Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I wasn't sure I was going to do XTERRA Utah until maybe 3 weeks ago.  Logistically a lot of stuff is going on in this household in Setepmber/October so I wanted to be sure it would be manageable before making the trip.  I got to visit some friends from college who now live in Ogden and compete in a race that is certainly the most competitive in the mainland USA and consequently test my fitness again (over the past two years I've raced much less than in years past, so seeing how training is going is never a thing I'm upset to do).

But, do the race I did. I split the drive up from Tucson into two trips, spending the night in St. George (Utah), before arriving in Ogden/Snowbasin late morning/midday on Friday.  I did a quick recon of one section of climb and descend (the first descent of the race and arguably the more technical one, or maybe just the scarier one) and was pleased to notice that the descent seemed FAR less intimidating this time around when compared to last year.

Scouting the course

I visited packet pickup, got dinner with Christy and her husband Dave (both fellow WM '07'ers) before heading to their mountain house to sleep.

I didn't have to get up crazy early for this race since it started at 9am, which would give the air time to warm up (it gets down to upper 30's and low 40's in September in Utah it would seem...quite different than Tucson) and give all the racers time to complete the morning logistics.  The drive to bike dropoff (swim and T1) took about 35 minutes and I set that up pretty quickly before heading up to T2 (Snowbasin resort), which took another 20-30 minutes.  Once there I set up T2 and grabbed the things I would need before getting on a shuttle that took athletes back down to T1 at around 7am.

Unfortunately, once we got back down to the lake I realized I had left goggles and gels in my car. There was basically no way to get back up there and get those things, so I had to ask around to borrow goggles.  Luckily, a guy in front of me on the bus was willing to loan me a pair.  Thanks #282 for saving my race!

I got T2 situated again, did a short 15 minute warm up run, then began installing myself into my wetsuit. I did a warm up swim, and all racers were noticing that the first leg of the swim would be very difficult as it was essentially directly into a rising sun.  The goggles I had were relatively scratched (but not leaking!) so it was difficult to see out of them to begin with, and the section into the sun would simply involve following splashes that were in front of me.  The male pros went off, followed quickly by the female pros...until it was our wave's turn to start (all men under 49).

Swim - 22:13 (36th)

I started on the left side and got into a pretty good position immediately (based on my somewhat limited visibility).  After a few minutes I felt like I was in roughly the lead pack and we were roughly headed for the first buoy.  Unfortunately it was in these same moments that I began to sense a panic attack coming on, something I had not experienced for a few years.  It was not fun.  It's an onrushing sense of claustrophobia and inevitability that crashes in on your mind like an unwelcome neighbor asking you why you ride bikes so much.

I popped my head up once to catch a breath, then got back down.  Unfortunately that didn't dispel the feelings and I had to pop my head back up again.  I got back into a rhythm but still couldn't shake the feeling of claustrophobia.  I decided to do some backstroke for a while and was debating whether or not I could even finish the race.

Luckily, unlike most triathletes I actually do stroke work and so my backstroke wasn't giving up too much to those around me.  Some had caught up to me but I was pacing off a couple of guys to my right and using them to "sight" for the time I was backstroking.

I eventually turned back over and felt fine after fact, looking back on the issue it feels so silly because it's like a sense of "how the heck did that happen?" But obviously hindsight is 20/20 and if you've ever experienced something like that you KNOW how irrational you are being but - unfortunately - the mind is an exceptionally powerful piece of hardware and exerts some small degree of control over your body ;)

I got to the first buoy quickly after that and made the turn back towards the third buoy and shore with a couple of other guys.  We ended up basically finishing the rest of the swim (the first buoy was maybe 500-600 meters out) together as I sat on one guy's feet for the remainder.  I was somewhat wary of experiencing another attack and so was content to swim "comfortably hard" for the duration remaining. I exited the water right behind that same guy, a little faster time-wise than last year but a swim that was in no way representative of my increased fitness.  Oh well!

T1 - 1:27

My transition was pretty quick; the more of these XTERRA races I've done (maybe 5 now?) the more familiar I've felt with the needs for each race and consequently the transition plan for each as well. I got out on the bike in roughly 10th place of my wave (according to a spectator, who seemed pretty certain) and headed out onto the bike behind another M30-34.

Bike - 1:37:36 (36th)

To be honest, there are not a whole lot of interesting tales to tell about this particular bike ride.  It is very arduous and demanding, simply because there is so much elevation change. You get a brief period of maybe 6-8 minutes where you are getting out of the transition area by making your way through a field on single track (you actually have to mount your bike on singletrack) trails before getting onto the road (well, technically the side of the road) where I put on my gloves and sunglasses, then finally you get to the trailhead.

For the next 30 or so minutes we would climb ~1400' in ~4.5 miles of pretty steady, slightly rocky singletrack.  I passed a couple of people and got passed by a couple of people.  I actually put "bar ends" on my bike for this race just to give my hands a different position to grip for some of the climbing.  One of the issues I've continually experienced with trail riding is hand numbness due in part to not really being able to move your hands around a whole lot.

Finally arriving at the top of the first climb was a breath of fresh air, metaphorically speaking, and a chance to finally take long deep breaths again.  The descent I was about to head down really intimidated me last year, but this year it went by relatively smoothly and easily.  The rocks that I remember writing about in my race report from last year that - at the time - seemed like massive boulders ready to eat up unsuspecting racers had magically turned into small, unassuming little bumps in an otherwise smooth and flowy path.

Thanks to uber rock garden central Tucson for that!

2016 XTERRA Pan American Championship from XTERRA TV on Vimeo.

For reference, if you want to see what the rocks can do take a look see at roughly 3:40 into that video...

That crash actually came on this first descent, if I'm interpreting the trail correctly.

Luckily I got down smooth and relatively fast with only one little brief mistake and had actually caught up with the guy who had put a little gap into me by the top of the climb.

At this point the trail went up again for another 35 or so minutes, this time climbing allll the way up to a wee bit over 7200' before making it's way down again.  Not to bore you with more of the same, but this climb - although not as steep/demanding as the first in some ways - has multiple switchbacks that really suck to get up towards the end of your bike split.

The descent is one of the best I've ever gotten to rail, and it is honestly the reason that I wanted to come back to this race.  I hadn't ridden this descent since this race last year, so I couldn't push it quite as hard as I would have ideally liked, but "Sardine DH" is so much fun it doesn't matter. Amazingly flowy, grippy dirt trail with a brief section of rocky climb in the middle of it with absolutely astonishing views in the first couple of minutes as a spectacular bonus.  It feels like you're descending through Fall (the season) as the colors in September are astoundingly vivid.

Feel free to not watch this whole thing, but give it a look-see for a little bit of a visual idea of what my words are trying to describe...

Xterra Utah Sardine Descent from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Finally I arrived at the "bottom" (even though you're much higher than where you started) and got myself to the resort at Snowbasin and off my bike.

T2 - 1:02

Pretty efficient, had trouble getting some (brand new) shoes on... (what's the first rule of triathlon?)

Run - 47:01 (46th)

I had vivid memories in my head from last year of the first mile of this race, which basically goes straight uphill. I took it out a little more conservatively as I wanted to avoid the cramps I experienced last year.  I walked a little bit of that first mile and passed one or two guys before getting to the ridge and establishing a nice rhythm and cadence.  The first 15-20 minutes went by pretty quickly and I actually felt pretty good. I was passed by one guy who I had passed at the start of the second downhill (of the bike) and he had a pretty good clip going so I didn't want to surge onto his feet less than halfway into the run.

I began to feel pretty worn down somewhere between 25-35 minutes and was getting pretty ready to cease and desist all forms of going up that didn't involve a motor of some sort.

I had caught up to the leading female pro as we started up the last steep bit and chose to walk the middle section and towards the end of my walking (and right in front of a photographer) I developed a quick cramp in my hamstring.  It always seems to be my hammy (this time it was my right hammy).  I'm thinking the longer strides of the walking gait may have induced it, because once I stretched it out for a bit (and adjusted my shoes) it never had a hint of coming back.

I finally arrived at the downhill section and heard someone chasing pretty hard and through the switchbacks managed to see the guy running me down gaining ground quickly.  I ran the last 5 minutes as hard as I can but unfortunately did not manage to hold him off.  He had the fastest amateur run split of the day, but I was happy to finish strong in spite of a sub par middle third of running.

OA - 2:49:19 (30th OA, 2nd M30-34)

I was pleased with this race, as I think it showed some gains in important areas over last year.  My bike fitness for XTERRA type racing has certainly gone up along with my technical skills.  Living in Tucson for the past three months made these two descents feel as smooth as butter, so I can't complain about that! I think the swim issues could have been avoided by not forgetting my own goggles (but huge thanks to the guy that let me borrow one of his pairs!) and potentially swimming in my wetsuit once a month or so (but to be honest, this would be pretty difficult in AZ; I actually tried to swim at the pool in my wetsuit last week early in the morning but it was too hot to get the dang thing on!) but all in all the swim wasn't too bad.  It seemed like a "faster" swim than last year but there were fewer people in front of me so I can't be too displeased with that result.  I am looking forward to the likely tougher swim (non wetsuit, ocean, WAVES) in Maui as I think my ability levels are more suited to that type of swim. The run is still a question mark in this style of racing. I am definitely a good runner and I am definitely in good shape, but potentially the technical and variable nature of the bike split still throws my body for a loop. It's getting better, and anytime I can run the same pace (or faster) off a faster bike split isn't such a bad thing...

Onwards and upwards to Maui!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's early

It's early in the morning and I haven't blogged in quite some time, so instead of perusing the latest ST argument or reading on facebook about how men shouldn't touch women a certain way on the bike I decided I would give my daring and intrepid web log readers a much needed update.  This one will not, unfortunately, be all encompassing as I have simply been too lazy a blogger and too much has happened that I cannot possibly cover everything in one early morning blog post.

As I said earlier, "it's early in the morning." Let me establish some context for that statement.

Here in Tucson (or rather, AZ and the SW in general right now) it gets pretty hot during the day.  When we first moved here Tucson was experiencing one of its hottest heat waves in years, peaking at 117ish degrees on a couple of days.  There's no other way to describe that temperature than "it's hot as s***."  It seriously feels like you're baking in a little toaster oven as you walk around or do anything outside.  That little toaster oven follows you around everywhere and is with you as soon as you step out the door of your air conditioned house from 9 or 10am all the way past 8-9pm at night.

As a consequence of that heat (but it's a DRY heat) everything you need to do that is outside related (i.e. bike and run, but also get the mail, drive anywhere in your car, take the trash to the can, go take a selfie by the mountains) needs to be done before 9 or 10am at the latest.  If one has a long workout to do then one must get his or her ass out of bed nice and early to be on the roads by 6am or so.

Because of that, the alarms in our household have been going off much earlier than I imagined they would when I pictured life in Tucson... I've not set as many 5am alarms in quite some time.  But, as a consequence, I've gotten to see some very pretty sunrises over the Catalinas as I head out on a bike ride or some other form of exercising.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Product Review: Fairwheel Bikes "Phalanx" Wheelset

Ever since arriving in Tucson I have been on the prowl for a better set of wheels to go on my Cervelo S5.  The Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset that is stock on many of Cervelo's bikes do the job of rolling along nicely enough, but here in the land of bad pavement a narrow rimmed bicycle wheel tends to fall short in the comfort department.

Here's the thing: tire size and pressure does more to change (negatively or positively) the "comfort" of your bicycle than your Cervelo R5 vs. S5 choice (or most other similar-ish framed carbon bicycles).

There's been plenty of reading to be had about this subject, but it does not honestly seem like the average customer is aware of such things.  Bike shops do very little to help explain this as well (unless you're at Inside Out Sports, obviously).  

Without going into too much detail and while still providing you with an engaging user experience, if you would like to discover this in more detail for yourself, here are some links:

So you're welcome to simply take my word for it, which I guess most will do given the volume of data and science that is presented above me...or you can go read all of those. 

Here are some handy quotes, for those that wish for an expedited experience:

"Carbon Vs Steel Similar Geometry Custom Frames: 4psi"

What the above is saying that you can account for the different in comfort/compliance between those two things listed (carbon frame vs. steel frame, similar geometry) by changing tire pressure by as little as 4psi.  

4psi!! That's huge! Or, maybe huge isn't the right word.  That's "incredible" seems to flow better with the tone that this has in my head. 

"No other single component affects the comfort, handling and efficiency of a bicycle like the tires.  Tires are the sole connection to the ground, they are the sole transmitter of drive force to propel the cyclist forward, and they are the sole means of gripping the road during cornering.  They are the most dominant spring in the bike/rider system which means that more than anything else, they control comfort.  They are the sole component which will (ideally) ever have to resist the abrasive contact of asphalt, concrete or gravel with minimal damage."

I think that puts it pretty succinctly. 

"The initial design of this test was to show that larger diameter tires are actually Stiffer/Less Comfortable when inflated to the same pressure."

i.e. don't pump those b***** up so high! 

"What we can say is that all those people who feel their larger tires are more comfortable, you may be correct for bumps smaller than 8mm radius...we could not measure that, so it is hard to know, but for larger radii, you are best to lower your air pressure a bit to truly take advantage of the larger tire widths.

The most exciting aspect of this study is that it has begun to point us in the direction of how much pressure we need to lose with tire width increases, and even better it hints that while that lower pressure will provide similar ride comfort on most surfaces, it will likely improve comfort on small bumps.  
Our recommendation is that you decrease tire pressure by 3-4% for each millimeter of tire width increase.  This will ensure similar compliance over most surfaces while providing improved compliance over small bumps and edges."
Pretty self explanatory, again. The bold typeface was not mine, instead the author (Josh Poertner) recognized its importance and emboldened it for us!
"Our recommendation is to begin keeping a log of your air pressures.  Start where you are today and reduce pressure by 5psi or 0.5Bar and ride it for a few days, then reduce it a bit more, etc.  We have worked with hundreds of athletes, both professional and amateur and find that just a few weeks of keeping a pressure log will begin to completely change the way you think about your pressures and tires.  In many cases, we find athletes deciding that they can race their aero road bike on that course they were planning to buy a more comfortable bike for.  Triathletes, some of whom are now racing at pressures 2Bar (30psi) lower than before, are telling us that they are running better off the bike as they are less fatigued from vibration, and better still, they aren't riding any slower!"
Ok, now I added the bold part.  I'm beginning to quote too much of this, so I'll stop at this point and summarize by saying:
Wider rims (bead width and overall width) allow for wider tires to be run at lower pressures and increased compliance while still maintaining (or improving) rolling resistance and aerodynamics, and combined with tire and tube choice can maintain or improve flat protection.
You would probably be amazed if you experimented with this yourself (if you haven't already).  So all of THAT is why I wanted some wider rims on my S5.  Tucson roads are harsh and demanding (lots of cracked pavement and sealing) and frequently have run off in the roads (from flash flooding and such) containing gravel and sand.  
BUT, now that I don't work at IOS, I have to be stingy. I have to be a demanding consumer who gets the most out of my money! So I was scouring the internet for good options.  One that kept coming up was the Flo Cycling 30 alloy wheelset.  I liked this option for a variety of reasons: cost, aerodynamics, weight, and rim specifications, among others.  I disliked it for some reasons: hub type (meh hubs), shipping time, brake surface wears off (the black coloring does anyway).  I was very close to pulling the trigger on this a few times. 
Luckily for me, however, I discovered that a local bike "shop" sells custom built pre spec'd wheelsets for extremely reasonable prices.  They have - among many others - a "Phalanx" wheelset that comes with:

  • Kinlin XR-31t rim (31 being it's depth in mm, and "t" denoting that it is tubeless ready)
  • Sapim Laser spokes (20/28, a reasonable combination for an all around wheelset)
  • DT Swiss 350 hubs (DT hubs are fantastic, and these are their entry level hubs but the mechanicals are similar or the same as their much more expensive hubs)
All of this comes in a a relatively lightweight 1600ish grams (a bit more, but not much) and a very paltry $450 (plus shipping or tax).  Considering I live here now, I opted for local pickup, obviously. 

I took them home and got to work installing them on my bicycle. I combined these wheels with some Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton 700x24 tires that I have had for a while but never used.  These tires are definitely race-oriented, but they are the nicest "wide" tires I have just sitting around.  Interestingly, Continental tires typically measure MUCH wider on wide rims (a 23mm Conti tire might actually measure 25mm+ on these rims), whereas Specialized SW TC tend to measure close to what they are actually stated as being (a 24mm tire is typically only a bit over 24mm on a wider rim). 
So my preference would honestly be for a 25mm GP4000s II tire, but I don't feel like spending $150 ish on two tires right now. Maybe once these are worn out (which could be next year sometime, honestly). 
I combined both of those with Vittoria Latex tubes into which I installed sealant.  At IOS we've done this quite a few times for customer in their race wheels (usually using Orange Seal sealant) and is something I've traditionally done in my own race wheels, but I figured now would be a good time to start using sealant in all of my cycling applications.  It's a very easy process that only takes a few seconds and detracts nothing from the performance of the tire/tube/wheel.  The goal - for those unfamiliar - is to have sealant rolling around in the tube and when a puncture happens the sealant rushes to the hole and plugs the hole, essentially.  This can prevent psi loss and let you keep rolling, sometimes unaware that the sealant has even done anything! Think of the sealant as platelets in your blood
I wrapped everything up and was very pleased with the result, aesthetically speaking:

I rode the bike around the block a bit after tuning it up and discovered that some of the spokes still needed to be stress relieved (if you ever get new wheels or a new bike and notice "pings" that can be somewhat loud especially when you tilt your bike to one side or the other your wheels/spokes were not stress relieved; essentially what happens during a wheel build is the spokes, hub and rim are all hooked up and dished and trued but sometimes when truing a wheel/tightening a spoke the spoke turns as the nipple turns, which sort of deforms the spoke and then as you tilt the bike to one side or the other you are relieving the stress on the opposite side you lean and the spoke sort of "frees" itself...make sense?) but other than that the difference between these wheels (with tires inflated to 85psi) and my old wheels (with tires inflated to 100psi) was pretty huge.  MUCH, much smoother.  
There are a few things confounding that perception, however:

  • Nicer tires (MUCH nicer tires) that are more supple and essentially have zero puncture resistance
  • Nicer tubes; latex tubes can actually - according to some - make a perceivable difference in ride quality
  • Perception bias: I WANT these wheels to feel better, so - naturally - they do!
  • Pump inaccuracy: I always use the same pump, but most pumps actually have a pretty huge error margin. Mine is pretty nice (Lezyne Digital Drive and it gives me an actual digital PSI reading, which is nice) but I have no idea if it's accurate or not as I haven't ponied up for a tire pressure gauge.
I did my first real ride on the wheels this morning and I am quite impressed. A hard group ride over mixed, rolling (/hilly) terrain and went through some gravel/road debris and over some rumble strips on Ajo Hwy and they felt great! Time will be the true test, however.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Moved to Tucson

If you have never had the great pleasure of driving across most of the country, let me lead in my post with establishing some "heads-up" information for you in the off-chance that you do ever undertake such a journey:

Texas is gigantic.

We loaded up the Jetta (again) on Friday morning and undertook the New Orleans to Tucson portion over the next two days.  Our goal was to make it to Austin, TX and spend the night in a hotel there because we've both heard so many things about Austin as a fun place to be and live. Our arrival in Austin allowed for enough time to cruise downtown a bit before grabbing some dinner on South Congress (it seems as though "THE" streets to be on in Austin are 6th and Congress).  We woke up and banged out an absolutely awesome long run on the river path, which probably slots in at one of the top 3 or 5 running locations I've ever had the privilege of enjoying.

Austin skyline

The long-ish run meant a late start to our drive to Las Cruces, NM but with 9 hours to go we set off into the Texas highway life again.

For the record, I-10 through Texas is ridiculous.  You enter the state on I-10 (after passing through Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles) and see an exit sign for "Exit 870."  Knowing our interstate system means that we have 870 miles to go...on I-10. JUST in Texas.  That's a pretty amazing mind f*** when you first breach the state's borders.

Score 1 for Texas.

The main thing I remember from this day (other than being afraid of running out of diesel in between fuel stops, which are relatively few and far between out in the middle of nowhere) is how much better my mileage was (keep in mind, the car is FULLY loaded and has two bikes on top; admittedly two super aero bikes, but still...) compared to the day before.  This was a good thing, obviously, as it meant that if I got super low out in no man's land I could make it longer on fumes...

Our relatively late arrival in NM (although we gained another hour after crossing the border) didn't leave time for anything other than going to sleep, but we woke up in the morning to get in a quick 40 minute run out to a mountain and back.  The day was noticeably hotter, but also much drier.  A foreshadowing of thing to come...

The drive to Tucson itself was quick and easy, but it got hotter and hotter as the trip wore on and we got further west.  By the time we got to Tucson my car's temp reading was saying "110" or thereabouts (at about 1-2pm), which is a real big number (but it's a dry heat, they said).

We showed up at the house (which, keep in mind, neither of us have seen in person or knew anything about it other than the listing) and were very pleasantly pleased to see that it was great and exactly as we hoped.  For the record, online shopping can be very useful and convenient.  Online shopping for a place to live, however, is a slightly riskier business ;)

So far this week it's been a steady process of settling in, straightening up, unloading, receiving packages we shipped here from home (all of my bikes have now made it, which makes me very happy), discovering the surrounding areas (so far we've had three delicious servings of local sonoran cuisine options), meeting people and being outdoors as much as possible (between the hours of 6:00am and 10:00am if at all possible giving the 100 degree plus temperatures...) to enjoy being in such an outdoors focused city!

And for a quick trip across the country, for your viewing pleasure:

Cross Country Time Lapse from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Random Thoughts

The journey so far has been relatively short (less than 800 miles), taking us from Charlotte to Fort Morgan to New Orleans.  Be that as it may, I have had plenty of time to reflect on a few things:

1) Why do more drivers not use cruise control? It's so useful. All I have to do is press a button and the car maintains a constant speed ALL BY ITSELF! It's truly incredible.

2) As much negative press as diesel has gotten lately with dieselgate, the engines are pretty incredible.  My Jetta is weighed down and packed to the brim (smartly packed to the brim though, I have to say) AND has two bikes on top.  So basically as un-aero and as heavy as a four door sedan can be and I still averaged 39 miles to the gallon from Charlotte to Fort Morgan (600+ miles). That's pretty impressive in my mind.

3) The Southeast is littered with billboards, but especially the Gulf Coast. Personal injury attorneys are near the top of Gulf Coast advertisers.  At least their slogans are somewhat interesting:

"One call, y'all!" - Morris Bart
"One click, that's it!" - Morris Bart

It's pretty sad, however, that the reason the profession as a whole has a slightly negative tint cast on it is because of ambulance chasers like that...

4) Rain-X is incredible.  Can anyone describe to me how it works? All I know is I spray that stuff on and I become mesmerized by the beads of water that scoot up my windshield.

5) I've driven through Atlanta so many times I'm scared to try and count it (en route between NC and LA, VA and LA, etc) but wow does it suck.  Even with "low traffic" the sheer volume of vehicles (pronounced veee-Hickles, not veeecles, now that we're solidly in the South) makes going through the city stressful and eventful.

6) It is SO FLAT once you're south of Montgomery.  Seriously.  It's amazing.

I mean, LOOK AT THE ELEVATION CHANGE! It's literally 0ft.

The lack of elevation change is nice for speed, but the humidity and dew point offset that by quite a bit and turn the overall running experience (in the summer) into a bit of a...well, not a negative.  But definitely something worth thinking slightly negatively about I suppose.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

So I watched a triathlon this weekend

Let me be honest: watching a triathlon is way easier than doing one. That may or may not be news to you, but suffice it to say that the number of triathlons I've done far outweighs the number of triathlons I have spectated. That is a sub-optimal ratio.

I'll open the meat of this post by saying that the logistics of Raleigh 70.3 are a major PITA. Personally, I've done quite a few point to point races (practically every Rev3 or Challenge Race I did was P2P...I think) but none of those were as annoying as Raleigh's P2P system. The main issue with Raleigh was the tiny little swim start location, which is also where athletes need to drop off their bikes the day before. I suppose it depends on what time you went to drop-off on Saturday whether or not your traffic levels were ridiculous or "doable." The organizers tried to ameliorate this a little bit for 2016 by asking participants to choose a "time block" when they picked up their packet. Unfortunately I'd be willing to bet that a not insubstantial portion of the athletes missed this or just didn't pay attention to its parameters.

I also still remain impressed (or maybe surprised is a better description of my feelings) that athletes continue to bring bikes to races that are clearly not ready to race. Just watching people at the expo bringing bikes to get looked at and listening to the issues or problems that they are having as well as seeing and talking to the mechanics (hey, IOS Cary!) was scary in the sense of what people are bringing as "race ready." Someones tube exploded in transition while we were dropping off Christine's bike and apparently the tire was split by the explosion. Imagine being THAT athlete on race morning...! (for the record, I wouldn't worry too much about over-inflating your tubes on hot days if you just stick to reasonable/regular pressures).

Ultimately, the race was a good one to choose if you live on the east coast and you want to do a really hot half distance race with a rolling bike course and hot, exposed run course, with a historically long swim...

Do I sound like I really want to do a half? Because I don't. It looks so hard!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

XTERRA Pelham and Other Big News (hence the need for caps)

Welpers ... my first race of the year that is a full dosage of swimming, biking, and running has now come and gone with this most recent weekend.  I was excited for this weekend for a variety of reasons:

1) Christine would be flying into Birgminham to give me much needed off-road triathloning advice
2) It was the first race of the year, and that always means excitement mixed with nervousness
3) A chance to prove myself against myself (from last year) and against others (this year)

So all in all a pretty solid set of motivation with which to approach a race weekend! I was looking forward to fixing some areas that were easy to improve from last year (pre race hydration, transitions, pacing) and stuff that's a little harder to gauge (technique improvement, race management).  Last year Pelham was my first "big" Xterra race but I did well in the face of increased competition, winning my age group and coming in 4th amateur and 13th overall. I was ready to move up a bit, however...

I got into Birmingham on Friday morning and did a run along the first part of the bike course to familiarize myself with the "flow" of the trail after a year away from it.  I chose to not pre-ride the whole course like I did last year as I didn't want that level of fatigue in my legs (it's a 1.75hr ride at a leisurely pace...) the day before the race.  I also swam one lap of the course, then went and got some lunch

(as an aside, if you want a good place to watch people and encounter some of the things that makes America great you should have lunch on a weekday at a Cracker Barrel)

before heading back to the state park to pick up my packet.  Once I did that, I went to the hotel and unloaded all of my crap before heading to the airport to pick up Christine.  We went back to the hotel, dropped off her stuff, then worked on getting some pre race rocket fuel (ok, mellow mushroom).

Woke up bright and early race morning (but not too early, 8:20am start time ohhhhhhh yeaaaa), got ready and headed to the race site.

Set up for these races is pretty easy, the only exception being memorizing where you are in transition (nothing is really labeled or assigned, which I don't really get to be honest).  I made note of which rack I was on when coming from the swim and from the bike and got suited up and ready to roll...

Warm up finished, checking out my reflection

Swim 1500m - 22:38 (12th)

I wasn't really sure if anybody from last year was returning this year as far as swim speed goes.  Cole Bunn was the first out of the water last year (and won Utah amateur race as well) and I figured I couldn't swim with him.  Turns out he wasn't, but I had the exact same swim scenario as last year...

I started on far left and as we made our way to the first buoy (2 loop triangular swim) I noticed three other guys swimming over to my right.  I moved that way and got into 4th position about 100m before first buoy.  The guy I was behind was swimming somewhat erratically, so I should've realized he was on the hairy edge.  Around the buoy he lost contact with #1 and #2 and I didn't notice it right away and by the time I did there was a 10-15m gap, which I didn't feel like I could close quickly enough to be worth the effort.  Nonetheless, I moved around can't-swim-straight guy and plowed into the end of the first lap.

In between laps. 1/2 on the right and 4th on the left (white caps)
Getting out and running around then jumping back in always feels kind of awful, but it does allow you to sort of hit the "reset" button.  The second lap was equally uneventful except I continued to pass most of the pro women and even a pro male before exiting the water in 3rd, roughly 1 minute down on the leaders.

Done with the worst part of the day
T1 - 00:45

This was pretty quick and a nice improvement over last year. I didn't go with socks or gloves and have mountain bike shoes that have three straps (it's difficult, actually impossible, to find nice mountain bike shoes that don't have buckles or boas, so you have to go cheap for quick shoes) so that all added up to make T1 better than it was.

Bike 30k - 1:29:41 (10th)

I passed one more female pro out of transition and then got onto the road for the 1/4mi section that led to the trail head.  Last year my hamstrings cramped horribly on this section, which has bewildered me since that point, so I eased up a bit on the effort level this time before hitting the trails.

Trails at Oak Mountain are awesome.  Twisty, technical singletrack with lots of roots and a few big rock sections.  They really are fun, and the course is definitely a "mountain biker's course" and not a "triathlete's course" (a triathlete course just requires fitness, not skill).  I was hoping that my focus on trail riding over the past months would help me out and luckily it definitely did.  I was much smoother through the first half of the bike course than I felt like I was last year, but this was also partially helped by the fact that there were fewer people on the course in front of me.

I passed one of the two lead swimmers pretty quickly and asked if he and the other guy had been together the whole swim, to which he replied that indeed they had, so I knew that #1 was somewhere not TOO far ahead.  On trails like these someone could be less than 1-2 minutes ahead of you on time but you would NEVER know because you might never actually see them...

I made it to the long climb which would take us to the halfway point and still hadn't seen anyone ahead or behind but then ended up catching the lead female about 5 minutes into the climb and having the pro male I passed in the swim come by me at around the same time.  I kept climbing at a steady effort (there are one or two sections that are granny gear rocky hard all out sections but luckily they are short) and towards the top was caught by another guy who ended up being in my age group.  I stayed with him to the top of the climb (he made up the 2 minute swim deficit in the first 40 minutes of the bike...) and over the top of the ridge.  We both ended up running Bloodrock and stayed together for the rest of the bike.  It took a long time to catch the lead swimmer, who ended up being Dwayne Dixon.  He managed to stay with us after we both passed him for a bit but luckily before entering T2 we managed to gap him by a minute or so.  Dan (Molnar) and I came into T2 together and I was hoping to put together a good run...

T2 - 00:49

This was quick.  I found out the night before that my ez laces wouldn't fit through the eyelets of my trail shoes so I ended up just tying them sort of tight and putting enough body glide on to choke a ... (not sure what to put here) ... and was able to smash my feet into them without any trouble.

Run 9.8k - 40:59 (16th)

Dan in #1, me in #2

I got onto the run right behind Dan but he eased away from me slowly but surely as we got to the trail head.  My right lower quad was reallyy tight and I was nervous about cramping so didn't want to push too hard, too early.  The gap increased, but as we got to the dam section (flat) I felt much better and opened up my stride a bit and felt like the gap was coming back down.

Unfortunately after a mid length steep climb then a sharp downhill my right hamstring cramped up badly.  I stopped to stretch it out, walked a bit, stretched again, walked/ran a bit, stretched again, then was able to get back to real running but in that time period (I traveled about 50' during that issue) Dwayne had caught and passed me.  Once I was able to ease the cramping I caught back up to him and stuck on his butt through the end of lap 1.  I could tell he was hurting pretty good so eased past him just after the end of the first lap.

Dwayne and myself at the end of lap 1

From that point on I tried to cruise pretty steady to keep any further cramps out of the realm of possibilities and finished up without any more issues.

Yay, all done

9th OA - 2:34:52 (2nd AG)

The podium for overall amateur and M30-34 was the same! Tough AG!
I was definitely pleased with this race.  I still have some practice to do as far as trail running goes (I don't feel I'm that good at it, basically) but other than that the small improvements I've made over the past year have panned out nicely.  My swim gave up some time to Dwayne and the big group of pros but I've only been swimming twice a week (less than 8000 yards per week) so I am actually pretty pleased with that.  I also give up some time on the "easy" parts of the ride.  Fire road climbs are not my strength, so I need to get better at pushing threshold to threshold plus sections of climbing and then letting the downhills become my recovery period.  This is tough to do in CLT as there aren't any sustained climbs on trails but luckily Tucson has quite a lot of those...

Oh wait, yes...I did say that didn't I.  Yes, I am moving to Tucson, AZ with Christine in...ohhhh about two weeks. Adventure alert!