Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Race Report: Xterra Southeast Championships, Oak Mountain (Pelham, AL) - May 20,2017

There are times when everything lines up.  You show up to a race and feel great.  You feel ready and prepared.  You had a pretty good training block and a good taper.  Then, race day comes and all of the variables that can go against you stay on your side.  The course plays nice and your body responds.  Today was not that day for me.  Well... at least on the run that is.  But before we see how my race flew completely off the tracks, let's talk about the rest of the race.

The morning was perfect.  There was a light breeze but the ambient temperature was very nice.  I would tell you what it was to the degree, but I honestly didn't look.  Maybe somewhere in the high 60's?  Who cares, it's irrelevant.   When I arrived, there weren't many others there.  Transistion opened at 6:30.  I got there pretty close to that.  I hadn't planned to but I actually woke up feeling quite refreshed and ready to go.  That's new for me.  Could be that I fell asleep around 8pm last night and slept like a log all night.  I'm glad I didn't camp.  My hotel room was comfy and air conditioned.  My roof tent, while comfy (for a tent) is not and it was very humid.  I doubt I would have been that rested had I camped.

Anyway, I got my transistion area all set up and then mingled with some Xterra friends including one of my favorite people in the whole world, Charlotte Mahan!  My buddy Doug Clark was down for the race as well and racked right next to me.  As we were chatting it up, the announcement came... water temp 77.  It was a wetsuit race.  Now, I had my wetsuit but with water temps that warm, I was not really excited to don a full sleeve suit.  After testing the water for myself, I decided to stay with swimskin instead of pulling on the wetsuit.  I knew I would sacrifice a little speed but my shoulder has been grumpy since my last race and the extra resistance from the wetsuit doesn't help.
The pro men led off the race at 8:20am.  My wave was 4 minutes behind.  I had a pretty decent swim.  I made it a point to line up at the front and decided that I would fight for my own water.  I did just that.  During the initial scrum, I felt hands on my feet and legs and people shoving in on both sides.  I widened my stroke and put a little more emphasis on my kick.  That gave me a little bit of room.  Not much, but enough.  The course was two loops with a little jaunt on shore in between.  I had a good rhythm but was having to sight more than I wanted due to only having two buoys and no sighting buoys in between.  The extra sighting cost me a little on my overal time but not too much.  As I was coming out of the water to head to transition, my right inner quad twinged.  Not good.  I hoped it was a just a fluke and that it wouldn't bother me the rest of the day.... I was very wrong.  More on that later!  On to the bike!

I've ridden some great trails.  The trails at Oak Mountain are probably in my top 3 that I've ever been on.  There is a little bit of everything here.  Rooty, twisty, old-school singletrack, fast flowy sections, fire road climbs, rock gardens, pine needles, all of it.  All of it in one place.  Masterfully built and maintained, the trails snake through the forest taking full advantage of all of the natural berms, whoop-de-do's and mountain sides.  It's quite amazing.  There were times on the bike where I was literally giggling out loud.  I forgot all about my quad.  It didn't bother me at all.  I was riding very well, watching my heartrate and trying to hold myself back to save some for the 10k run that was to come.  I have a very bad habit of over cooking the mountain bike.  I just don't know how NOT to ride hard.  It's how I roll, literally!  That being said, I feel like I did a pretty good job of holding some in reserve.  What I didn't do very well was hydrate.  It's my own fault.  I just didn't bring enough liquid on the bike and what I did bring, I didn't finish.  I had my speedfil on the bike and my plan was to refil it at the bike aid.  Well, the problem arose when I arrived at the aid station and hadn't really consumed what I needed to up to that point.  I took a water bottle from the aid and took several big hits from it before discarding.  With the only bottle cage being occupied by the speedfil, I had no where to stash and extra.  I spend the rest of the ride rationing what was in my speedfil.  I didn't run out, but that was also a problem.  I didn't drink it all either.  I rationed too much.  Still though, I felt I was in ok shape for the run.  I had calories laid out for the run in a gel and the rest of my clif blocks from earlier.  I would be fine.  Sure, no worries.  I got this, right?  Wrong.  Oh so wrong.

Still with me boys and girls?  Good, well the run is where my day derailed.  More like derailed, caught fire and exploded into a massive mushroom cloud of disappointment and misery.  First, I forgot my Clif Blocks.  I had a gel on my run belt so I got that but I'm not used to grabbing anything else in T2.  I rack my bike, put on shoes, grab belt and go.  I don't even put my belt on until I'm running.  Today though I needed to grab those blocks.  I told myself as I was coming into dismount the bike not to forget them.  I then promptly forgot them.  Anyway, back to the run.  I came out of T2, through the first aid right outside of the transition area where I grabbed some gatorade and water.  I drank the gatorade, sipped the water then poured the rest of the water over my head.  The first part of the run is on the road.  It's actually right around 7/10th of a mile before you hit the woods.  I was running pretty strong out of T2.  My plan was to run 8:30 for the first mile then start to speed up as I went.  I wanted to have a good run but I didn't want to bury myself 2 weeks out from Knoxville where I want to be competitive.  This race was more about learning the race itself and getting used to long course Xterra in hopes that I can come back next year and punch my ticket to Maui.  But, I digress. Back to the run.  As I said, nice little bit of pavement before hitting the woods.  About .5 mile into the run, my right quad starts to twinge, then my left joins in.  I told myself just to keep it slow and increase my turnover.  Don't make any sudden movement and they'll loosen up.  They didn't.  I made the turn into the woods and at the first root, full on cramps.  Both legs.  I struggled for a bit to stretch how I could without tempting my hamstrings to do the same thing (as that's what usually happens).  I didn't carry a water bottle on the run with me since there were 3 aid stations on course but I really needed water there.  Another competitor ran by and offered my water from his bottle.  I happily took him up on it.  He offered me some encouragement and I started off again.  By the time I made it to the second aid station, both quads were cramping and as I limped up to the tent, my left hamstring joined the fun!.  I stood there in the aid station for a few minutes drinking water and Gatorade.  I poured cold water over my legs to cool them.  I honestly considered DNF'ing right there.  I finally got my legs to cooperate and started off again.  I trotted along.  I walked all the hills.  I did everything I could to keep my legs happy.  They were ok.  Not great, but I knew if I kept this up I would finish.

After two laps of jogging/walking/stretching/cursing/jogging/etc, I finished.  It was a disappointing day from a race perspective in that I wasn't able to run to my potential.  I think I could have put in a really great run if I had been smarter about my race plan from a nutrition/hydration perspective.  There are some great lessons to be learned, though.  That's what I'll do.  I will take this experience and file it's lessons in my mind so that I can call upon them for future races.  From a course perspective, Xterra Oak Mountain was amazing.  The water was clean, the bike course was amazing and the run course was just taunting me to run.  It truly is a great venue.  The race organizers did a great job of managing the chaos of three races all at the same time.  Never once did I feel lost or confused about where I should be going.  As always it's the spirit of family that surrounds Xterra that I enjoy so much.  Seeing familiar faces and meeting new people is what I enjoy the most about days like today.  And, at the end of it all, I still spent a day playing in the woods with my friends.

Race Report: Lakeside of the Smokies Sprint (Dandridge, TN) - May 13, 2017

Saturday's Lakeside of the Smokies Sprint was my first street sprint of the year.  It was also my first real ride on the Swoop after being fit by our own Dr. Sprouse.  I had done several rides on it but they were all on the trainer.  So, nothing new on race day... yeah I know BUT what else are training races for?  That was, after all, what this race was to be for me.  Lakeside was not initially on my race plan but I added it late since it was a team focus race, and I'm glad I did.  I must say, I was not sure what to expect but the race did not disappoint.

I had to get to race site early to check in since I didn't make it out to get my packet early.  The plus side being I got a pretty good rack spot.  I planted my bike right next to Bill Beecher in hopes that some of his speed would rub off.  Turns out I was in pretty fast company all around as all of the Team Zen-Evo guys racked all around me.  It really was great seeing all my team mates and friends come out to the this race.  Podium Racing, Zen-Evo and Rocky Top Multisport Club all came out in force for this one.  After a good long time of mingling and anticipating the start, it was time to make our way to the water.  Water temp was high 60's so wetsuit was a must.  I splashed around and swam a bit to get used to the water temp and then made my way back to shore for the prerace instructions...  which didn't happen.  We got the usual talk by the race ref but nothing from the race director.  It would have been nice to know general course info or at least what color arrows to follow.  Oh well, I knew I wouldn't be first out of the water so I'd just have to hope that someone knew where they were going.  

The 750m swim went ok (although it was actually closer to 900m by mine and several others' Garmins).  Again, I managed to get a terrible start and caught up in traffic.  I guess I need to get more aggressive and do a better job of fighting for my own water but around the first buoy turn I managed to find some clean water and settle into a bit of a rhythm.  I never did quite get comfortable but eventually I made my way out of the water and up the bank to transition.

Swim Split: 14:04

T1 went smoothly, almost like I knew what I was doing.  The bike course was 16 miles of rolling hills with one rather nasty little kicker around mile 7ish.  I wasn't really sure what to expect on the bike so I just concentrated on keeping my cadence up and my power steady.  I was fortunate enough to come out of transition close to Jim Hall.  He was riding really strong so I decided I would just try and keep him in sight.  I passed several people on the bike course and eventually I could see nothing but Zen-Evo kits ahead of me.  There were three of them within sight but I didn't know how many total people were ahead of me.  I had a feeling I was in the top ten but couldn't be sure.  I rolled back into T2, racked the bike, slipped on the running shoes and I was off.  

Bike Split: 43:40

The 5k run course was no flatter than the bike. My goal here was to push as much I could.  I had been working on my run but on no taper and after a pretty tough run workout on Thursday I wasn't sure how much I would have.  My legs were turning over pretty well out of T2.  I just new that they would fail me at some point.  Mile 1 down and legs were still holding despite the hills.  Mile 2 clicked off.  Pace holding pretty steady and legs still feeling strong although they were starting to complain a bit.  As I continued to pound out the run, my legs were really yelling at me BUT I was holding pace.  The finish line came into view.  I realized at that point that no one had passed me on the run.  I still think this is the first time I didn't get passed on the run.  I'll call that progress!  Around the final corner and down the finish chute, I came and through the finish in a time of 1:22:23.  That would earn me 6th overall and 1st place AG.

Run Split: 22:38

Final thoughts on the day:  
Not much to say that I haven't already.  I had a really good race.  Podium Racing p/b Visit Knoxville had a really successful day taking home several AG awards.  Most of all it was just fun to hang out and race with all of my team mates and friends.  On to the next one, Pelham, AL and Xterra Oak Mountain next weekend!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Week in the Life: May 1-7

Well, hello there and welcome (back)!  A couple years ago I was pretty diligent about doing a weekly recap of what happened in my training and my life.  I guess it's more of a public journal than anything else but I hope that somewhere in these posts you find something that can help you or just makes you laugh.  So, I guess that's about it.  Off we go!!

I'll just jump right into the training side of things.  The week started with a rest day on Monday.  Tuesday was bike night.  The training plan called for either a bike interval workout or a group ride.  Seeing as the weather was delightful, I opted for a group ride.  I met up with the crew from Cedar Bluff Cycles for their weekly ride.  I opted for the faster "A" ride.  It hurt.  30+ mph pull-throughs made for a great interval workout... at least for the first 20 miles.  At that point it was all I could do to just hold the back of the rotation.  I did, however, hold on and made it through the rest of the ride.

Wednesday night was back to pool for the first time in over a week since getting back from vacation.  Main set was 100 repeats on 1:50.  My form felt like crap and my pace was off a bit but I expected as much.

Thursday's Run ended up on the treadmill due to weather.  I had a 45 minute tempo run.  Goal was to run the first half of the run steady and then pick up the pace for the second half inserting quick two-minute speed up intervals at the 10,20,30 and 40 minute marks.  I set the belt on just under 7mph for the first half with intervals on 8.0mph.  For the second half, I bumped up to 7.3 with 8.5mph intervals.  It was a good run. Well, as good of a run as can be had on the treadmill.

Another rest day was on the schedule for Friday to get ready for the standard big training days on the weekend.  Saturday was a long bike, 3 hour minimum on road or 2 hour minimum on dirt.  The weather was questionable.  Grey skies and a threatening forecast greeted me when I woke up.  I decided to take the mountain bike to the North Boundary Greenway for some mixed surface dirt/gravel fun.  I managed to avoid the rain for most of the ride other than a few sprinkles as I was riding out to the parking lot.  I stayed in the woods on the singletrack for the first part of the ride and the tree cover was enough to keep the sprinkles at bay.  By the time I hit the gravel, the rain had subsided.  I did a nice moderate push on the gravel with a short trip up another bit of singletrack at the turn.  On the way back, I hit the same singletrack that I started on.  It ended up a great day at 2 hours, 18 miles and just under 1800ft of climbing.  Off the bike I was supposed to do a 25 minute T-Run but cut short due to rain.

Today, Sunday, was much better.  There was a definite chill in the air this morning but the weather looked promising for later in the day.  All of this worked out well since I had a 3800yd swim to get done before my run workout.   Today's swim felt much better than Tuesday's.  My form was there and the pace was where I needed it to be but it was still a tough swim.  Lots of pace variation and speed intervals ensured that I got out of the pool with my arm sufficiently useless.

After my swim, it was back to the house for a nap and some relaxation to get ready for my run.  I had a tough interval workout with the meat being 8 x 800 best effort intervals with a long steady run warm up and a cool down after.  The 800's went a little better than I expected.  I didn't try to push the pace as much as I have previously since this workout added 2 extra 800's than I had been doing previously.  My first three locked in pretty solid on a 6:10 pace.  I thought I could hold that but after number 3 I knew it was going to be a struggle.  The next 5 dropped to a 6:20ish pace and pretty much stayed there.  I wish I could have held the faster pace but my legs just didn't have it in them.  I ended up with 8.5 miles on the day.

Totals for the week looked like this:

Swim: 7050yds
Bike: 39mi (road), 18.8mi (off road)
Run: 15.8mi

Saturday, May 6, 2017

TingleTalk First Take: Speedfil F2 Off-Road Bundle

Greetings Interwebs!  I got a chance today to try out my new Speedfil F2 on the mountain bike this morning.  I know, I know, a frame mounted bottle with a hose running up to the handlebar is kinda taboo and has no place on a "real" race bike.  I understand the feeling behind that as well, because I used to feel the same way.  I was skeptical about having a hose running along frame that could get caught on stuff and/or hinder the handling of the bike.  I decided, after Xterra Blackwater, to give it a shot and I have a couple reasons why.

1.) I HATE riding with a hydration pack.  I knew this before Blackwater but decided to try it anyway and while it did work, it cost me several precious seconds in T1 and T2 while it put it on and took it off.  "Well, Derek, why did you not run with it on?", you ask.  That, Dear Reader, is because while I hate wearing it to ride.... 

2.) I HATE running with a hydration pack even more than I HATE riding with one.  They bounce, they slosh around, they rub my shoulders in a tri kit.  In short, they are not my thing.  So that left me with putting the pack on in T1 before the bike then taking it off again in T2 before the run.  That's wasted time in my opinion if there is a solution for keeping hydration on the bike.  "That's why they make bottles, Derek".  Yes, Reader, I agree.... BUT

3.) When I'm riding hard, I always forget to reach down and get a bottle to drink.  Also, the time involved to reach down, retrieve bottle, drink and replace bottle means a lot of one handed riding which means increased opportunity for disaster.  So, to that end, when I found this Speedfil solution, I decided to give it a shot and either prove the complainers wrong.. or right.


Basically, what you get in the Speedfil F2 Off Road Bundle package is a bottle with a lid that has a straw along with a little retractable mount to attach the hose to the handlebar. Installation of the Speedfil F2 was a breeze.  The biggest hurdle was figuring out where on the handlebar I wanted to mount the little retract-o-matic hose keeper thingy.  After a few test fits, I found a spot I liked and then cut the hose to the correct length.  That's it.  Easy peasy.  

First Takes:

I gave the setup it's first test run in the woods today.  I must say, I'm quite pleased with the performance.  The hose keeper thingy worked very well keeping the hose where I wanted it without it jumping around.  Taking a drink was easy since the hose was mounted so close to my hand it made it very convenient to grab the hose and once it was safely in my mouth my hand was quickly back on the bar whilst I got my drink.  Then, when finished drinking the hose keeper retracts the hose automatically to the handlebar.  My other concern was splashing or spillage from the hose tip onto the handlebar or my hand/grip/etc.  Again, there was no issue here.  After 18 miles and 2 hours of riding there were only one or two drops of my beverage that had splashed out.  

Lastly, let's talk about the hose position.  OK, so I will admit here is where I had my only real "issue" with the system and I will say it's VERY minor.  The way I had the hose run, my left knee would hit it when climbing out of the saddle.  This will be easily remedied with the provided velcro strap that came with the kit (which I forgot to install before this ride).  By using the velcro strap to guide the hose along the top tube, it should keep it out of the way without impacting the handling of the bike.  Oh, and on the subject of bike handling, I never even knew it was there.  Even on tight turns and switchbacks the hose never got in the way.

Final Thoughts:

After the initial test, I must say, I'm pretty excited to try this setup out at Xterra Oak Mountain in a couple weeks. I do not think this will become a mainstay on my bike for non-racing situations but I do think in a race scenario it will work quite well.  Stay tuned for my race report from Oak Mountain to see how things worked out!  

Race Report: RunDisney Star Wars "Dark Side" Half Marathon Weekend

While not a "race" in the sense that I would be running for time or results, there was a starting line and a finish line and medal at the end so it counts for a report right?  Well, of course it does!  The Disney Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend consists of 3 races, a 5k, 10k and half marathon.  As per the usual, for each event you completed there was a nice shiny commemorative medal at the end... HOWEVER nothing is that simple with Disney.  For their multi-race weekends they almost always do a separate "Challenge" medal for those whose better judgement is slighted by the prospect of an extra piece of shiny around their neck at the end of it all.  This weekend was no exception, and I'm one of those people.  So, to that end this will be a tale of two races: the 10k and the half, also known as... The Dark Side Challenge!

We'll start with the 10k.  Actually, technically, we'll start before the 10k as there are some pertinent details that must be purveyed for the whole story to come together.  Right, everyone still with me, good. We arrived at Disney Friday afternoon and went straight to expo.  We picked up our bags and wandered around the expo for a few hours before heading to the resort to hang out until dinner.  Dinner is where I made quite a bad a decision.  It was a delicious decision at the time but I would pay for that indulgence.  We had dinner reservations at one of the resort restaurants.  Seeing as our vacation includes meals, we could order whatever we wanted.  I wanted the Wagyu Strip Loin served over fried potatoes with broccolini and roasted parsnips.  If that sounds amazing, well, it was.  It wasn't an extremely huge serving and I didn't eat all of it but the problem came about due to lack of digestion time.  If you've never done a Disney race before, they start early... really early.... 5:30am early.  That means waking up before 3am to get ready and be on the bus to the start by 3am.  When
my alarm woke me up I immediately knew the day was not going to go well.  I had what felt like a 10lb brick in my gut.  I got dressed, ate a Pop Tart and we were on the bus.  I still felt like garbage.  After an eternity of standing around and sitting around and contemplating going back home to sleep off my dinner, the race was under way.  My plan was to run around a 9-10 min pace until I caught up to the wife who started in an earlier corral.  The plan worked.  I suffered through 4.5 miles of that until I found her.  She was doing run/walk intervals at a slower pace and that was FINE by me.  We ran the rest of the race together.  We stopped for pics with characters and hammed it up for the on-course photographers.  It was quite enjoyable and almost made me forget how terrible I felt.  After the race, we hung around until some other friends of ours finished before heading back to the resort.  All in all, it ended up being a good time and I learned a valuable lesson on pre race nutrition.
After the 10k was done, we headed back to the resort to decompress for a bit and have some breakfast before heading to Epcot to ride rides and do park stuff.  We had dinner reservations at the Ita

lian Pavilion (early this time, thank goodness).  It was a good day but the whole time we were wandering around the park I was wondering how much I was going to be hating life at the end of the half the next day.

2:15am came VERY early.  Happily I awoke without the large meat brick laying in my stomach that I had the previous morning.  My early pasta dinner did the trick.  I felt surprisingly good for being up so early.  I was groggy and tired but no GI issues.  I opted for 2 Pop Tarts and stuffed come Clif Blocks in my pocket to have before the race.  I had two Clif Shots on my belt as a just-in-case, though, normally I do not need such things for a half.  For the race I was in the very last corral again and, since this race was even larger than the 10k, there were 19 starting waves.  I went off in Wave 19... nearly an hour after the first runners left.  The race plan here was the same as the race plan for the 10k.  Run a comfortable 9-10 min pace until I caught the wife and finish the race with her.  Because I started so far back, there was A LOT runners to weave through so holding pace was difficult.  I ended up running on the side of the road in the dirt/grass quite a bit.  The aid stations were a huge bottleneck as well with the whole course slowing to a walk and no running lanes fot those of us not stopping.  I still kept a pace in the mid to high 9's until we got into Animal Kingdom.  The race course actually took us through 3 parks (4 if you count Magic Kindom where the race started).  When we got into Animal Kingdom, EVERYONE slowed to a walk it seemed.  It was quite frustrating.  Soon enough, though, we were out of the park and back on the roads where it spread out again.  I settled back into my pace, still dodging and weaving through slower runners as I could without being a complete jerk.  I met a nice couple from Louisiana when I struck up conversation to pass the time while we were stuck behind a group of walkers.  When it opened up again, the three of us ran together for a while before getting split up.  Eventually I caught up to the wife.  I'm kind of surprised I found her in the sea of humanity but, sure enough, I found her just before we entered into Hollywood Studios.  She wasn't having the best day.  The fatigue from the previous days race and treking around Epcot had taken their toll and her legs were a bit grumpy.  Truth be told, mine were too and again I'm glad I found her when I did.  I could have kept my pace going through the end but I would have been quite sore I tihnk.  It was nice to enjoy the rest of the race with Wife, however.  Again, we hammed it up for the cameras and just enjoyed as much as we could running together.  At the end of it all, we crossed the line.  I took a medal from the volunteers and hung it around her neck before grabbing my own.  We did not wait around too long this time as we were both ready to come back to the resort for a shower and food.  The Disney race experience is quite good.  Like most things Disney does, it was run like a well oiled machine.  Everything was in it's place.  The volunteer support was fantastic and the course was very well managed.  It's not a place you come to run a PR time.  It's a place you come to enjoy a nice long (humid) run with several thousands of friends.