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!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It HAS been a while

It has been a long, LONG time since I have updated this blog. In fact, this might be the longest this blog has gone without an update.  I feel pretty bad about it.  Not bad like "I know everyone is disappointed in me" but more bad like "I've let the streak die and I suppose it will have to start again."

Maybe not much discernible difference between those two, but let it be known that I feel mildly bad.  That's the takeaway from that first paragraph.

So, what's been up?

A good question.  The last REAL update I had was about Ironman Louisville, back in late October.  In it I described a variety of feelings and actions and left you - the reader - with a good idea of my mental state post Ironman DNF.  Or at least I think I did.

That being said, I had a ton of fitness and nothing from which to recover! Not always a bad thing I suppose (that's part of the silver linings triathlon book).  Unfortunately, it was a little late in the year to do anything with that unused fitness, so I didn't do anything with it.  Took some weeks off, met some new people (actually just one really), and my priorities shifted into off-season mode.

The goals for 2016 materialized: focus solely on XTERRA racing with maybe a late season 70.3 tossed into the mix to try and qualify for 2017 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga.  It would be a different winter and early season because even though I raced well enough off-road in 2016 I never was really focusing on it.  I was doing well mainly as a byproduct of a high level of fitness (steady fitness) and pretty good trail riding technique.

Well, fast forward to now.  My technique on trails has improved dramatically.  My confidence level on trails and on handling different situations and reading the line has improved dramatically.  My bike workouts have been focused on getting better at mountain biking fitness requirements (variable cadence, variable effort, high torque, etc) vs. road biking fitness requirements.  I've been putting in some good, steady work and I am excited to open the season in a couple of weeks at XTERRA Oak Mountain.  I'd like to do better than I did last year, where I was in the overall lead (amateurs) of the race briefly but then gave it up.  There are many things I can clean up now that I have more experienced.  AND, I also know the trails better than I did last year.

It all adds up to hope.

Hopefully, this will be the start of a new streak of updates that don't leave my 1000s and 1000s of readers hanging on to the last gasp of jameshaycraft.blogspot.com.