Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Double Time - Two Xterra's, One Weekend, Two Wins!

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune of finding out I would be travelling out to Folsom, CA, for work the week of April 2-6.  Why would that be fortunate one might ask?  Because TBF Racing was hosting the Xterra REAL race in Granite Bay at Folsom Lake on Sunday, April 1st (no April Fools joke)!  The only problem, I was scheduled to race Xterra Renegade in San Dimas, CA, on March 31st.  DOH!  I had been flip-flopping on my travel plans; do I fly to San Dimas (just outside of LA) and back, or do I drive out and back?  When the work trip came up, and I realized that Xterra REAL was on Sunday, I took it as a sign that I should include both races in my plans.  So I booked my flights, hotel, and rental car accordingly.  Now the only thing I'd have to worry about would be the logistics of getting my bike and gear packed up after the first race, flying from LAX to Sacramento, getting to my hotel and assembling my bike and race gear for the Sunday race, and getting enough sleep to perform well.  Easy stuff!

I flew out to LA on Thursday night, arriving around 11pm and heading to my hotel in San Dimas.  The next day I assembled my bike and headed for Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park to do a little pre-ride of the course and spin the legs out a bit.  I was meeting a friend, LA Kelly, who was driving out from Sedona for the race.  We arrived and proceeded to get ready for the ride.  Since neither one of us had a pump, I decided to use a Big Air to inflate my tires and quickly discovered that the inflation valve I was carrying would not screw down far enough onto the canister to pierce the can.  Whew, good thing I discovered that in a pre-ride, could have ruined a race!  So I borrowed LA's and committed myself to buying one later that day so I'd have the proper race gear I needed.  We also discovered that the course hadn't been marked yet.  After conversing with a park official, we obtained a trail map that showed, roughly, where the bike and run course were.  After struggling to find the beginning portion of the bike course, LA decided to just ride rather than the starting/stopping that I was doing while trying to figure out the map, so we separated.  I was finally able to decipher the map well enough to ride one loop of the bike course and get a good idea of where it went and what the terrain was like.  Afterwards we hit the hotel for a quick shower, and then did a little exploring around for a bike shop that had the required gear.

Race morning came early on Saturday.  I had decided that I wanted to get to the site early to get a good spot in transition, so I arrived at 6:20 and waited in line with the other 20 cars for the park to open.  Once it opened I parked and grabbed my gear and headed for the transition area.  I collected my race packet, got body-marked, and headed to the racks to pick a spot.  Once my gear was set up I found a few familiar faces to catch up with, killing time until the requisite "don the wetsuit" hour was upon us.  I greased myself up with Body Glide, checked all of my gear again to make sure it was all in order, pulled on my wetsuit, and headed for the water to start the warm-up.  The lake was a mild 62 or so, and it felt good to be back in the action and getting ready for the first wetsuit legal swim of the year.  As the start time approached they called us out of the water and into the starting chute.  I wove my way to the front and waited with the rest of the competitors, and waited .... and waited ... and then ....

GOOOOO!!!  The race was on!  I hit the water and dove, hoping my goggles would stay in place.  I was doing something you should never to do in a race ... testing new equipment on race day.  I bought a pair of Barracuda Hydrobat Triathlon Goggles at Trisports.com after hearing about their benefits, and decided to try them for the race.  They stayed in place with not even a hint of coming loose or loosing the seal!  I swam hard for the first 100m, hoping to stay out front with the lead swimmers and distance myself from the main pack, and then settled into a nice relaxed fast stroke.  The swim went by without incident and I was out of the water near the front.  I raced through transition and headed out on the bike course in 2nd place.

The first part of the bike was on pavement, and I could see the leader ahead of me by 100yds and pushed my pace to try and close the gap to no avail.  We hit the first dirt section and started a gradual climb.  Soon we hit the Corkscrew Trail, a nasty rocky loose section of trail that hammers the legs.  At the very start of the climb is a sharp uphill turn which spun me out, and being unable to unclip fast enough I found myself laying on the side of the trail in the grass looking up.  WTF?!?  I quickly unclipped and righted myself, and then realized I would not get started again on such a steep grade, so I picked up my bike and started running up.  Times like these are when we learn very valuable lessons, and one of those moments was about to hit me.  As I ran up I came to the realization that I was catching the leader very quickly, and the paradigm shift happened - it was MUCH faster to run up this section of trail than it was to ride it, and since we're in a race ....  I hit the top of the climb only second behind the leader, and my legs were in much better shape since I hadn't just crushed my pedals to stay moving up the climb.  It only took about 15 seconds to close the gap to the leader and pass him.  Knowing at this point I was in the lead, I started pushing myself even harder.  When the course went back to double-track I was picked up by the lead escort cart - fancy that, I have a cart in front of me signalling I'm leading the race, first time for everything I guess.  The rest of the first bike lap went by quickly, and I remember two distinct things from that lap; one was the smell of a skunk and an upset owner standing near a dog making it roll in the grass to get rid of the smell, and the strong smell of onions in the second tunnel we passed through (I didn't stop to check it out, but those who rode the course will know what I'm talking about).  The second lap of the bike went by much the same way, except this time I opted to willingly dismount my bike at the bottom of the Corkscrew Trail and run up.  About 2/3 of the way through the second lap I started catching the swim waves that had started behind mine.  One of the great things about Xterra is how nice the competitors are, and how fast they react when they see or hear a faster athlete approaching.  I passed quite a few folks, each time telling them they were doing a great job and encouraging them to keep pushing themselves.  I hit transition again and quickly changed into my run gear and headed out the other side.

The first 100 yds of the run are on pavement, and allows for the legs to get warmed up little.  The run then transitions to a dirt singletrack trail where the first major climb starts.  The climb lasts for several minutes, really making the legs and lungs suffer, and then levels out into a few rollers for a short time, before descending down a loose and twisty trail and onto the road shared with the bike course.  The road section only lasts about 50 yds before hitting dirt again and starting a very big and sustained climb, followed by another climb.  At the top of the second climb I finally looked back and see where my competition was, and saw nothing.  At that point I allowed myself to look around a bit while running and enjoy the beautiful area I was running through.  Toward the end of the run I descended the last hill and headed for the finishline to lots of cheering from the crowd.  I crossed the finishline with a huge smile on my face and Xterra Win #1 in the books for 2012.  Athletes started rolling over the finishline and the race chatter started, congratulating each other and reviewing their races.

After chatting with several racers for a while, I went down to pack up my gear and transition area.  I found a spot to wash my bike so I wouldn't have to pack it in the Tri All 3 case all muddy, and loaded my gear into my rental car.  After the awards ceremony I headed for the hotel to shower, disassemble and pack my bike, and pack the rest of my gear.  With a few hours before I had to head to the airport LA and I decided to head for Venice Beach and take in the scenery.  She assured me it was a good place to grab some food and people watch, so I was game.  It wasn't quite as expected, but that's a story for another blog.  Afterwards I headed for the airport for the trip north.

I landed in Sacramento around 9:40pm in a huge rainstorm, wondering if it would stop before the race.  I collected my luggage, grabbed my rental car, and headed for my hotel in Folsom, praying that raceday would be dry.  I arrived, checked in, and headed for the room to start the process of race prep for the next day; assemble bike, load the required equipment into my transition bag, prep bottles, and double-check everything.  Satisfied that I was properly prepared, I hit the bed around midnight.

The alarm went off at 5:45am (I love Xterra races, they never start early, and REAL was starting at 9am!) and I crawled out of bed and started the process of getting ready; coffee first above all else!  After loading all my gear into the rental car I headed for the race venue at 6:30, which was when transition was to open.  I figured I'd arrive to full racks and be relegated to a non-optimal position.  I was surprised to see only about 10 cars in the parking lot at 7am, and only two bikes hanging on the rack.  I grabbed my bike and gear and headed over to registration to collect my packet.  After receiving my race goods and the appropriate body-marking, I headed for transition to claim my spot.  I layed out all my gear in a nice small area and then started chatting with other athletes, trying to gain as much knowledge about the course as possible since I hadn't pre-ridden it.  I learned that there were only a few muddy sections to worry about on the bike, and the run didn't have any muddy sections to speak of.  I also learned that the water temp was a nice crisp 51 degrees!  With about 30 minutes before the starting gun, I started the process of donning my wetsuit and heading for the lake.  I knew that with water temps that low my face would hurt when submerged and it would take 10-15 minutes to get acclimated.  I waded into the lake 15 minutes before the start and applied the requisite warm water to my wetsuit (aka peeing in the suit).  As I dove in I immediately was hit with the "Ice-Cream Headache" feeling that comes with water that cold.  I did several out-and-back swims, finally getting acclimated and ready for the cold swim.  With 2 minutes to go the race director called us all up onto the shore for a beach start.  Final directions were given and the countdown began ... 20 to go ... 10 to go ... 5 .. 4 .. 3 .. 2 .. 1 .. GOOOO!!!

The first 50 yards were very shallow, anywhere from 18-36" deep.  In order to get a good start we had to "porpoise" about 5 times before reaching water truly deep enough to swim.  Once into deep water I started swimming hard.  It was more difficult since the water was so cold, forcing me to breath much quicker than usual.  I was able to get off the front with a lead group of swimmers and draft all the way around the 1-lap course.  I knew that there were several people out of the water in front of me, but I wasn't sure how many.  Transition was a little tough since my hands and feet were numb, and I was having trouble with things like buckling my helmet.  Lucky for me everyone else had the same issues.  I left transition in around 6th place and caught and passed three people in the first 2 miles.  At that point I thought I was in 2nd and could see another athlete in front of me.  The course was very twisty, with lots of short climbs and descents through the forest surrounding the lake, which made for spectacular riding.  The trail was mostly sandy soil, and was extremely grippy after the rain the previous day.  It made for some very fast and fun riding!  I caught the athlete in front of me about halfway through the first lap and asked if he was the leader as I passed him.  He told me that there was another athlete about 30-45 seconds ahead of us, which gave me the motivation to keep pushing hard on the bike.  About 10 minutes later, after some of the best riding on the course, I spotted the leader and really focused on catching up.  I finally caught him with about 1/4 mile to go and we rode past transition together to start the second lap.  I passed him at a wide spot at the start of the second lap and kept pushing.  The second lap on the bike was absolutely an amazing ride.  I knew what was coming after the first lap, and I was able to really push my speed through the course.  I hit transition to a cheering crowd, which made me smile even bigger than I had been.

Flying into transition I racked my bike and went about swapping into my run gear.  As I was changing my shoes I realized my feet were still numb from the swim.  I pulled my right shoe off and saw the end of my big toe was bleeding severely.  Not wanting to waste time checking it out, I shoved my foot into my shoe, grabbed my visor and race belt with number, and ran out of transition.

As I ran along both of my feet were numb and felt like I was running on stumps, but they were working so I kept going.  I looked down after about 1/4 mile and saw a red spot forming in the front of my shoe.  I figured that once my feet warmed up I'd be able to tell how bad my toe was by the amount of pain that came along with the return of the feeling in my feet.  The run course was mostly singletrack with some short rolling climbs and some steep sustained climbs and descents.  It follows the lakeshore, peaking in and out of the trees.  About halfway through the run the trail drops down onto the shore for a short run through the sand and then up onto some granite formations as it climbs back up off the lakeshore, with spectacular views.  The trail bends back around 180 degrees and heads back to Granite Bay where it started, with a mix of singletrack and doubletrack that was truly a pleasure to run on.  Throughout the entire run I watched as the front of my shoe gained more red color, but as my feet regained feeling I never felt any pain.  As I came around one of the last corners on the run the race director was riding toward me and promptly spun around and headed for the finishing straight, alerting everyone that I was coming in.  Coming down the finishing straight and to the finishline was awesome, with tons of people cheering and ringing bells and having a great time and Xterra Win #2 in the books for 2012.  I was quickly handed Gatorade to start the rehydration process, and waited for my friends to come across the finishline.  It was much the same scene as the day before, with athletes congratulating each other and chatting about the course.  Several athletes had done both races, and we chatted about which one was a better race for us, and how difficult it was to push through the second race.  I again waited for a while and then cleaned up my transition area.  They had a hose to wash bikes with, which was a lifesaver after a muddy course.  The race also featured a lunch of chicken and pasta and salad served by some fantastic folks.  I received my award and hung around until all of the awards were handed out since I didn't have to pack my bike and head to another race.  I chatted with the race director for a few minutes and thanked him for a great race.  And then off to the hotel I went, satisfied with two days of awesome racing and two wins under my belt.

All-in-all it was a great weekend of racing.  It was nice to get the first couple races under me and remember all of the little idiosyncrasies of donning, swimming in, and removing a wetsuit, and getting through transition cleanly.  It validates the training that I've done to date and reassures me that I'm on the right track with Brian Grasky as my coach.

Next up, the Xterra West Championships in Vegas, stay tuned!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The 2012 Season Kick-off - Repeating at the Desert Classic Duathlon

My 2011 triathlon season was a long grind, starting with the offroad version of the Trisports.com Desert Classic Duathlon in Feruary and ending with the Tinfoilman Triathlon in November.  It was a true breakout season for me, scattered with a lot of firsts; first season training with a coach, first season racing at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships, first season racing at the Xterra World Championships, and my first season taking the overall win at a race.  It was a memorable one, and I owe a HUGE THANK YOU to Brian Grasky of Grasky Endurance Coaching for pushing me to an entirely new level in my triathlon journey.  The season was so long that I started to lose focus, and was more than ready for a break after the last race.

After 6 weeks off, I started my training for the 2012 season refreshed and fully recovered.  My training started off slow, with base building being the key focus for quite a while.  Long slow rides and long slow runs were served up in large doses, and I trudged through them knowing that they were the cornerstone to a successful 2012 season.  Slowly Brian started to work in some speed and intensity into my workouts, with the longer/slower sessions still being the mainstay.  All of this training and hard work would be tested for the first time on March 10th, 2012, at the Trisports.com Desert Classic Duathlon.  The same as last year, I would race the offroad version, and attempt the repeat win.

The night before the race was the usual sleepless-fest, the butterflies building the entire week before the race.  I've competed in enough races that the butterflies usually don't make an appearance until the morning of the race.  But after a successful 2011 season and some self-imposed expectations for the 2012 season, I was both nervous and anxious to get the first race underway.  The alarm went off at 3:15am, and I popped out of bed surprisingly alert.  Coffee and breakfast were consumed, my race gear was loaded into my truck, and the trek from Tucson to Fountain Hills, AZ, begun.  Arriving at McDowell Mountain Park at 6:30am, I quickly found a parking spot close to the transition area, grabbed my bike, and headed for transition to secure a good spot on the racks.  After depositing my bike on my chosen spot, I strolled over to packet pick-up to grab my race packet and see what lucky number I had been alloted for the day.  Number 234, just waiting for a 1 to be placed at the front with a win.  I made my way back into transition to strap my race number to my bike and look around for any familiar faces.  In some ways I wanted to see other racers I knew and would compete against throughout the year, and in others I was hoping that I had the race all to myself and could simply use this race as a litmus test to see where I stood in my training.  Immediately I recognized a few competitors, one of them being one of the toughest competitors I faced throughout the 2011 season.  This wouldn't be an easy race, and I'd have to "put the gas pedal on the floor" the entire race if I wanted to repeat the win from last year.

I finished prepping my transition area, chatting with several of the competitors about their offseason, and then headed to my truck to finish preparing myself for the race.  This year I was lucky enough to be chosen to race on the Trisports.com Triathlon Team, and was given a nice surprise the day before the race; an awesome new Trisports Team race suit.  The weather was perfect to don the new suit, and I relished the opportunity to race in the red, white & blue of Trisports.com.

The starting gun for the pro race went off, meaning I had 13 minutes to finish my race prep and get warmed up for my race.  I would be in the second wave of amateurs, the 35+ men's group.  The 34 and under men's group was starting 3 minutes ahead, and it contained the competitors I viewed as my toughest competition.  I had hoped we'd all start together, so I'd know exactly where I stood throughout the race.  No such luck, I'd be racing blind and playing catch-up ... if I could.

The starting gun went off for the 34 and under racers, and the 3-minute warning was given for my group.  I came to the starting line and continued to run up the road and back, keeping my heart rate elevated prior to the start.  I'd be starting in the same group as Trisports.com's Founder & CEO Seton Clagget.  Seton had relayed to me the night before the race that he planned to take off sprinting for the first 200yds, just to see if people would panic.  We were given the 10 seconds to go command, and Seton dropped into a track start stance.  The countdown began ... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... BANG!

The race was on, and true to his word Seton went sprinting off the front.  About 100yds up the road Seton looked over his shoulder and yelled, "I don't know where I'm going!"  If I hadn't been struggling to suck enough oxygen into my lungs I would have laughed.  Instead I quickly yelled, "Keep going straight!"  About 3 seconds later Seton pulled the plug and the lead pack went running on past him.

In 2011 I took the offroad race wire-to-wire, and that was my plan for this race too.  As soon as the starting gun went off I set an aggressive pace, immediately putting myself in the lead (except for the 200yd sprint by Seton).  Immediately I had a target painted on my back, with 5-6 guys matching my pace.  I continued to pour on the speed, and by the 1-mile mark the lead group was down to 2.  The first run started on pavement for the first 1/2 mile before transitioning to a fantastic rolling trail run.  Knowing that I had 19 miles on the bike and another trail run to finish the race, I pushed as hard as I dared without going too deep.  My pace was continually matched by my chaser the entire first run.  Coming into the finishing straight on the first run the guy matching my pace attempted to outrun me.  I put the hammer down and stayed in the lead, making sure to put the red, white & blue of Trisports.com up front for any photo-ops that came along; there was no way I was gonna relinquish the top spot after leading the entire run.

My trip through transition was quick, swapping my visor and running shoes for my helmet and mtb shoes, and out the other end of transition I ran.  The first 1/2 mile of the bike was slightly downhill and fast, followed by some short steep climbs that really made the legs suffer.  I was able to quickly catch three guys from the 34 and under group and make some clean passes.  Once I hit the doubletrack section of the course it was a smashfest.  I caught another rider and made the pass, hoping to continue pulling away from my competition.  Unfortunately I had pushed my legs a little too hard and had to dial back the speed a bit, allowing the guy I had just passed to come back around.  It only took about 5 minutes for my legs to recover and I was ready to start hammering again.  I caught back up to the rider and stayed on his wheel for about 1/2 mile, enjoying the super fast ride.  On a slight hill I put the hammer down and made the pass.  He jumped on my wheel and matched my pace for several miles until we hit the singletrack of the Pemberton course.  The singletrack of the Pemberton trail system is epic; incredibly fast and smooth with sweeping corners and tons of grip, allowing for some very fast riding.  I began to slowly pull away from my chaser, carving the sweeping corners and hanging it all out.  Eventually I came around a corner and caught a glimpe of a familiar jersey, which gave me a huge boost of energy.  I was catching the person I viewed as my main competition!  I put my head down and kept pushing, catching glimpses of his jersey and watching it get closer with each corner we rounded.  Eventually the trail dumped out onto doubletrack, and I was pulling up beside my competition after about 100 yds.  As I went past I yelled, "Great job!"  Just as I got past, we hit a sandy corner and I was carrying too much speed.  As I blew the corner and ended up off the road in a bush my competition went blowing right past me ... laughing.  I rode straight through the bush and steered back on course, only losing about 15 bike lengths.  At that point my legs were suffering and my competition had decided to crank up the speed another notch.  I stayed about 10 bike lengths behind him, watching his line and matching his speed.  Eventually the doubletrack dumped out onto the paved road for the last mile of the bike course.  As we hit the pavement I passed my competition.  He immediately jumped on my wheel and caught a ride in the draft for a while.  Being a true sportsman, he pulled around me and allowed me to sit-in for a while.  After a little recovery I pulled out and went around to take another turn at the front.  As we cruised down the road we caught Pro Xterra triathlete Suzie Snyder.  She jumped on the train and caught a ride too.  Coming down the road toward transition my competition and I were riding side-by-side, both wanting to be the first to dismount our bike and hit transition first.  We dismounted at the same time and both went blazing through transition, swapping our riding gear back into our running gear for the second run.

The start of the run was downhill, and my legs felt much better than I expected.  My competition and I ran stride for stride for the first 1/4 mile before settling into a more reasonable pace.  Thankfully my legs had a little more in the tank and I was able to start pulling away.  The second run was grueling and much more difficult than the first run.  The downhill section only lasted for about 1/2 mile before hitting some steep uphill sections followed by some rolling hills that were a net elevation gain.  The hills really started to take a toll on my legs and I could feel the fatigue and lactic acid building.  I hadn't pre-run the course, so I wasn't quite sure how the run would end, but I had been warned about a monster climb in the last mile.  I knew I was getting close to the final climb, but hadn't been able to see it until turning a corner and staring it straight in the face.  Difficult and steep didn't even begin to describe the climb, it was absolutely brutal.  I hit the base of the climb and immediately recognized that running up was not an option.  I started walking up, using my hands on my knees to help make the ascent.  Thankfully the steep section was fairly short, but it transitioned into a more shallow climb that wound it's way to the top, wreaking havoc on my legs the entire time.  The descent down the other side was steep and loose, and made for a tough downhill run on tired legs.  The last section just before transition held a few short, steep climbs that really hurt.  I pushed through the pain, knowing that I was within 1/4 mile of the finishline.  Cresting the last climb and hitting the finishing chute was a great feeling.  I was completely out of energy, but I had done it, hung it all out and walked away with the repeat win and it felt awesome!

This race was a great season opener for me.  My training leading up to the race felt further ahead than last year's, and this race validated that feeling.  I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to hold the pace that I wanted throughout the first run, that my legs would explode on the ride and I'd have to back off, or that I just wouldn't have enough energy to make it through the second run.  None of that was the case, and my race came together as well as I could have hoped for.  I had done it, taken the race wire-to-wire (except the first 200 yds ... thanks Seton!) and came out on top.

My race by the numbers:

Overall Place1 / 66
Gender Place1 / 49
Division Place1 / 15

Huge Thanks to Brian Grasky of Grasky Endurance Coaching for setting me up for a great 2012 season, and a monster THANK YOU to Trisports.com, for sponsoring the race and sponsoring me for the 2012 triathlon season.

Exciting things to come, stay tuned!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lift-Off - Starting The Blog - 2011 Races & Results

This is the start of my blog .... finally!!!  It has taken quite a while, and some heavy prodding by friends, to finally get busy and launch this thing.  Soon I'll be adding a 3-5 entries breaking down my entrance into triathlon, my previous-to-2011 experiences and results, and then several parts detailing my entire 2011 race season.  A few separate posts will be dedicated to some very memorable experiences, things like the 2011 ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in Spain, and the 2011 Xterra World Championships in Maui, HI.

The 2011 race season was a long and grueling season for me.  Below is a look at the 17 races that made up my season, along with the results at each race.  I figured this would be a good way to start my blog.

And, I became the poster-boy for the Xterra website!!!  At least for now, if you don't see a guy in a green race jersey on a mountain bike, then they probably changed the website.

Races & Results
Trisports.com Desert Classic Offroad Duathlon – 1st AG / 1st OA
Xterra West Championship – 7th AG / 45th OA
ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship (Spain) – DNF (sliced sidewall on rear tire)
Xterra Pacific Championship – 1st AG / 3rd OA
Tucson Triathlon – 1st AG / 2nd OA
Deuceman Long Course Triathlon – 4th AG / 7th OA
Xterra Deuces Wild – 1st AG / 2nd OA
Ironman Coeur d'Alene – Finish Time – 11:11:06 – 54th AG, 321st OA
 Firecracker Triathlon  – 1st AG / 1st OA
Xterra Mountain Championship – 1st AG / 7th OA
Riverton Triathlon – 1st Overall, Course Record
Xterra Snow Valley – 1st AG / 1st OA
Barn Burner 104 MTB Race, Co-Ed Duo  – 1st OA
Xterra USA Championship – 2nd AG / 5th OA
Tour of the White Mountains 35-mile MTB race – 1st OA
Xterra World Championship – 4th AG / 16th Amateur / 54th OA
Tinfoilman Triathlon – 2nd AG / 6th OA