his calf.

So I figured I was either in 2nd or 3rd in the AG race at this point and I ended up catching up to the UC guy right at transition.

T2 - :43

While I had one of the slower T1s I actually had one of the fastest T2s and made it out before Cole.

Run - 41:33 - 27th

The run had about 1/4 mile stretch on the roads at the begining that began with a slight climb then a decline before heading into the trails. Cole passed me like a freight train on the incline and I tried to just keep my pace steady (I was running sub 6min/mi pace) and hope he'd slow down.

We turned into the trails and as we progressed I noticed he was indeed slowing down quite considerably (at least, from his initial pace) and especially on the uphills I would gain some time back on him. On the downhills though, his fleet feet and surefootedness put him back ahead but eventually I got back up to him on a climb.

Unfortunately about in the last 1/3mi of the first loop we had to jump across a little muddy creek type of thing and my left hamstring (so the opposite of the one earlier in the day) locked up.  I had to stop and stretch, then try to run again...stop and again. You get the picture.  After a little bit I was able to run continuously without straight leg running on my left side and got back to the roads and transition area. At this point the two male leaders passed me in a sprint to the finish (literally) so that was pretty cool to see them battle it out in the last 400 yards.

At the start of the second lap Greg Schott caught up to me but my stride had opened up a bit on the road section a bit so I felt pretty good.  We ran side by side through the first section of trails before the flat "dam" part about halfway through the loop. At this point Daryl came screaming by the both of us making us just look silly!

Eventually we got back to the difficult trail sections (the second half of the loop is much harder than the first half) and Greg departed from my company to try and find greener pastures up ahead. I was really struggling at this point, especially on the uphills. My hip flexors were screaming, my hammies were was great.

I ended up finishing out the run, unsure of what place I was in but happy that I had left it all on the course.

1st M30-34
4th AG'er
13th OA

Full Results Here

I was extremely pleased with my race performance. Sure, I could've done without the weird cramping issues that would've had me a little further up the course initially but I handled them well so can't complain too much there.  I walked away with a National Championship title, a solid footing from which to build for future XTERRA ventures, a qualification spot to XTERRA World Championships in Maui, and a nice pair of sunglasses (XTERRA seriously kills it in terms of race swag for the most part).

This is easily the biggest XTERRA event I've done (Tsali and Clemson are great local events but this was a national level event with much bigger competition) and I am really excited about doing more in the future.

In fact, I've been researching trips to Utah...(but not Maui).

If you haven't gotten a mountain bike yet or rented one or borrowed one or however you have to get your hands on one, you really...REALLY should. I know most people that read my blog are road triathletes through and through so take note when I say:

It is the most FUN you can have on two wheels.


Monday, May 11, 2015

6 hours of Lake Norman State Park

I mentioned this race to Bobby a few months ago and being the gung ho go for it guy he was he - with no hesitation - said "Let's do it!" Fast forward a few weeks and the race has been signed up for and we were hoping for a top finish. The weather was great all week leading up which meant the trails would be primo for the first time in what felt like forever.  I hadn't been on the mountain bike since 6 hours of Warrior Creek way back in early April but luckily was able to get in a short ride this Thursday at the WWC to make sure everything was still functioning properly and the trails didn't feel completely foreign to me...

I've ridden at the State Park enough times over the years to know that Monbo and Hawk loops are the two fastest loops out there.  The race course would encompass Hawk and Monbo, comprising a total of about 10 miles each lap.  Our best guess was that the laps would be 40-50 minutes and Bobby and I debated about rotating turns each lap or doing one each then switching to doubles or maybe doing doubles right away, get the picture. Apparently every one else was planning on doing singles (at least for a while) so that's what we planned on doing as well. Bobby would take the first loop and then we'd trade off from there.

The somewhat unique thing about this particular event (at least, in comparison to the only other 6 hour event I've done, Warrior Creek) is that the race is OVER at 6 hours. So at 4pm, no matter where you are on the course, the race is done. If you start a last lap and don't finish it before 4pm it does not count, if you make it by 1 second it does count. Keep this in mind...

I was actually surprised at how competitive the race appeared to be, given that I'd heard relatively little chatter about it.  I'm not sure why I would have expected to, however, given that I am not as connected into the trail riding scene as I could be. That being said, there were some very, very fast trail riders at the race.  Wes Richards (winner of 6 hrs of WC vs Gordon Wadsworth), Lewis Gaffney, Robert Marion (both riders for American Classic), Tommy Rodgers, Travis Beam, some Bike Source guys in singlespeed, Clemmons Bikes with a big representation, etc. Lots of fast people. And Bobby.  I guess me too a little bit. Damn triathletes sticking their noses where they don't belong ;)

The event organizer gave some pre-race instructions to the assembled riders and shortly thereafter it was time to start.

The start of a 6 hour race is pretty fast when you consider that each of the riders on a team is only planning on a 40 minute effort, and on video it looked pretty dang fast...

Apparently on the first lap Wes ate it pretty good off a berm and Bobby and Tommy, who were right behind him, lost Lewis' wheel.  As the second team members waited at the transition area (see, everyone is a triathlete at heart) I supposed we'd see Lewis first and then it would be a guess as to who came next.  The American Classic rider came through and, not long thereafter, Bobby rolled up solo.

Great. This would mean I'd get to go out among some very, very fast people.  Bobby had put us in a great position with his lap so I was going to do my best to punish myself accordingly for my first lap.  Wes had just entered the parking lot when I rolled away from the line so I knew he'd be chasing me the whole time.

Keep in mind these Strava embed's are my lap plus a little cooldown, so the times are a bit inflated over the actual lap times..

There was no fuss and no wrecks and I finished my first loop in a good time and handed back off to Bobby.  It was sort of an awkward in between time as it wasn't quite long enough to digest anything substantive so I just focused on salty snacks and water with a little gatorade.  It was going to warm up quite a bit by the afternoon so it was imperative to stay on top of that. Plus, rest.

All too soon I started getting ready again, planning on about 35 minute laps from Bobby. Marion rolled through and went ahead out for a second lap so I assumed their team's goal was to get a lead and then rotate with some double laps.  Bobby arrived not too far behind, the gap only a bit under 3 minutes.  I headed out and did my best to keep the losses at a minimum and managed another pretty fast loop, again with no incidents but an astonishingly high average heart rate.

Our lap 3's also went well, and all of a sudden Bobby was into his 4th lap and everyone was starting to show a few signs of fatigue.  The front runners turned in a slower than usual lap and the gaps between our team and the teams behind was growing markedly.  A bit over 4 hours into the race marked the finish of his 4th lap and we knew it was going to be very close whether or not we'd have the great opportunity to get in a 10th lap (there was some sarcasm in there).  Unfortunately, my 4th lap (our 8th total) was the slowest so far. I don't remember feeling especially poorly or making any mistakes, but either way it gave up a little bit of time in what was turning out to be a pretty close race, relatively speaking.

I finished and Bobby went out again for what we both kind of thought might be the last lap (our 9th).  The gap to the leaders was about 7-8 minutes and I was chatting with a guy who was "camping" next to us and he was asking if I'd do a 5th lap.  I wasn't sure, so I went over and checked when I had arrived.  4:47:XX into the race was my arrival. It was going to be really close, as I knew at best I had been turning 36.5 ish minute laps and Bobby had been doing 35s for the most part.  I planned on doing a 5th lap but I was kind of hoping not to, I can't lie!

I went over to the transition area and was pretty much the only one there at that point because all other teams would have no shot at a last lap and there rider on course would just finish the lap and that'd be the race.  Bobby ended up rolling into the parking lot and making it back around to the start finish line at 5:23:44.7, which left me about 36 minutes and 15 seconds to complete a 10th lap.  The American Classic guys had headed out about 8 or 9 minutes for the 10th lap so I knew they'd finish with 10, barring any issues.

Welp, I gave it the ol' college try but unfortunately I just didn't have it in me.  There are two fairly strong climbs on this loop (the biggest being at about the 18-20 minute mark) and I just barely got up over the top.  I was on the struggle bus pretty hard.  I got back on the road section to make my way back to the connector trail to the parking lot with my head down and legs churning but barely any power coming out by that point.  I got back to the parking lot and it was 4:01 or so on my watch so I knew I hadn't made it but crossed the finish line anyway, completing a 10th lap that unfortunately would miss out on counting by less than 2 minutes over a 6 hour race.  Womp womp!

Bobby and I ended up finishing second overall and second duo male team.  We were down 1 lap on the results sheet, but not in our hearts!

Full Results with lap times

I was really happy with the race and how we rode.  Bobby is one of the fastest guys on the mountain bike around these parts and I was pleased with how I handled the super fast trails.  We held our own and even stamped a little bit of authority on the race, despite my triathlete ways!