Monday, March 23, 2015

XTERRA Hickory Knob

Well, it is time for that post. That post everybody knows and LOVES at this point. I've been blogging quite regularly for many years now and each year has started off the triathlon season in a similar way. Sure, the races themselves may be different and the time of year may be different but the end result is that a first-race-of-the-year-blog always gets posted.  And this is that blog.

There are a couple of things to note about this race, XTERRA Hickory Knob:

1) It was pretty expensive ($90 for a 1.5hr race at my time of registration, which was admittedly somewhat late)
2) It is contained entirely within Hickory Knob State Park
3) Behme and Binny were both signed up as well

If you live in the southeast, you also know that rain has been an ever-present factor in your trail riding plans over the last 3-5 weeks. Even if it only rains 2 days a week that can mean an entire week of no riding as the trails dry.  Otherwise one risks destroying the trails, especially during a race (see the last race of Winter Short Track Series as an example of what a few people can do to a 1+ mile section of trail done repeatedly...).

So with that in mind, the weather leading into HK was questionable and the RD actually made the decision on Thursday to not hold the bike portion of the race on the trails.  This was quite disappointing especially when factored into the weather forecast for Friday-Sunday (sunny, really sunny and 80, rainy and 50 degrees).  With the additional factor of cold water (race morning was stated as 57 degrees) it was not looking too great for a fun race on Sunday.

Be that as it may, we headed down south and even got to spend an hour on the FATS trail system, which have now become the best trails I have ever ridden. We only got to do the north side of the trails, but holy cow. We will be back, FATS. 

Ready for ACTION

We got to the race site in the late afternoon/evening and went to our "cabin" at the State Park. We then looked at the venue a little bit.

Swim start/finish

Transition areas aren't quite as big in this world
Race morning dawned bright and relatively early and with rain pattering on the roof of our cabin. Fantastic. We headed over to the race site, got set up, and installed ourselves in our wetsuits.  Luckily Binny had lent me a light long sleeve shirt to wear under my tri top and wetsuit otherwise the bike would have been a miserable experience for yours truly...

We got some more instructions at the start of the swim (this bike WILL be draft legal) and away we went.

Swim 800m - 9:32 (ok so maybe it wasn't 800 meters...), 3rd

I started off quickly but then quickly faded.  I was out of the lead by the second buoy (swim was a two loop out and back where we had to exit the water at the end of first loop) and on the way back in to the beginning I noticed I was consistently swimming to the right.  Hard.

Realizing I now kind of suck at swimming I settled in and let the cold water give me a wake up call. Making the turn to go back out was interesting and by the time we made it back out to the turnaround I was moving back to third place. I exited the water in third, happy to be done with that swim.

Moral of the story: I have not been swimming more than once a week or so (and low yardage when I do) since October and, guess what? It shows.

Transition went quickly and I ended up leaving my booties on for the bike and run.  I was first onto the bike despite being third out of the water, so that was nice.

Bike 16.5mi - 50:02, 5th

I pushed the long uphill out of transition nice and hard and made it out to the road (course was basically on one road and we did two "loops" of the road, sort of a "T" with a very long top section) and turned right to head out for the turnaround. I took a couple of glances behind me and noticed that there was a pack of guys (XTERRA has NO provision for a bike being moved to the roads and therefore, no matter what, for a race to "count" in XTERRA it has to be "draft-legal." Most off road races this isn't considered "draft legal" in the way we road triathletes think of it, it's just normal) in a train about 8-10s behind me.

I decided that discretion is the better part of valor and instead of forging my own way I sat up and joined the pack. We made it out to the turnaround and there were somewhere between 5-7 of us. I couldn't really keep count because I couldn't see ANYthing in the group.  Water was spraying everywhere.  At least my bike would get a nice cleaning I suppose.

After the turn we dropped one or two and headed back into the park at a decent clip. Some of the people in the group seemed to be willing to take a lot of pulls or pull extra hard or they would attack up hills.

The first rule of riding in a group in a "race" is don't work if you don't have to.

The second rule of riding in a group is: don't be stupid and work if you don't have to.

The third rule of riding in a group is: it doesn't matter how hard you work in the group.

So I stuck my nose out every now and then to see if we could drop anybody but after a lap and a half it was clear that those that were there were going to stay there.  We kept taking pulls (group of 5 of us including Binny) and trading off decently well as we certainly didn't want to get caught by anybody riding solo behind us, as that would simply be embarrassing.

I figured Binny would be confident in his run and not be worried about anybody in the group other than me and I felt similarly. I knew we were both in good shape for that and I wasn't particularly worried about anybody else around us.

There was one more attack from the group leading into the road back down to transition and once he slowed I countered and Binny came with me and we both made it into transition first and second (me 2nd).

Run 5+ mi in 34:35 (2nd)

The run began with a nice long run back up the same road we biked on and I moved up to Dan and Binny who had both beat me out of transition. I felt pretty good and settled into a comfortable pace that was nice and hard up the hill.  Once we turned right on the road I glanced back and saw I had a little gap on Binny and Dan wasn't visible anymore.

We popped onto the two loop trail portion of the run and settled into the rhythm. It was pretty fun and well marked with a good bit of climbing and a little descending with a very sloppy back side section that would've been extremely sketchy on a bike (it was sketchy enough as-is with just trying to run it).  There were several sections that looped back on themselves so it was easy to get a gauge on how close someone behind you was.  Binny looked strong and wasn't far back so I knew I had to keep the pressure on through the run.  Luckily my legs felt quite good.

By the end of the first loop and beginning of the second I knew I had increased my lead by a fair margin.  I continued to press and ended up catching up to some people on their first loop so by the end of my trail race I felt good and confident that I had the race in the bag.  I got back out on the road and headed down the long section to the campground and crossed the finish line in first.

Full Results Here

All in all it was a really fun experience. I didn't have high hopes late in the week with the weather forecast and the prospect of a draft-legal mountain bike ride on the roads but it actually ended up being surprisingly fun.

I'm always a fan of "pack" style racing because you can be as fast as you want on the bike and put in as much work as you want, attacking and leading and all that. But the ONLY result that matters is the one at the finish. Having the fastest bike split is mostly meaningless in a draft legal race if you were in a pack (Travis Beam rode completely solo and had the fastest bike split anyway, kudos Travis).

Good racing!

Friday, March 20, 2015

A triumvirate of things worth writing about

So the last time I blogged was before three significant and neat things happened. Here is a summary of those three things:

1) From Saturday March 7th to Saturday March 14th I was in the Virgin Islands with my mom and dad and youngest brother Travis on a 47' Island Packet yacht christened Hometown Girl and chartered through Island Yacht Charters.

Out trip was bareboat, meaning that there was no captain and/or crew, the only crew was the family and the skipper was my dad. With a long history of sailing experience on his resume (and my mom's) and many years (or one or two) of sailing camp experience for myself and several trips like this under his belt for my brother, we had no problems handling the boat on a daily basis despite its size.

It has been a long time since I've sailed; I believe the last time was the summer after college when the whole family went on a crewed charter in the Bahamas...which would've been roughly 2007.  That probably corresponds to the last time I took a trip that had no "agenda," per se. Every trip since that point has had a focus of a mission (i.e. the trip to El Salvador with Habitat) or a training and/or racing agenda.

To make [what can be] a very long story a little shorter, suffice it to say that the trip was fantastic. I can't thank my parents enough for inviting me along and I am really glad I got to work it into my schedule. I got a lot of practice with taking pictures, so I was able to inundate facebook with some good images. I still don't (and never will) have the composition skillz of my brother, but since he was not there the onus was on me to provide adequate photographic evidence of our journey around the islands.

2) I watched "Touch the Wall" last night. This may not seem "newsworthy" in and of itself but what I wanted to convey was the way in which it "struck" me.

First of all, it really made me want to swim. All of my excuses seemed inconsequential when directly faced with the immensity of their training (Missy and Kara). Admittedly, I'm not trying to go to the Olympics but the dedication they had to their craft, each in their own unique way, was incredible (IS incredible, present tense).  I think the best moments of the film where when Missy's parents were watching her at the high school state championship meet and at Olympic Trials (and, obviously, in London).  SO MUCH work and dedication went into those moments, but they were also (according to Missy anyway) absolutely FUN.

I think it's an important reminder to make anything you dedicate yourself to a fun outlet for your competitive spirit (insofar as it pertains to sport).

3) On a third and final note, I've recently decided (as in this past week) to make a change from a training standpoint.

As many who read this will know, I worked with Brian Stover from January 2011 to December 2014. In total, that's four years of molding and growing as an athlete. I have gone from a MOP 25-29 AG athlete to where I am now. I have written many things about how much I like Brian and how far I have come in that time frame.

But at this point, I am going for a change. I have been "doing my own thing" for ~3 months now, which basically amounts to 9-11 hours/week of biking and running with a dab of swimming here and there along the way. I have been good about getting some hard workouts but mostly I've just been establishing some consistency and trying to stay reasonably fit.

I contacted David Tilbury Davis of Physfarm coaching for several reasons:

1) He's British, so that automatically means he's got a cool accent
2) He works with some people I really respect as athletes and gear heads
3) I knew his training would be different than what I've been doing for 4 years

I am excited to see where this goes and hopeful of trying to establish some new goals. I had been excited for this year, generally speaking, but David has helped get me really excited.  Sometimes that's what it takes; just talking with someone that doesn't "know" your story right off the bat and objectively looks at your schedule and can take it from there.  Not the best description for what I mean at all but I'm hopeful that it will end up being a good partnership for the both of us.

Race season is upon us!

Don't forget the bodyglide.

PS - I also raced bikes last weekend. After 8 days of physical hibernation it was a bit of a shock to the system that I was COMPLETELY not ready for from a physiological standpoint but I managed to exploit a situation and and come away with 2nd after a 25mi 2 man breakaway. Not a bad start to getting some more points!

Sometime during the break, photo courtesy Jon English

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Patience is a Virtue

The calendar just got flipped over to March. For those of you lucky enough to have a "Men of Triathlon" calendar in front of you in some capacity you've been gazing at TJ Tollakson and Ben Hoffman for a few days; I salute you (and them).

Manly Triathlon Men

I say that simply to say that it is ONLY March. It's not April. It's not May. It's simply...March.

Further contextual elaboration would reveal that I am, in short, saying that it's EARLY in the year. For many people I know (including myself) their big race is many moons away from now in the far off and mostly hypothetical time period colloquially known as "fall."

My big race isn't until October. Maybe yours is in September or maybe it's in November (or maybe it isn't any of those and you can tell me to shut the hell up with my self-righteous opinions! - as an aside, opinions are kind of like a**holes...)

But one thing I always encourage the athletes I've coached and friends around me is to exercise patience when it comes to those fall races and the training for those races.  From a physiological perspective, you're certainly not going to win the race NOW, in March. March (and the months surrounding it on either side and maybe another one here or there) is for laying foundations. I'm not going to use the word "base" because that's so often mis-used I wish to add no more fuel to the fire.

Now, to use a metaphor Brian likes a lot and is extremely apropos, is the time to be adding some cylinders to your engine.  Let's say over the winter your big V-8 engine dropped a few pistons and shafts and what not and is now an inline 4 cylinder engine. Your horsepower has gone down (as it should) and your overall engine displacement is less than what it used to be.

Guess what?! That's ok. It really is. Because now is the time of year when you are pumping out short, hard intervals to max out that little engine's capacity and - therefore - make it a big bigger. Big long sweet spot and tempo intervals in February and March (and April maybe, and later maybe) are just tuning your inline 4 cylinder engine. It's like taking a diesel Jetta and adding a chip tune and an exhaust. You've still got a diesel Jetta. What you REALLY want is maybe a Corvette, but you're taking the Jetta and trying to make it look and sound like a Corvette (and failing miserably at both).

Sure, your Jetta is a bit faster and sounds a bit cooler and maybe looks a little better but at its core it's still just a Jetta.

All of this is to say, the time to be getting specific as it relates to your "goal race" training is kind of when your goal race is. It's ok to be patient now and wait for the big work to come later (this may be a case of me telling myself this as well...). I don't need to be ready for Louisville NOW, I need to be ready for Louisville on October 11th (or 12th or whatever day it is).

Patience really IS a virtue. I am still very impatient when it comes to some things (like the lines at Chipotle in Midtown between 7-8pm, WTF!!??) but at the end of the day I like to big picture myself down to being patient as far as it relates to training.  You don't need to be ready now, but when you DO need to be better be ready.

Right? Maybe?