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 stretch...run 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 yelling...it 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, and...you 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!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Buck Hurley Triathlon

It seems that this blog has become a bit relegated to simple and straightforward race reporting of late. I don't necessarily view that as a bad thing, but then it just becomes some sort of "regular" triathlete blog.  As we all know by this point, I love being irregular.

But this time, I DO have a race report that is filled with exciting things (and pictures, thanks to Ashley) in interesting places doing interesting things.  Or at least, something close to that.

Buck Hurley was a fun race to do back in 2013. Admittedly I completely signed up because of the huge awards they gave out to winners but I was quite taken with the vibe of the race.  It is a very small event put on by a close-knit group of people but they definitely do their best to make it FEEL like a much bigger event than its participation numbers might suggest.  I did not get to do defend my win in 2014 due to the accident with the car and subsequent recovery and it maybe wasn't such a bad thing as Tyler and Matt took the course records by quite a large margin (although in my defense - paging @TriExcuse - I had been quite sick the entire week leading up to the race in 2013 and only participated because there wasn't going to be any competition).  Luckily I was able to defer my registration to 2015 and so it became my first (official) road triathlon of the year.

I've been getting in some great training for the past month or so (maybe 6 weeks) under Coach David. It's been extremely refreshing and feel as though in some senses I am more "aware" of myself as an athlete than I ever have been in the past.  If that sounds...odd, I understand. I don't know how better to describe it than it's the opposite of "checking stuff off the list" in terms of workouts.  So even though it has been a relatively short period of consistent, focused training I feel quite strong.

I knew Derek was going to be at the race so I figured that's where the main test would be.  Unfortunately Derek is no longer a "test" but a person who - when competing against - I need to be firing on ALL cylinders.  It has been great racing Derek for the past 4-5 years because I think we bring out the best in each other. We both take very good and particular care over our equipment choices and show up to RACE, not to "do a workout."  Other than that I knew of an Australian triathlete who was racing but didn't know anything about him.

It was a bit chilly on race morning but projected to warm up nicely so that was a hopeful thought as everything was setup in transition area.  I decided to run the 5k course as a warmup so didn't get to swim all that much prior to the start of the race (but for a 300 yard swim, that's a trade I'd be willing to make). We all lined up for race instructions and I realized that being #11 might be interesting given some of those in front of me (for reference, I put in a 300 yard swim time of 3:30 and I had the 11th fastest start time and 8th fastest swim time...).

Swim 300 yards - 3:37 (8th)

I got going in the admittedly quite chaotic 300yd swim and ended up catching the person in front of me at about the 125 mark.  I tapped his feet and he let me past at the turn and I continued on my merry way. I ended up catching the girl in front of him as well with about 75 yards to go as well but she did not want to let me by and so at swim exit I ended up pulling up the side and got around her headed into transition.

That dude is sleepy

I'm only including this because that's the biggest my bicep has ever looked


For the record, I actually swam faster this year than in 2013, when I had put in 30,000 yards a week for 3 months...

T1 - :39

I ran through the transition area gingerly as the ground was very cold, Derek was exiting as I was entering so I hoped to get out and see him on the road.

Matching like a dang champion

Bike 10.7mi in 25:49 (2nd)

I headed out on the bike and it was COLD at first. My legs were a bit heavy but I had the whole bike to warm them up for the run so I was....excited. I passed Jenny (who wasn't wearing her aero helmet!! jeez louiiiizze) and tried to set my sights up the road where I could just make out a lone figure in black heading up the hill.  After the first right turn it is a longggg straight slightly downhill stretch and I could see the lead police car and a trio of riders up ahead (who I assumed would be Kevin, Australian, and Derek).  They all made the next right turn together and I assumed Derek would burn through them on the third leg of the triangle.

I continued to push and got through the first lap and ended up doing the second lap feeling much better overall.  The bike was paced pretty evenly and I rode quite a bit faster than I did back in 2013 (26:35) and was actually within 15s of Tyler's bike course record from 2014 (although Derek obviously beat it quite handily this year).  I caught Liam (Australian) and Kevin at the end of the bike and got into transition at about the same time.

Don't look at my age, it's wrong I swear

T2 - :27

I had a good T2 (one of the fastest it would appear) and managed to get out on the run first among the triumvirate that arrived simultaneously.

Run 5k (well, 3.3) in 17:58 (2nd)

I felt quite choppy initially so it took until once we got on the greenway/path to feel somewhat normal in terms of stride.  By that point (2-3 minutes into run) Liam was right behind me and breathing hard.  Derek was somewhat visible although he was a speck at this point.  At about the half mile mark Liam put in a real hard surge that my turnover couldn't match and he got a gap on me at around the 1mi marker.  Once we turned right and headed up the long climb (basically 1 flat mile, 1 uphill mile, 1 downhill mile at this race) the gap stabilized though and even started to come down a bit.  Derek was visible again and he looked like he was getting closer, bit by bit.

We got all the way to the top of mile 2ish and then turned right to head back down to the YMCA.  This mile was faaaast and Liam's turnover picked up again. I struggled to turn my legs over much faster than 5:20/mi pace but managed to hold the gap pretty steady.  I knew because he started in the 3rd spot that all I had to do was stay pretty close and I would beat him so that was my goal (along with trying to make up ground on Derek).  We got to the bottom of the hill  and saw Derek make the right hand turn into the last quarter.  He finished and then Liam and I ran hard all the way to the finish line, pretty sure I was in 2nd OA but not quite close enough to Derek.

As it turned out I was indeed second overall, which I was definitely pleased with. 

I felt strong throughout and can say I put myself in a position to win, which is all I can ask for. Derek is a great competitor and anybody in NC would have trouble upsetting his spot on the podium.

Buck Hurley is a great race and I was super happy to get to do it again this year. It's short and sweet and eminently drive-able from Charlotte, which are all good things.  It was great to get that first race out of the way (yes, Hickory Knob was a race as well but XTERRAs - at least for me so far - don't seem to carry the same sort of "pressure" that a road triathlon can, self-imparted pressure I should say).

Until next time!