Yes, That's a GIGANTIC Sweat-cicle

Yes, that's a GIGANTIC Sweat-Cicle

Sunday, May 30, 2010

French Broad Challenge

Well the birthday week ended just how it started. Overindulgence and excess. I was a far cry from prepared for my first 'A' race of the season but I towed the line anyway as I was really looking forward to this one.

The French Broad River Challenge has been a race just waiting to happen in Asheville, NC. A race that morphed from the old Riverlink Triathlon of days gone past and now part of the Mountain Sports Festival, the FBC was a showcase for the multi-sport scene that the festival was promoting. Starting at a very gentlemanly 5pm at the heart of the festival village, the race would be a 1.5 mile sprint from the velodrome to the French Broad River. From there, we would hop in kayaks and paddle downstream 2.5 miles. Next was a quick transfer to road bikes for an 11 mile time trial then back to running shoes for the final 3 mile run back to the festival and one last lap around the velodrome race track. It was a great venue and a prime time to bring out some tough competition and it didn't disappoint.

I really did have big plans to be in prime shape for this event. I knew there would be some good racers coming and I wanted to make sure I was at least in the game. Problem was it landed at the end of a busy race month and right in the middle of a 'birth-week' celebration. I lost a little focus and began enjoying the party before the work was done. I wouldn't say my pre-race week was a total washout but it certainly was not anything I would recommend.

I got to the race in plenty of time to set up my gear and transition areas. I tried to hang in the shade as much as possible and relax but with the festival energy and racers starting to mass, I needed something to do so I went to change clothes a little early. Good thing. As I was gathering the race kit, I noticed that I only had ONE shoe!!! Crap, I had dropped off a pair of shoes for the final run leg with my bike transition gear but I needed a pair for the first run and trek out of the water. I must have let a shoe drop out of the car during my gear placements. Running in my Inov8 Recolites, while super comfortable for after race wear, was not an option I wanted to deal with. So, back in the car I go to drive back to the bikes and pick up my RocLite 295's. Unfortunately, a 5K road race had just started on the route to my bike. This caused the police to shut down traffic. No problem, just a slight panic attack thinking I would now miss the start of my own race.

I made it back to the start in time to catch the pre-race meeting in the now very hot afternoon sun. Standing on the track waiting for the race to start, I was beginning to feel the rush and knew that all the beer and cake from the previous week made no difference right now. It was game on and there was no more time to worry. The race started straight away and very fast. Kevin Lisska and Jay Curwen began to set the heavy pace and I followed right behind. I kept thinking that it was only 1.5 miles. I just needed to hang on. Their pace was increasingly more than I could hold and soon fell back. I dug deep and finished the first run leg at a 5:50 pace but still found myself 30 seconds back in third place climbing into the boats.

The boat, Ahhhhh. I made a pretty quick transition and began to settle down for a section of the race that has always been very kind to me. I've been a long time paddler and had a speedy boat for the venue. It took a few minutes to catch up to Kevin and Jay as they were going very hard but I soon caught my rhythm and passed them by. These two are super strong riders and runners and I knew I needed to put the hammer down here. It was my only hope to keep them away from me. I did indeed put some time on them and came out of the water for the bike leg in first place. Unfortunately, former olympic paddler, Lecky Haller, was right on my tail. I had a bit of a brain fart looking for my bike. I lost a little mental focus and ran around trying to remember what my bike looked like amung all the bikes in the rack. During my little mouse maze test, Lecky hopped on his bike and headed out just in front of me.

I've raced against Lecky many times. I win some, I lose some. With my current fitness, I didn't trust that I could let him go and wait to catch him in the final run. I got on the bike and settled into a pace to match his speed and waited for the blood to work its way into my legs. When I felt good enough, I went for it and passed him hard, hoping to drop him right there and be done with it. Just after that, I saw something flash past my left side. It was Jay streaming past me like a bullit. I looked down at my speedometer and was going 26 mph. He had to be going 35+ Incredible.... Now in second place, Lecky got a second wind and passed me as well. Because of drafting rules, I had to drop back 15 bike lengths before passing him back. Touble was, I was starting to doubt my fitness and didn't know if I could. I tried to wait it out but got a little nervous and made the pass back ahead of Lecky. A mile later, he rolled ahead of me again. He was definitely feeling good today and looked focused as he rolled on through. The course was an out and back, and at the turnaround, I was only a few seconds back in third place. I was still not feeling great so I was content to hang back. A few miles later, Kevin came flying past. Now in 4th place, I had to do something to stop the bleeding so I dug in and gave it one last effort. I was able to bridge the gap back upto Lecky and pass by him one more time. I made it back into the bike transition ahead of him and just 35 seconds back of Kevin in third place. Quickly changing shoes, I began the hot 'sprint' back to the finish.

Switching from bike to run is always tough. Your legs just aren't ready to move in that rhythm right away. It always feels like you are in slow motion. Hopefully, if you are in good form, you begin to snap out of it in about a half mile and begin to feel like a runner again. This time, not so much. It was a HOT HOT road run and I just couldn't get my breathing under control. All that cranking and back and forth with Lecky had taken its toll. I tried to relax and just let it come but I kept looking back and waiting for the others to arrive.

There were a few moments where I thought I was starting to feel normal but then the heat or effort sunk back in and I was back to the same slow motion mode. On the way back into the festival village, I looked back a few times but didn't see anyone. Maybe the heat was slowing everyone else down as well. I rolled into the finish line at a surprizing 7:11 pace in 3rd place. Jay and Kevin finish 1-2 as I faded to 3 minutes back in 1:20:45

This was my shortest, but hardest race of the season. It was a bit stressfull for me but it's nice to know that hard work makes for a good race. Just showing up and hoping for the best is as hard as it SHOULD be. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Luckily, I had a bit of fitness left over and was able to pull out a good finish. Nice race for its inaugeral year. I'll be back.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Birthday Week

Well, its come around again. As much as I run, you'd think I could stay ahead of the bitch. Yes, I have gotten one more year older. My knee still hurts, I still have a beer gut and the real bitch of it all, I still have to work. Way off of the retirment finish line. Oh well.

May has been an exhausting race month. I have one more quicky coming up this weekend at the French Broad Challenge, in Asheville. But, I took a break last weekend and just went out and had fun. I got to do one of my favorite local trail runs and was rewarded with a "three bear sighting". I got in a long kayak and run brick and a fun mt. bike and run brick. Also got a few honey-do list dealios checked off. This week, its some easy but intense workouts then coast into the weekend race.

I'm really looking forward to June. I THINK I am taking the month off of racing and hopefully get back into Ultra fitness. I really think training for a 4-5 hour run really gets me ready for most shorter triathlons. Its great endurance training. And as my good friend Mark Lundblad always tells me, Speed is 90% endurance. I believe him and continue to get faster as I get stronger.

I'm posting a short video I took from a mt. bike ride this weekend. I lost my good video editting software on one of my computers, I know, how could I LOSE it? So, anyway, I had to use some cheap stuff and the processing turned it a bit choppy. Regardless, its a good song.

Until Next time, Enjoy.....d

Monday, May 17, 2010

Elk River Challenge

Another week in May and another race. This time up in Wild and Wonderfull West Virginia. After racing 3 of the last 4 weeks, including the 50k last weekend, I was feeling a bit tweaked. But I just can't pass up a 'kayaking' triathlon. I spotted this Elk River Challenge a couple of weeks ago and quickly threw it on the schedule as a 'must do' event. My race week preparations were pretty lame. A good river paddle, followed by a very tired 3 mile run. Another tired treadmill run at 10min pace and a silly way too hard road bike ride. Needless to say, I didn't have a great deal of confidence in the body mechanics or performance energy going into the weekend.

Dispite not having a threat of snow this weekend, the weather gods were not happy. Strong thunderstorms crashed down all night and were possible the following day as well. This was good news for the boating leg of the race but not for the ride. The race was advertised as a 5 mile paddle, 15 mile road ride and 3 mile run. It was to start at the Clay County High School and follow the Elk River the entire way. On the drive up to Clay from Fayetteville, I knew it would be pretty. The morning brought dry conditions and an absolutely glorious blue sky day. I had never been to this part of West Virginia and I kept asking myself why? It is nestled in the deep valleys formed by the New and the Gauley Rivers. No hotels, stop lights or cell coverage but a very beautiful Elk river.

I arrived on site to find a very friendly race director and staff. They quickly gave me the low down on logistics. We needed to drive a few miles down the river to drop our bikes in some guy's yard that he was nice enough to lend us for the river takeout. We start in our boats from the School (Start/Finish line) in waves, hop on our bikes for a scenic 15 mile country road ride and make our way back to the School. Grab the running shoes and do an out and back to the small town of Clay (making sure you go around the water fountain just after the Rite-Aid) and finish back at the School. Driving down to the bike drop, I realized I may have made a mistake bringing carbon wheels to this one. The road was very rough and loaded with killer pot holes. Topping that off was the plethora of wild dogs and this was NOT looking like a ride you wanted to spend a lot of time in the aero bars. You were going to need a long view and a quick brake hand.

The Male Open wave started first. I felt a little bad bringing my Ruahine Firebolt to this one. It was the perfect boat for the race but it was a bit of an overkill for the other racers. There was only one other 'racing' style boat and the operator was still trying to figure out the skill set to keep it upright. Needless to say, I started off with a big advantage. The boat leg was extra gorgeous. I really enjoyed the paddle and with the high water level, made quick work of the 5 mile sprint down the river. No rocks, no problems. There were more nice folks at the river takeout waving their arms to make sure I didn't miss it. The takeout was a nice sandy beach with an easy grade up to the road.

I was the first out of the water but I had no idea how big my lead was. The bike would travel 5 miles down stream then turn around back to the boat take out, then back to the school. I would be able to see the competition on the way back and do a time check. Doing just that, I passed the 2nd place guy with about a 6 min lead, 8 miles into the ride. I had thought I would have had a bigger lead but he must have been a strong paddler and/or my legs were still shattered from last weekend. He could have been a real strong biker as well so I pushed the pace to keep it difficult to catch me. Passing back through the boating takeout area, a truck pulled right out in front of me, completely blocking the road. If I was on my TT bike it would have been all over. Instead, I was able to grab the brakes and lock up both wheels to avoid the collision. This gave me a pretty good fright. Still shaken from that encounter, I was soon greeted by a pack of 3 dogs looking for a fight. Usually, I don't take shit from dogs. I will get off my bike and attack them! In a race situation, not so much. They seemed to work well together, one trying to cut me off, the other going for my ankle, then one stopped right in front of me. I yelled at them to GO HOME. They must know that one. It worked. Ha. The rest of the bike was smooth and I cruised into the School parking lot, still in first place. Hopped off the bike and threw on the RocLite 295's for the last leg into town.

Now I've mentioned before that I really don't run the road very much. In fact, I really don't have any road shoes. The 295's are about as aggressive as they come for the trails. But, they are still very light and they were setup with elastic laces so I brought them along. They must not be too bad as I was still able to run a sub 6:30 pace for the hot pounding leg into town and back. I had checked out the course before the race and never saw the fountain they were talking about. On my run into town, I kept thinking this was the only thing that could screw me up. Getting lost in a no stop light town. Nice. I can see it now. As I made my way out from the school, I asked the RD one more time if I would know where this fountain was. Yes was the answer. Right after the Rite-Aid. OK.

The run seemed endless for such a short course. It was along a 55 mph, 2 lane highway, mostly in the 2pm sun. I did indeed find the fountain but there was nobody there to make sure I went AROUND it. I must have out run the volunteers. Maybe they were sipping a cold beer in the shade (as this was the exact thing I wanted to do right then). Whatever, I did as I was told and cranked on back to the finish just as the 2nd place guy was leaving on his run. My run was modestly fast but not great. I must have put the hammer down on the bike as I won by over 15 minutes. I finished in 1:35:25.

The post race food and awards were very casual and laid back. More very nice folks and good easy conversation. It was a long haul to drive up to this venue but I really enjoyed the change of scenery and the challenge. Since this was a new course this year, I not only came away with the winning prize money but with the course record as well. It might not last long but its the only CR I've ever held and its mine for at least a year. I'll take it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ice Age Trail 50K

I must not have had enough Winter. One week out from the hottest race day of my season and I was already headed North in search of snow. Well, not really but that's how it played out at last weekend's Ice Age Trail 50 in Wisconsin's Southern Kettle Moraine Forest.

Once again Mark Lundblad and I teamed up, this time heading north to hit the roller coaster historic Ice Age trail system that makes up most of this 50 mile and 50k race. We showed up on site Friday morning to find a balmy 50 deg and rain. No problem because it was supposed to pass in the night and leave us with dry cool conditions for raceday. Perfect ultra weather. We drove around a bit looking at all the road crossings and getting familar with the trail system. Mark had run this race in the past and I had run a few miles on it as well while watching him take the win in 2007 but we were really just waiting for it to stop raining so we could stretch our legs. After a couple of hours, we gave up and ran a few miles to get the blood flowing. Surprisingly, the trails really handled the water well and were in great shape. Back at the hotel, the weathermen were still lying to us. Clearing and cool, Rain ending by morning......

Though the venue held both races, the 50 milers started at 6am and the 50k "Fun Run" folks got to sleep in and start at 8:00. Since Mark was in the former and me the latter, and only one car, I got to experience the early morning event as well. Waking up, it was pretty obvious that the weather had not changed. Except maybe to make it even colder, windier (now 30 mph) and threaten us with SNOW. It was snowing north of the race and felt like it could here at any moment. We debated what clothes to wear as we sipped our coffee with the car pumping out heat and decided that the trails were mostly wooded and offered a break from the wind. We would both go with singlets and gloves. This turned out to be a great call.

The 50 milers started off with a little spitting rain and gusty winds. Not too bad for running but standing around for two hours was going to be chilly. Mark's race did a 9 mile Nordic Loop back to the Start/Finish before heading off on the Ice Age Trails for the remainder of the day, so I waited for his return to pass off a bottle before hiding back in the car. There were a lot of racers milling about now and the hype energy was building. I couldn't do the car thing any more so I started running circles in the parking lot. For once in a blue moon, my legs felt great. Maybe my taper had worked this time. Getting to the hotel at 2am (airplane issues) the previous night kind of screwed up the sleep but I couldn't wait to get going.

My race consisted of an out and back on the northern IA trail system before returning to the Start/Finish area. From there, we did two 9 mile loops of the Nordic XC Ski trail. I thought I had a pretty good plan for the race. 55 minutes out, 55 back. 1:15 kind of easy first loop to see how the terrain felt then hammer the last loop at 1:10. Put my finish time about 4:20. That's all fine and good but I really had no idea what the trails were like. The website said that the 50 mile had 12,000 ft of gain! I questioned that and the response was that that was a typo. 6800 ft was correct. I guessed about 4500' for the 50k. Now if anyone has ever been to Southern Wisconsin, it looks an aweful lot like Northern Illinois. Lots of farms and very flat. Those kind of elevations seemed big to me. I had heard that there were lots and lots of little nasty hills that crept up on you and eventually wore you down like a bad set of tires but 4500' seemed a little generous for the landscape. Something wasn't right.

The race went off without a hitch. I hooked up with a good crew of runners that were pushing me hard. As usual, we were all going too fast and beyond our plans but its race day baby. Go with it, right? The course was beautiful. Pine forest single track, smooth grassy double track and wildflowers foolishly starting to bloom. The weather stunk but I could hardly feel it as the forest protected us from most of the wind. My first 13.2 miles sailed by in 1:41. While I felt very prepared for the race, training, taper and race plan, etc. I made a near fatal error. I had been experimenting with fuel, eletrolytes and ibuprophen. I had my needs down very well. Everything was going to be great as long as I stuck by my dosing schedule. My flaw was a hole in the baggy. At hour 1, I pulled out my electrolytes only to see them scatter all over the forest floor. I had a hole in the bottom of a brand new bag. Uggggh! Since they were white, I was able to collect a few of them but not all. My IB's were gone. I only take two but they were gone. I had a couple of extra of everything but was only able to save one IB. It was now wet and fading fast. I stuffed what I could salvage back into the worthless bag and carried on. I ate all the dirt covered pills I had left but really wanted the IB by the 3 hr mark. I desparately licked the dust out of the bag in a faint hope that it might somehow take away the ITB pain in my hip. I wont do that again. Yuk.

By the time I made it back to the start/finish, I was my usual sweaty mess. Grabbing a fresh bottle, I took off for the first of two 9.2 mile loops. I was still with my running mate, a new aquaintance, Thom (sorry don't remember your last name), but at the next aid station, he dropped back to refuel and I never saw him again. I cought up with a couple of other guys that I had been chasing all morning and ran with them for awhile. Again, they were pushing me pretty hard but I needed it as I was beginning to feel the race. Then the hills hit.

It was described to me by my brother why they call this the Kettle Moraine. The 'kettles' were the endless 20-80 foot dips in the earth. They were steep and plentiful. This trail seemed to find all of them. Nothing very long at all. Just crest over the hill and drop straight back down and back up again. One after the other. Incredible. Now, there were hills right from the start, they were steep little stingers as well but I (and everyone else) had fresh legs. These just seemed to rattle my body going down and fill my shoes with concrete on the way up.

You can see from the profile, there were very few flat spots. The graph shows a downward trend but that was from the cold front moving through and rising pressure. Anyway, once these kettles started coming, my running group was shattered. My companions, smartly, started power walking the hills but I decided this was the place to go. I kept running. They hurt and I was probably running at walking speed but I kept the motion going and soon gapped everyone in my sight. Now running on my own with no pace reference and not knowing how far I was to the end, I started to lose faith and slowed a bit. Once I made it back to the start/finish for my second loop, I knew what was ahead and felt like I gained a little spark in my stride. It might have helped that I started lapping a lot of the other runners. They all had such great energy even though they would most likely be out on the course for several hours more than me. It really gave me a lift to run with them, even for a short time.

Although, I was 3 minutes slower on my second loop, I passed the marathon point under 3:30, felt great and finished with a strong surge to cross the line at 4:14. This turned out to be a PR and put me in 5th place overall. As for my race plan, I was 10 minutes fast in the first half and 5 minutes slower than expected in the second half. I didn't negative split anything but I came away very happy with the outcome. Just for the record, no way did this have the elevation they were claiming. It must have been done on a GPS because they don't really do elevation well. My Suunto watch recorded an even 2700'. Even with the changing pressure it was more likely no more than 3000'. Mark recorded just over 4000' for the 50 miler. Regardless, these hills did have a bite. Even though I live and train in the mountains, doing hill repeats at the end of a 50k is rough.

Still rainy, windy and cold. I waited just a few minutes for Mark to finish his 50 miles and watched him cross the line for a super strong 3rd place. As we got warm and began to consume the great post race beer and brats, the sun finally arrived. Then the snow came. Burrrrrr. We headed back to the airport and hopefully a warmer southern climate.

This was a very well run race from first time RD, Jeff Mallach. Volunteers were awesome and the Wisconsin folks are some of the most hospitable around. I hope to come back next year and do it again, without the cold. I chose to run for the first time in the Inov-8 X-Talon 212's. These are their lightest trail shoe and were somewhat of a gamble for my old, 4-knee surgery legs. But they turned out to be superstars. I absolutely loved them and had no issues at all. Perfect for this somewhat soft and less technical ultra.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May Day Biathlon

My big race for the month is the Ice Age 50k, May 8th, up in Wisconsin. So, since it was only a week away, I thought I should kill myself just one more time by racing 6 days out. Bad idea? Maybe but it was pretty fun. In reality, Mark Lundblad, (he's going with me to Wisconsin to do the 50 miler), and I had planned on doing a 5k on Saturday just as one last short effort to get some good leg turnover before our ultras. Unfortunately, my plan to do the Highland Lake 5k was stupid. Its about a 4hr round trip. Duh. So Mark, the smart guy that he is, remembered that the May Day Biathlon was on Sunday. It has a 5k race and a 5k run - 30k bike biathlon, Mark's company was one of the sponsors so he got a comp'd entry and it was only a 45min drive. All good and a no-brainer. To top it off, they were offering $$ to the top 5 in each race and top masters. Sweet.

The conditions race morning were HUMID and hot. Don't know where this came from but it was a shocker to my system. My little ten minute warmup left me dripping with sweat. I decided to go with the Inov-8 f-lite 301s. A little heavy maybe but the tread was good for the road and I really have nothing else but trail shoes. When Mark pulled out his sweet looking f-lite 220s, I have to admit that I had a little shoe envy going on. Need to work on that.
Mark was doing the 5k and since both races started at the same time, we lined up together. I'm not sure when his last 5k race was but mine was years ago. His goal was to go sub 17 min. Mine was to go 19 flat. or 6:15 pace, whichever comes first. You do the math, something doesn't add up. All the engineering school knowledge flushed right down the drain. Anyway, overall, I was looking for a finish under 1:15.
Since both races started together and ran the same course, I really had no idea who I was competing against. When the gun went off, the pack spread out fairly quick. Mark and the lead dogs were gone but I still had a group around me that were making me hurt. Still not sure who was doing the Biathlon, I tried to stay with the pack that was in my reach. My first mile was 5:50, oops. Not sustainable. Second went at 6:10, OK, maybe but still a bit too fast. So much for running negative splits. By the last mile, I was paying for that quick start and slowed down quite a bit. But, I clocked into the bike transition at 19:25 for a 5k PR and right at 6:15 pace. Awesome! A great result for me but still left me in 11th place to start the 30k bike leg.

The bike ride took us on a very pretty course that had about 1100' of elevation gain in 20 miles. I would call it moderately hard as far as road multi-sport goes. I passed a couple folks right out of the transition area but, still wheezing from the run, reeling in the rest would take me the whole race. In the rules, and mentioned twice right before the start of the race, the no drafting law was spelled out pretty clearly. There must have been some non-English speakers in the race because I was trailing a group of 3 that were clearly working together for a large chunk of the bike. It really started to get into my head as I just couldn't seem to gain any ground on them. Then the hills really took over about mile 10. Drafting doesn't work as well there. I stomped on the pedals and quickly passed, then gapped them. I had thought about what I would say when I caught up but in the end the best words were simply just action. I dropped them on the climb and never looked back. Yeah, its a petty thing but its not how the game is played. It is such and energy savings to ride with a group than to hit it solo. If I had to do another run after the bike I might have paid for my effort but this time at least, I could go all out on the bike.

Luckily, I was able to pass most racers in my way but had two pass me (I wont mention that they could have been my children). Did I just write that out loud? Sorry.... I crossed the finish line in 5th place and in the money, 1:14:56, just under my goal time. Overall a pretty good race and I was happy with the result for something that I had no plans of attending. Mark, BTW, changed his strategy mid way through his race and went for the win instead of the time. He ended up hanging back a bit and out kicking everyone for the win in 17:02. Experience does have its rewards!
This was the first time this spring for me racing in the humidity, so it was a bit oppressive feeling. It always takes its toll getting the body used to its new environment.
The f-lites turned out to be a good choice. I don't run on the road very much but I had the same great feel and comfort that I am used to with all the Inov-8 models.