Thursday, December 22, 2011

Leadville Milestones

Okay, I think I had a pretty great milestone today...longest ride on a bike ever, and it was by a lot.  My previous best on a mountain bike was 34 miles and was basically an all day affair in Pisgah with the boys.  My previous best on a road bike was 41 miles and happened at the Outer Banks while riding with Alan (and I'm pretty sure involved at least one reasonable break and him doing a lot of pulling).

Today I went 48 miles on my mountain bike.  I did it with one VERY brief stop to take a leak.  Otherwise, no stops.  About nine miles of it was on pavement with the rest on gravel road.  Yeah, I know, that's not very interesting, but in my attempts to be environmentally friendly that was the only real option as it is very wet right now.  In fact, I was lucky to fit this ride in at all without getting rained on.  It did start raining on me on the way home, but never anything significant while riding.

My route included two trips up and down the greenway in Cary that runs from Oak Hollow Apartments (where Ashley and I used to live!) to Lake Crabtree.  That's all paved and pretty flat and totaled just over nine miles of the 48.  The rest was just riding pretty much all the gravel road in Umstead State Park.  I had to do a few pieces of it three times and most everything else twice to get that distance.

I'm pretty stoked about the ride.  The data summary goes like this:
  • 47.99 miles
  • 3 hours and 46 minutes
  • 12.7MPH average pace
  • almost 2800 feet of elevation gain
  • 129 bpm average heart rate
  • 185W average power output
  • 64 degree average temperature (three days from Christmas!)
Not too bad.  I'll take it!  I consumed about 70 ounces of water and five Honey Stinger waffles while riding.  I blame Fatty for turning me on to the Honey Stinger waffles, too.  You want to go ride 50 miles just so you can eat a bunch of them!  That was a tough enough ride that I know I'm not ready for Leadville right now.  But I've got eight more months, and things are happening at a rate that I'm very comfortable with right now.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I need your help!

I need your help.  Well, technically, young adult cancer fighters and survivors need your help.  I've signed up with team First Descents to do the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race.  I've already blogged a bit about the race, but to summarize I'm going to try to do 103 miles of mountain biking in under 12 hours.  Oh, and there's 14,000 feet of climbing and it all happens above 10,000 feet of altitude.  You know, easy stuff like that.

So how can you help?  Donate through my page to Team First Descents!  It's really that simple.  It's a great organization that helps cancer fighters and survivors learn how to live and how to have the confidence they need to continue the fight.  I'm really excited and honored to be able to help out such a great cause, and I hope you can spare a few bucks to help, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

Okay, so I've gone and done it now.  I don't know what possessed me, but I've gone and got myself all wrapped up in the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race.  The 2012 version happens on August 11 in beautiful Leadville, Colorado

For those unfamiliar, this is actually a 103 mile race that happens at 10,000 feet of elevation and above, and includes a total of 14,000 feet of actual climbing.  Because it's an out-and-back course, that means there is also 14,000 feet of descent.  The weather is known for being quite unpredictable, and the course has some very challenging spots, particularly if it's raining.  So, in a word, it's brutal.  But another word, and the one I'm going to focus on, is epic.

Epic is the reason mountain biking exists.  I'm sure at first it was just some kind of experiment in riding on hiking trails rather than on the road or on a BMX track, but the challenges faced when riding those trails is what caused people to continue to push the envelope in terms of skills as well as machinery and turn the sport into what we have today.

What we have today is a wide variety of types of "mountain biking", and this race even pushes the limits of that to something I'd call "ultra-endurance mountain biking", I guess.  There are only a handful of races in the entire world that are significantly longer than 100 miles, though there are a bunch of races that are basically this same length now.  Well a "bunch" as in probably 10 or 12 in the US, anyway.  More common is the "6 hour" endurance race for mountain bikers, and often those are on MUCH shorter courses and you just do as many laps as you can within some cut-off time (usually around 5.5 hours).

So why do something this extreme?  Because this particular race is considered the pinnacle of mountain bike racing in North America.  To be considered a finisher, you have to complete the course in 13 hours.  Complete it in 12 hours and you get a small, but very cool, belt buckle.  Complete it in 9 hours and you get a large belt buckle.  I know, most of you are thinking "what the hell would anyone go to all that trouble for a belt buckle for?"  Yeah, me too, in a way.  I'm certainly not going to wear the thing, but then again I'm sure most people who win them don't wear them, either. 

It's really about completing the thing and being able to know you did it.  It's kind of a bucket list item for many folks who like to ride mountain bikes.  Most of us ride a few hours per week, and often do one ride per week that's 2-3 hours long, and that's it.  If I train my butt off between now and then (and I'm already in decent shape), and have a GREAT day, I might get close to that nine hour number.  Realistically, my goal is 10 hours (and that'll take a very good day).  If I manage to finish in 12 hours by even the closest of margins, I'll still be VERY happy.  If I squeak the 13 hour mark, I'll be happy.  If I don't make 13, it won't be a good day at all for me.

What can screw it up?  Illness.  My body not cooperating with the altitude.  Mechanical failure.  Not following my hydration and nutrition plan.  Crashing.  Oversleeping.  Not training well enough.  And probably other things.  I've got plans to deal with all those things (well, except maybe illness...I don't think there's much I can do about that!) and then some, however, and over the course of the next year I'll bring you all up to date on what they are.  I plan to blog fairly extensively about it (and given recent history, that may mean I don't blog about much else...who knows, though, maybe this will rekindle my blogging fire on other topics, too).

My next blog post will be about how you can help.  That's right, you can help.  How?  Well let's just say getting into Leadville as a first timer is very difficult.  There's a lottery system and first timer's have a less than 10% chance these days of getting in.  But there's a couple other ways to get in now, and one involves raising money for charity.  That's the one I chose, and I feel pretty great about it because it's a pretty great charity.  More on that in a few days. 

For now, it's nearly time to get myself ready for a rainy day long run.  That's right, a run.  I just wrote a huge blog entry about mountain biking and I'm going for a run.  Why?  Well, cross training is good, and apparently running is becoming widely accepted as a very good compliment to biking.  Which is annoying, because I don't love running nearly as much as I love biking, but that's okay.  On this rainy day I've got a running partner, and that seems to make running so much better.

I plan to give a shout-out in probably every one of these posts to my awesome coach, Sage Rountree.  She is, without a doubt, one of the world's leading authorities on athletic recovery.  But you don't get to that point without being pretty great at how to become an extreme endurance athlete, so she's a great coach for this in so many ways. 

So hang on, it's going to be a fun ride...

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Great Marriage Debate

As most readers of this blog already know, the NC General Assembly has placed a referendum on the ballot at the upcoming Republican primary election to add a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. This would simply be a stronger position supporting the state law that already says the same thing, and would certainly make it harder to change that law in the future.

This has caused a lot of backlash, most notably with this def shephard blog post that's been making the rounds. It's good reading, even if you disagree with the stance. I have a much different take, however.

To me, this boils down to an argument between those who prefer marriage to be defined as a union between one man and one woman and those who want it defined as a union between any two people.

But why? There are lots of reasons that the LGBT community wants legal marriage status, but the only ones that really matter are the ones that are government influenced (as far as this discussion is concerned, anyway). Things like tax breaks for married couples, insurance issues, etc. Otherwise, it's really just about "recognition." Now, I think the folks who want this change are attacking it from the wrong angle. I'd personally rather see, and would support, changes that take the government out of marriage entirely. No tax breaks for simply being married, no link between insurance and marriage, etc. No laws whatsoever governing "marriage." It would simply be something that churches or other entities can recognize. Why does it need to be anything more?

The ultra-conservatives would say that taking away this government recognized system is further eroding some sort of moral fiber. I say hogwash. People already do what people want to do, and the fact that we have gay couples living together in NC and ready at the instant the law is changed to become married (or those going to other states to do it), is proof of that. Just because the government stops telling people NOT to do something does not mean the government suddenly supports DOING it. It simply means the government doesn't have any interest in it, and in this case, I don't see why the government needs to have that interest.

The last question is fairly simple...for those who believe allowing the LGBT community to marry, why draw the line there? Why is polygamy illegal? What's so special about the number "two"? I don't personally care about polygamy, but it is just another line in the sand...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Anatomy of a perfect day

A perfect day starts with a trip to the North Carolina mountains. Do whatever prayer or sacrifice or other bribe to the weather gods that you have to do so that you get a 75F partly cloudy day. Next, mix in plans for a completely empty day to start with breakfast at the Dan'l Boone Inn with some good friends you haven't seen in a while. From there, plan to take the kids to the park in Blowing Rock, but stop by your respective houses on the way to get appropriate gear for a short hike to a swimming hole. Meet back up at the park.

From there, it gets interesting. First, I decided while at home to add my motorcycle to my "gear." Yeah, I threw my hiking gear in Ashley's car and went my own way on the bike. It's a new-to-me 2009 BMW G650X. For those that don't know bikes, it's a street legal dirt bike that is just perfect for mountain exploration. Anyway, I hadn't actually even had it out on public roads yet (we trailered it up here). So, back to the park...

We let the kids run around and play while the adults did more catching up. Then we loaded back up and headed from downtown Blowing Rock toward Globe. Our intended stop was the China Creek trailhead off of Globe Road. Well, it was our stop, but unfortunately we found that the China Creek trail had been closed by the park service for a year! It's due to reopen in a few weeks, but given the penalty for hiking it was six months in jail, we decided we should head to choice number two, Huntfish Falls. The only reason it was choice number two was that it's a good bit further of a drive, but it's a better swimming hole anyway, so off we went. It's worth noting that I wasn't crying at all, since I got that much more chance to explore the limits of my new bike on twisty dirt roads.

So a short while later we found ourselves at the Huntfish Falls trailhead:

It's six or seven miles of dirt on The Globe Road, and another ten miles or so of dirt between Highway 90 and Pineola Road to get to the Huntfish Falls trailhead, but let me tell you, it's stellar riding. Particularly today and particularly for someone on this kind of bike that's new to them. Why? Because it rained a good bit yesterday. I had every surface type imaginable to play on. Loose gravel, occasional large rocks, that really awesome tacky clay, soft mud, and occasional soup. Sometimes you even had weird mixes of those. And yet I never over-stepped the limits of this fine machine. I am impressed, and I am looking forward to a lot more seat time on this thing. Back to the day...

The family and friends caught up, and we headed down the nearly-a-mile-long trail that's pretty much straight down. It lands right at a very awesome set of waterfalls with a large swimming hole that leads to a pretty decent sliding rock (at least for small kids). The best part? There's a pretty decent rock ledge about five or six feet above the water that you can jump off of and into about five foot deep water (so you have to be careful to only cannonball, but it's still great). The water temperature is quite brisk, but you do get used to it quickly. Or at least I get used to it quickly, anyway, but maybe that's because I get addicted to that ledge jump. I think I did it ten times today. Both kids did it, too, and even one of our friends, who apparently had never done anything like that!

After an hour or two or three (who keeps track of time in a place that wonderful?), we headed back out. The hike back up isn't so wonderful, but it's tolerable enough. We grabbed some snacks and headed back toward civilization with a plan to meet at the friend's house to grill some supper. Notice we had missed lunch, but between the awesome breakfast and the snacks, I don't think anyone cared. I left first on the motorcycle...hehehehe.

I did some more limit-seeking along the ten or so miles of gravel road back to the Parkway, where I started to notice gray skies. Uh-oh, might get wet! And sure enough, as I rode the Parkway back to the house, there were occasional showers. Never enough to soak the road, but just enough you knew it was raining and not drizzling. I didn't much care as it was just warm enough it was no bother, and I was still damp from my swimming excursion anyway. I got home, showered, watched the US lose the World Cup, and we headed back out for our supper engagement.

We found our friend's fairly-new-to-them house with no problem, and enjoyed a great meal and conversation. They have a wonderful place that I'm sure they will enjoy for many years to come. They even busted out some sparklers that had been intended for July 4 festivities, but were rained out. Much to my surprise, my children had yet to experience the wonder that is dazzling fire on a stick that you can hold in your hand, so much fun was had by all. Sadly, the sun decided that it was time to end the festivities, and we called it an evening. But it was quite a nice way to cap what was a perfect day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What a long strange trip it's beeeeeeen...

Today's ride was an interesting one. My coach had me scheduled for a 90 minute road ride. Unfortunately with other stuff I had scheduled today the only time I could do it was in the hottest part of the day. Thankfully the humidity is finally down to tolerable levels and even though it was definitely hot, it wasn't as stifling as I thought it might be. The sweat could actually evaporate for the most part, which made things tolerable.

I decided to try a new variation on the route I've been riding lately, and boy did I screw that up. You can see the data here, which includes a nice map of what I did. As you can see from the map, I did about four miles on highway 87 north. That was NOT intentional. For some reason I had it in my head that Mt. Olive Church Road went straight from Chicken Bridge Road to Old Greensboro, but in fact you have to turn right on Mandale to do that, which I missed. And then I stupidly decided that it probably wasn't but a mile or so up 87 to Old Greensboro, so I'd just go that way instead of turning around.


Want to know the worst part about all this? I have a GPS on my bike with full mapping and navigation and I didn't use it! Talk about dumb. I'm so used to leaving it on the data screen that I didn't even think to hit the map button and see what I was doing. Turning around would have been no big deal to go to Mandale, but riding four miles on 87 sucked big time. It's not fun getting passed by semis and logging trucks at 65MPH, that's for sure. Especially with traffic going the other way, too! And all this the day after a post about crashing. Seriously, that's just not bright. It made me want to quit riding altogether. Okay, not really.

Along the way, I also had my first bad dog encounter. Okay, I say bad, but in reality it was basically as bad as you can get without actually getting bit (or crashing). It was a black mutt that appeared to have a goodly amount of Chow in him. I'd put him at about 85 pounds and you'd have to say Mr. T has a sunny disposition compared to this creature. He came out of a yard to my left, but I never saw him until he hit the road running and around to my right side. I was probably doing about 16MPH at this point and it was basically flat. I sped up a little, and he matched me, barking ferociously the entire time. Then I noticed he was staring at my ankle appearing to be timing my pedal strokes and easing closer. I figured an attempt to kick him would just result in a crash, so I took the other option and put the power down.

My data shows I peaked at nearly 1,000W for about five seconds. Not too bad. As I hit it hard, I pulled in front of him. I looked back to see him try for another gear, which he did have, but he only stayed with me another second or so before my continued acceleration got the better of him. He pulled up and turned around. I have to say that was quite annoying. I've never been scared of a dog while on my feet, but at speeds over 16MPH while clipped into a road bike, I felt a lot more vulnerable to a beast like that. He'd inflict some damage, but I know I could inflict more in a straight fight. My problem was the fear of the crash he was about to cause on top of it. Hmm, now we're back to yesterday again.

But I've learned that lesson, too. I will be better prepared on my road rides from now on, and dogs who do this will not like the outcome, that much I can assure them. I have a right to pedal on the road without fear of being injured by a furry beast, and I intend to exercise that right. Trust me when I say I'm truly a dog person and always have been. I know when a dog is in "attack" mode versus just "get the hell out of here, I'm protecting my turf" mode. The latter will be tolerated, the former, well, no. Today was the former. I could see it in his eyes and in his actions.

The last interesting thing was near the end of the ride. A truck approached from ahead and slowed and rolled his window down as he met me. A gentleman stuck his head out and warned me about a "fox" around the next bend that I should watch out for. I said thanks and gave a thumbs up as I rolled by (I slowed, too), and thought "what kind of moron bothers to warn someone about a fox? You barely see one and then they're gone. Oh well, he was being nice." Then as I rounded the corner I see a critter on the left shoulder. He sees me, hops to his feet, and jogs slowly back into the trees. As he did that, I realized not only was he a coyote, but he had been hit and was injured. So the guy who warned me was actually probably the one who hit him and saw that he was alive but too injured to flee. Now it all made sense. Still a bit odd of a thing to happen in the middle of the afternoon, but on this day, nothing was completely out of line, apparently.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Crash and Burn

Just read this article about crashing while road cycling and the mental effects it can have.

I'm twisted, but I kind of had to chuckle a bit. No, not at her pain, but at the exploration of this phenomenon and the somewhat obvious conclusions. Well, obvious to me. But then I realized why it seemed obvious.

I have a lot of experience crashing.

Now, let me start out by saying while I do have a lot of experience crashing, I actually have yet to crash while road cycling (though I'm sure it will happen...and the article just reaffirmed that quite nicely). So what is this experience I am speaking of?

I have vivid and very complete memory of my first bicycle crash that resulted in an injury of significance. I was in the fifth grade and was riding the badass black Schwinn Stingray that my Dad basically built for me. I don't know of any surviving pictures of that bike, but it looked a lot like this:

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was making a left turn off of a sidewalk at my school onto a dirt trail. Somehow the front tire caught a big rock that was semi-embedded in the trail and just sort of threw the bike sideways and me onto the ground. Unfortunately, my left knee hit right on top of another jagged rock and cut it open pretty good. I think that was the first time I ever got cut open like that, and it scared me. Big time. I screamed and screamed as I rode furiously home. Blood had run down my leg and stained my sock. I'm sure I scared my Mom half to death, too.

Now, I was a kid then, so there was no thought of not riding again. But of course, it's not the same. I think the problem is I learned pretty quickly that if I was going to have much fun on this earth, well, I was going to have to take a few chances. And occasionally, or maybe not-so-occasionally, those chances were going to cause me to crash. It's always just seemed part of having fun to me.

Fast forward through a lot of dumb kid stuff. What else have I crashed? Mountain bikes. Heh, that's so often the stories aren't even interesting any more. But in every one of them I'm like the guy in the Times article I linked above who crashed on ice and realized it was his own dumb fault. I'm the one piloting that bike and choosing to do it where and how I do it, and when I crash, no matter how "out of my control" it is, well, it's my fault. No doubt about it.

Race cars? Yep, more than a few times. At triple digit speeds. First big crash was just a rookie mistake, honestly. I took a corner faster than I thought was going to work (it would have worked if I had trusted myself) and then did a classic panic for a half second. Blam, I went sideways at 60MPH+ into a wall. Minor concussion, lots of bent metal, but I was able to race the next day (thanks to Reid, the best crew chief ever). I'm sure at the time I wasn't so quick to just blame myself, but nobody else hit me, there was nothing slick on the track, and I just made a mistake. So deep down I knew it was just something I did wrong.

The last big race car crash? I made a TINY mistake and just did a little half-spin with two wheels off the track...I'm not even sure I ever came to a complete stop, in fact. I kept going around that corner and down a LONG straightaway where I built speed to over 115MPH while catching another race car. I pulled out to pass by braking later than he did. Oops, no brakes. Five presses later (sometimes after going off track you can experience what we call "pad knock-back", which means you get one press with no brakes, then they come back) and some major league awesome driving to NOT hit that car I was passing, I was leaving the pavement and done for. My last ditch effort after making sure I cleared that other car was to attempt to point the car in a direction that would have been a hell of a downhill ride and would have missed that first wall, but all I was able to do was get it turned a little. As soon as I left the pavement it spun quickly and slammed the wall at almost exactly 100MPH (we have it on data). Another minor concussion, a lot more bent metal. That car does race now, but it wasn't racing the next day, that's for sure.

I lost brakes because I hit something in that little spin that resulted in the two wheels off track and bounced up and cut the brake line. Never knew it. Was that "my fault"? Was that "fair"? It was absolutely my fault, and absolutely "fair." Always check your brakes. And I shouldn't have made that mistake to begin with.

I've crashed bicycles, motorcycles, race cars, street cars, gokarts, golf carts, and probably a lawn mower or two. I've crashed while skiing, tubing, sledding, and even while just chasing my child around the house (that one resulted in 12 staples in my scalp a mere 36 hours before getting on a plane to Hawaii!). Heck, just the other day I fell YET AGAIN while running. I decided to run down a huge log skinny feature that we built for mountain biking. I've done it before, but never when it was wet. I knew it would be a little slick and was prepared for it. Almost. It was way slicker than I thought possible. First step went out from under me and I went straight down on my butt and hands. And slid like I was on a sliding board. For a while. Ouch.

I could go on (and probably have gone on too long already), but I just couldn't help but chuckle at the analysis and publishing that came from one bicycle crash. One could say that perhaps most people are more skilled than me at what they do and don't have my vast experience to draw from. I'd buy that. I just found it funny that I live so far on the other end of the spectrum and yet can't recall ever having a "I'm never going to do this activity again" kind of moment. But I always try to make sure I learn how to "never have this particular accident again." A more interesting article, to me, would have been a slant on turning the "I'm never riding again" reaction into "learn from your actual mistake and move on" kind of thing. Because there were several things you could change...don't mix with slower (or unknown) riders, don't draft quite so close, pay more attention to your surroundings than your data (NOTE TO SELF HERE!), etc.

One thing I do know, injuries suck. But making them worse with knee-jerk reactions to them doesn't help. Learn from it and move on.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The most important training day is...

If you ask my coach, she'd probably answer off-the-cuff that the most important day in your training plan is your recovery day. But I was thinking this morning that there is one easy day to single out that's the most important. It's not recovery day, or long distance day, or hill day, or film day (you professional ball-sports athletes get that one). Nope.

It's today.

I know, it seems simple and cheesy, but I've got a deeper point to make. Okay, maybe just slightly deeper, but bear with me. My point is it is easy to look at your calendar and think "I need to save up for that day" or "today's workout isn't as big so I can take it a little easier" or "today is my last day before recovery day, so maybe I can get away with a little less and get more recovery that way." Don't fall into the trap. Here's why, in a nutshell:

Today is sacred. Whatever you complete today is all that will ever be done today, and all that you have to apply to the future. Make the most of it for once it is gone, it is gone forever.

My run today wasn't stellar, but it was better than it would have been if this hadn't just sort of hit me this morning. I got everything out of that run that I had. I hope to apply this idiom every day from now on. Even on recovery day. Endurance athletes, you get what I mean here...we don't always make recovery day everything it could be in terms of recovery. Hydrate better. Do a little more recovery yoga (get those legs up the wall!). Make time for a massage. Spend time just relaxing with your pets or taking in an episode of Phineas and Ferb with the kids. Then on workout days, well, you know what that means. Get after it. Own it. Make today special. Every day.

I promise you'll feel better for having done it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The epic that wasn't and then it was again.

Sometimes a friend just has a stroke of genius, and sometimes it's not exactly how you'd expect it.

Today was the last day of a four day mountain bike trip with eight other guys (plus one for today only). Thanks to the weather, we waited for our North Fork Mountain Trail ride until today. It was supposed to be the best ride we would do, and today was the only day where there wasn't a chance of rain. So it seemed obvious, even though we were told it would be our longest and hardest day (which you usually wouldn't save for last), that we'd do it today. It would be epic.

It took a little bit of work to find the trailhead, but we found it and headed out on our last great adventure of this trip. Little did I know just how adventurous it would be. The total trail distance was 24 miles, but that's only if you have a bike capable of going that far. On this day, well, it just wasn't to be. At just 2.5 miles in, and going down a long downhill section, a stick popped up into my rear wheel and derailleur. Poof, many parts were destroyed. Now, my group plans pretty well for this kind of thing and we had every part and tool needed to replace the chain, derailleur, and hanger. What we didn't have, unfortunately, were any spokes to replace the two broken spokes in the wheel. Considering how close we were to the beginning of the trail, we considered this terminal. There was just too much riding left to risk injury or more bike damage trying to ride a wheel missing those spokes (and thus now very warped as well).

I assumed my day was done. I might as well walk back to the trailhead and just go back to the cabin and surf the internet. But Steve had a better idea. There was a way to get to the middle of the trail by car (or very close to it, we weren't sure). But we didn't know how, and I needed a bike. But it seemed that I might just have time to find the answer on where to go AND go to the cabin and back to get a different bike, if I hurried. We hatched a plan that even included an elaborate communication mechanism in the event that I got to the meeting point too late (no cellphone coverage worked up here with any carrier). And fortunately I brought a spare bike (or two).

So I hoofed it pretty hard back out on foot. Took exactly 40 minutes to do 2.6 miles while carrying 3.5L of water and another five pounds of gear on my back and pushing a 32 pound bike over rocky singletrack. I got in Bob's truck, and headed down the valley to a store where I'd find my answer on where to go. Only they had no answer. In fact, the kid behind the counter said "I've lived here all my life, and I've never heard of that trail." Damn. I then inquired with the guy at the deli counter. His answer? "The kid up front should know." Ugh. But just then another customer piped up and pointed me to the Seneca Discovery Center across the street, which was really just a state park visitor center! Voila! Eureka! (Why that didn't occur to me to begin with, I don't know. I was in a hurry.)

I headed over and found a very nice ranger lady who whipped out a map and proceeded to show me exactly what to do. I jumped in the truck and headed to the cabin for the spare bike. I might have driven a tad briskly, but I got there, got the bike swapped and offloaded some of the gear I now wouldn't need since I was only doing half the ride. Then I may have driven a tad briskly again to my new trailhead for the day. This involved a good bit of two lane highway before I passed where we had dropped off our other truck to run shuttle. Then it was a TIGHT two lane paved road for about ten more miles, complete with switchbacks and miles of guardrail. And then another four miles of gravel road almost straight up ("High clearance vehicles are required."). Oh, and I ate my lunch while driving there. Briskly.

I tell you, it was a great sight when I rounded a bend in the gravel road and saw Alan on his bike strolling down the hill toward me. I picked him up and we headed back up to where everyone else was waiting. Turns out they had been there almost an hour and I was on the clock for another six minutes before they were out of there. So I geared back up, grabbed my new sled, and off we all went for the other 12 miles. Wow, that felt good.

The trail itself was amazing. Some of the best views ever, and some of the best riding around. A great mix of terrain all ending in an epic downhill. Sure, there were a few more technical issues, some sight seeing, and just a ton of fun. We really killed it out there today. I would have certainly loved to have done the entire thing, but sometimes you have to learn and grow in different ways than what you expected. On this day, I learned the true meaning of rally. Sometimes you rally up a hill. And sometimes you have to do something a little bigger. It would have been easy to just pack it in for the day. It would have been easy to have wondered "why me?" It would have been easy to eat some lunch and take a nap.

This trip isn't about easy. It's about epic. And it almost wasn't.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm a Warrior!

Today my buddy, Matt, and I did the Warrior Dash in Mountain City, Georgia. This was supposed to be pretty similar to the Rugged Maniac that I did a few weeks ago...all are basically obstacle course races that are about three miles in length and feature a fairly festive atmosphere. Events can vary pretty wildly from location to location due to the nature of what they have to work with, but I have to say, this particular event has a very interesting course. I don't think it was but a little over two miles in actual length, but the obstacles made up for that!

The course started out, somewhat ironically, with an annoying pavement and gravel road run. I think that allowed me to go out even harder than I planned and may have cost me a little. The first obstacle was simply having to jump into a lake and wade around fifty yards or so. And I should mention that it was nearly neck deep for my 6-2 frame in places, so some folks really had to swim! Oh, and it's Mountain City, Georgia, in May, which means the water was still pretty darned cold, especially at 8:30am!

It's hard to explain, but I took a slightly longer path through the water which got me closer to shore and through much more shallow water for much of it, which let me pass three people. Then we hit the tire area with the cars to climb over, which was really treacherous. They had it totally covered in mud. It was coming out of here that I noticed my legs seemed sort of non-existent. It wasn't a burn, it was more of a strange "you can ask for more, or even demand more, but there simply isn't more" kind of feeling. Can't recall having that. I don't know if it was the energy spent wading through the water or if it was being in water that cold for that long or a combination of the two, but it was odd, I know that.

Then I realized I had a shoe untied! I have no idea how the heck that happened, but I double-knot my running shoes and have for a while now, and am especially diligent about my shoe laces at races like this. But hey, these things happen, I suppose.

There were some run-of-the-mill obstacles like small walls to go over alternating with walls you had to crouch under. Then we hit the BIG wall. It had huge ropes hanging from it and some rungs that stuck out on the front, so while it was probably 12' high, I went over it quickly and easily (and passed folks here, too). Then we headed up onto the "mountain" trail, which was also very wet and muddy and had a good deal of slick climbing. There was a very annoying crawling feature in darkness (a tiny headlamp would be smart on these races, I think, but it would need to be small, waterproof, and cheap for the likely event you break it) and a huge cargo net feature that was thankfully more of a balance beam feature.

After leaving the mountain trail, you headed into the finish section. This started with a HUGE slide down a hill on plastic with running water on it. I was a little annoyed because as I approached there was nobody on it and four chutes and I was directed to the FURTHEST one away, with each runner behind me getting a closer path. SAY WHAT? I should have ignored the direction (I do not believe they would have DQ'ed anyone in this race for nearly anything) and taken the first one, but I did what I was told and ended up passed by one guy and maybe another just because they literally each had to run maybe 12 fewer steps than me! Ugh.

The proctors also yelled "no head first" as you approached. Hah! This thing was so long, fast, slick, and bumpy that it didn't matter. Go how you want, you're going to end up how IT wants you. I almost spun backward, but somehow found enough control to get my feet back forward. That was good, because the "end" simply slid you into a big area of straw that workers were constantly "fixing" with new straw as it got pushed down. So it was evident I could just put my feet down and pop up into a full stride, which is what I did. Matt said he actually did a complete 360 degree spin and did basically the same thing.

You ran through the straw and then into another water feature. It was just over knee deep with floating logs and chains of barrels to cross. That went fine until the last section of barrels. As I was crossing them, I put my hand on top of them to push over. My middle finger on my left hand slipped between two of the barrels right as they smashed together. Wow, serious pain. I jerked the finger out and it gushed blood from under the nail. And it's been seeping all day. Bye-bye, fingernail.

But I soldiered on, jumping over the row of fire and through the finish in 23:54. That was good enough for third quickest so far in the two heats of the day in my age group, but I'm sure will drop some as more waves completed. My target was to be top 5% of my age group for the entire event, and I think I probably did that. But I did not feel like I had anywhere near my best day, and I'm not entirely sure right now why. I haven't looked at the data close (I have GPS and HR data), but I will and I think I just need a day or two to let it all soak in. I definitely didn't make the same mistake as the Rugged Maniac...I paid no attention to my watch during the race!

I can say I had a lot of fun, and I hope they do that event again at that site next year. Compared with Rugged Maniac, they seem to have tougher obstacles and more of them (and way tougher than the Muddy Buddy, but that's really a different kind of race). The festival is also a little more impressive, though the medal and shirt weren't quite as good. I dunno, both were well done and I recommend both, but I'm looking forward to the Warrior Dash in Charlotte a little more now.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Muddy Buddy Race Report

So today Alan and I competed in the Muddy Buddy race in Richmond, VA. The Muddy Buddy is a two man team race where you use one mountain bike and play "leapfrog" with it. Both start at the same time with one running and the other biking. The biker goes ahead and gets to the first transition point and drops the bike, does an obstacle, and starts running. The runner arrives at transition, does the obstacle, and grabs the bike and starts riding. Then you rinse and repeat a few times until the end, where you have to pair back up near the finish for a few more obstacles (including the mud pit), and through the finish line. It was a great event, but I'll start with our race planning...

My coach is wonderful about making sure I train like I'm going to race, or at least attempt to approximate it as much as we can without knowing EXACTLY how an event will go, and for that I'm very lucky. That said, sometimes you can't quite get it exactly right until you've done a particular event before, so there were unknowns. Like the fact that this is called the "muddy buddy" even though the percentage of actual mud on the course is less than 1%. If you'll recall my recent post on the Rugged Maniac, you'll know that one was mostly mud, so we expected a bit more.

After some better research, which was mostly going through picture albums from previous years on the drive up (Alan did that while I drove!), we decided that this wasn't as "muddy" a race as we thought it was going to be (especially with no rain in the forecast), so we decided to change from one of my bikes that I had prepped for this to his 29" mountain bike. It's a great bike, but it's on slightly less knobby tires than what I had prepped. Which was great for this course, but wouldn't have been as good if it had been really muddy.

So, on the way up we decided to go hit the XTERRA course Alan had raced on in the past. It's in downtown Richmond and would give us a chance to get some light work in on the day before the race, which contrary to popular belief really is the best thing to do. (I actually take the day before that off.) We did that, including some bike swapping so we both got some time on his bike with our trick new pedals. They are basically some HUGE platform BMX pedals that I borrowed from Reid with Power Grips added to them. I have big feet, and with both of us needing to wear trail running shoes, we needed something with a MUCH wider footbed than a typical bike platform pedal, and this was JUST the ticket. It's not quite as good as being clipped in completely, but definitely a world better than just riding on platforms. Still allows a good amount of "pull" when you need it, which you can't do on platforms alone. Also keeps you more stable on uneven surfaces, where platforms are easy to bounce off of. Note, too, that our bike of choice was a "hardtail", which means no rear suspension. To make matters "worse", we locked out the front shock so we had almost no front suspension. This course was pretty smooth, so we went with the setup that provided the most pedaling efficiency. We were averaging around 15MPH on our bike legs, so it was fast for a "mountain bike."

After getting our light work in, which was longer than my coach prescribed already, we headed over to the race site to see if there was anywhere we would be able to park my RV overnight. They have an awesome campground at that site, but we decided too late in the game to do this race at all to get a reservation and it was fully booked. But we hoped that wherever they were planning to park everyone who was driving in would be available to just park overnight as we didn't need any particular facilities anyway. They were unwilling to open that parking area, but the lady at the office said someone had showed up who had reserved two spaces but only needed one. She sent us to see him, and he promptly sold us his extra space with water and electric hookups! SWEET. Had we not arrived almost exactly when we did, that would have never happened. It would have been a Walmart parking lot about 4 miles away instead.

So we got in the campsite and got setup and decided to jump on our bikes and go find the course. Of course once we found it we found that we were allowed to check it out, so we started riding it. And rode all 6.9 miles of it! We took it very easy, and this turned out to be a GREAT idea. We planned where we'd leave the bike at each transition point, and got to see the obstacles enough to know they were going to be very easy, technically. We also learned there was no "mountain biking", just fast off road gravel racing and running. The only "technical" element would have been the creek crossing, except for the fact that it wasn't able to be ridden at all. The only way to KNOW that, however, was to see it the day before. Except you can't see what you need to see as the water was a bit too murky. So I took off my shoes and socks and waded in. I'm very glad I did that.

So we went back to the RV and had supper and planned things out for the race. There were five legs (with four transition points), which meant one of us had to do three runs and two bikes, the other two runs and three bikes. We decided it made the most sense for Alan to do the three runs, which turned out to be a great strategy. We also made sure we communicated as the biker passed the runner during the run leg, so the runner would know the bike would be in transition, as there was a chance the bike may be later arriving at middle transition points. This didn't end up happening, but was close on one occasion.

We got up race morning and got our nutrition in and headed over to the start. We did a good job of staying at the front of our wave with the bike, but we did learn one potential problem...they were starting the runners a full two minutes behind the bikers in each wave. We also realized there were a lot of casual competitors in all the waves, and our wave was next to last. That meant a LOT of passing would be happening, which is less than ideal, but the same for everyone in our age group, anyway.

At the start, I was lined up in the second line of bikes. I took off hard, but not quite true sprint speeds. I quickly found that trying to ride Alan's riding position and bike wasn't ideal and should have been trained for better. Next time. Well, and next time we'll probably do more of a "compromise" position instead of me fully adopting his position, especially since I was doing more of the biking than he was anyway. I noticed most of the guys ahead of me off the line seemed to be sprinting and only a few were pulling away any at all. So I kept my pace and before half the leg was over I was in the lead of our wave. I kept on it pretty hard and got into transition and over the first obstacle (a small climbing wall) and headed out on the run. It's worth noting they had water stations at every transition, but I rarely get much water out of a cup into my mouth if I'm trying to run hard, and with my total run being a one mile leg and a 1.35 mile leg, I wasn't willing to "take it easy" so I could drink. I knew we'd be under an hour in this race, so hydration just wasn't necessary (the winners last year were a mid 47 minute time in our age group).

So I started at a pretty good clip and ended up running that first leg at around a 7:50 pace. I thought I could pull a little better than that, and I may have and just can't pull it out of the data exactly. It wasn't better than a 7:30, though, which was about where I thought I'd be. I thought if I ran that hard after a really fast bike leg that I'd have to wait just a little for Alan at this transition, but he ran so fast to start that he ended up passing me back right before transition, which was basically ideal. So we both did the "frog maze" at the same time and headed out again (a "frog maze" is a small maze you have to crawl through that's got solid walls and is covered, so it's fairly dark...but it was so easy there was no getting lost).

I started to feel the legs pretty good in this stint, but dug hard and got to transition. I chucked the bike where Alan could find it and took off through an inflatable "obstacle course". That would have been easy, but there were people "stuck" in there that made it a little dangerous and definitely slowed me down by 20-30 seconds just waiting. There's just nothing else you can do if you hit the obstacle at the wrong time like that. And it's not like I could have just beaten those people by being faster...they were slower people from previous waves.

Took off on this run, but was really struggling. I think this was more of a 9:30 pace stint. Couple hills got to me a little, and my legs just felt a little heavy. I think I just need more experience feeling like this, though, to know I can power through. I also need a little more work doing short distance running for speed, too, but for other reasons I've needed to get the base miles in to get my distance capability up, so that kind of thing will come. Alan passed me a lot earlier than I would have liked here, so I knew I was holding up the team just a little. He got the bike to the final transition and I got in there and got through it and took more time finding the bike than we hoped, but got it and got through. The problem there was simply the time gap meant a lot more bikes came in after he left, so it was "buried" a little deeper than I was expecting.

At this point, we were in the final leg. What I needed to do was catch him, but didn't really need to pass him since we had to finish the last obstacles together anyway. The creek crossing went very well for him thanks to my recon work, but it didn't help me as much because again, I got there with traffic in the way. It was a narrow area we were allowed to cross, and I was behind a clump of people. You can't really just squeeze between people when you have to carry a bike, which we did thanks to the rock ledge as you went into the water. But I got through, got past the clump, and took off. From here a lot of it was uphill to the finish, and I really felt burn in strange places in my muscles thanks to the odd riding position that I wasn't used to.

I actually never did catch Alan, but it turns out he only had to wait maybe 30 seconds for me, so I didn't hurt our time too much in those final two legs. I dumped the bike and we hit the rope wall and then plowed through the mud pit and to the finish. We were fairly certain we had done very well, but decided to head back to the RV to clean up. As we talked more about who we saw where (each wave had a color coded wristband, so it was easy to know if you were passing or getting passed by people in your wave, which likely meant they were in your age group), we realized we really did probably do very well, so we hurried back over and checked the results. Turns out we won our age group by over a minute! And qualified for the Muddy Buddy World Championships in December! YES! Our time was also nearly two minutes faster than the winning time from last year. Supposedly the only changes to the course were to add two hurdles to the running legs, so it wasn't any easier than last year. So, needless to say we're really proud of our finish!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Today was a great day. Thanks to running?!?

Me (blue shirt) near the Rugged Maniac start.

I recently blogged about the Rugged Maniac race that I did this past weekend, which was mostly gushing about how much fun I had, including a mention that I will do more races like this. In the time since then I’ve been researching and planning. There are definitely more of these in my near future! So today was my first scheduled training run since then, but today didn’t start off so hot...

To back up a bit, I’ve had to get up early a few mornings in a row, and I haven’t been getting to bed as early as I should (my own fault). My schedule this week is such that I couldn’t do strength training on my normal Monday/Friday kind of plan, so yesterday I got my strength coach (we’ll call him J as I’m not sure he wants any more clients...let’s just say I’m pain enough for him!) to let me work out again today. Only catch was I had to be in at 8am (I usually see him at 9:30 or 10am). So I had to get up even earlier (I always try to get up about an hour and a half before a workout to eat breakfast so that it has time to digest before I start). So when the alarm clock went off at 6:30 I struggled. Bad. I had a million excuses in my head. But I fought through all of them and got up and got my breakfast.

Gingerly I went up and down the steps. I was sore. I think this past weekend and yesterday’s three workouts (lower body weights, swimming, and some riding on the trainer) got to me pretty good. Sigh. But J had promised me we’d do core and upper body today, and I was mostly only sore in the lower body, so I pushed on. J could tell I was kind of beat today, but I think he sensed it was sleep more than a truly tired body, so he kept after me and we got a really good workout in. As much as he doesn’t really care for endurance sports (he’s an athlete builder, but prefers the muscle and power side rather than the endurance thing), he knows what I need and tailors things very nicely. At the end, though, I was pretty well spent.

I headed home, got a shower, and then went back out for my haircut. The lady that cuts my hair (we’ll call her A as I KNOW she is full up on clients right now) was even out of sorts a bit as she recently had surgery on her wrist and I don’t think it’s healing quite as fast as she had thought it would, so she basically worked one handed. I know what you’re thinking...and you needn’t worry about it. My hair is fine (well, as fine as it has ever been, anyway). A is more talented with one hand than most hair people are with two. That’s why she stays booked up. She’s also quite an awesome person and we joke that she’s my “life coach”, but it’s only half-joking as she really is one of those people you learn things from with every conversation.

So after that I went in search of cheeseburgers and a shake. Yeah, I know, I suck at the nutrition thing, but dammit, I needed cheeseburgers and a shake today. So I went to Char-Grill and had a couple hamburger steak sandwiches, and then to Chick-fil-A for a shake (Chapel Hill needs more good shake options!). That did good things for my mood, but I went home and found myself on the couch in a near-nap state for a couple hours before I needed to go pick up Kevin from school (Ashley was gone on a school field trip with Zach’s class to the zoo). I was dreading pick-up time...not because of having to do it, but because I knew that right after I needed to hit the trail for today’s scheduled run. In my near-nap state I had another few million excuses come up as to why I couldn’t run, but again, none of them were good enough. So when I got home, I prepped my gear, which includes getting my iPhone and starting Pandora. I’m kind of addicted to Pandora during my training runs these days, so I put it in my mesh fanny-bag-thingamajig and went outside to stretch. As I was doing that, the clouds were swirling and it was spitting just a little bit of rain. But it had been doing that all day, so I didn’t really think much of it.

Then I recalled a recent conversation with my endurance coach, Sage Rountree, where I asked what she did with her iPhone to keep from damaging it on her long runs (she had mentioned using the new Training Peaks GPS software for run tracking on her phone). She runs for hours and hours and hours and hours at a time, which can mean having to run in weather that’s sometimes less than palatable. Anyway, she said she basically just wraps it in cling-wrap and puts it in a mesh fanny-bag-thingamajig (that’s my own technical term, please do not steal it...I will hunt you down and punish you severely). I remembered that and decided to run back inside and wrap my phone just in case.

Good idea. The minute I began my run the bottom fell out and instantly soaked me.

But you know what? I took that as a bit of a sign. See, if you want to compete in adventure races like the Rugged Maniac, you have to be ready to run through mud and muck and whatever they decide to throw at you. And it might rain to boot. I had already been thinking about running through the occasional puddles and streams I used to jump over or go around, and this was just reinforcement that it was time to begin that. Today. Now. So I did. And boy did it feel great. I don’t know why, and I don’t know if it will last, but it felt GREAT. The rain ended quickly, but I ran through a stream instead of doing my usual rock-to-rock dance. I ran through a big puddle. I took a trail that I knew was soft even when it was dry, so today it was mud. And it was awesome slick mud goodness. Then I got to another stream and just started running IN the stream. Splash splash splash. Around downed logs too big to hop. Over the others. Avoiding the rocks that looked like they’d probably be slick. Splash splash splash.

I continued on for my prescribed thirty minutes looking for all the soft spots I could remember having to avoid in the past when the ground is wet like this. And I found them, one by one, and I relished every squishy step. I was also thinking about where I’d do the next part of my prescribed workout...strides and skips. Strides are just a quicker pace than the normal training pace (about what I’d run if I were racing a 5K) and 20 seconds of them. With perfect form. Then immediately I was to do 40 skips (20 each leg). Sage was funny in her instructions in that she quipped that I was lucky to have so much “private” land to do these skips. Little does she know that in each of the last couple summers I’ve been a part of some pretty cool outside workouts with J and some big-time athletes he trains and they always include skips (and those happen very much out in public!). J likes to yell at us, so not only are they skips, but they have to be HIGH skips. Slack off and you get yelled at. If nobody slacks off, he just finds the guy who skips with the least amount of amplitude and yells at him (which might sometimes be me, I admit...okay, it's always me). So I pretended J was there (he doesn’t yell but a handful of different things, so it’s pretty easy to hear him in your head) and I did my skips with amplitude.

I wanted to do these six sets of strides and skips out in the open, so I did them in a small field that wraps around a pond we have. It’s “private” out there, but the ground is also very uneven, slightly sloped, and can also be really soft in places when it’s this wet. Perfect training ground. You HAVE to pay attention. Heck, there are even groundhog tunnels that create problem places to watch out for. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I used the slope to my advantage and did the strides downhill today. I will not always do that, but today felt like a good day to do that. I did the skips on level ground, then walked back up.

I can’t explain why, but something struck me during that part of the run. I felt great. Sure, I was tired. But I felt GREAT. Alive. Free. Somewhat moved, even. And when I finished that last skip, I immediately started back into the last ten minutes of my run. No walk back, no recovery. It wasn’t necessary. I felt great. And I finished my run thinking the entire way about everything I’ve written here. And how I somehow needed to write it.*

* I don’t know why, but I also came to another realization. I’ve always suspected it, but I am a writer. Probably not much of one, mind you, because I’m not much of a reader, but I think anyone who has things in their head that they feel they MUST write is, by definition, a writer. At least by my definition. Not every blog entry of mine is something I have to write, but many are. That answers why I blog, I guess, which is another question I get from time to time.

So I finished up my run and stretching, picked up some packages that had arrived for me, and went to the house to get my recovery drink and have a shower. One of the packages wasn’t something I was expecting, so I opened it up to find one of the most thoughtful and unexpected gifts I’ve ever gotten. It’s not a story I want to go into here (I’ve rambled on long enough), but I’m truly blessed to have such great friends in this life. Then it was off to a wonderful dinner with my family and our “exchange student”, Chris. I tried to make up for the cheeseburgers and shake by having the blackened salmon salad, but then went awry again with a mixed drink. Now we’re home and I have my legs up while I finish this. For such an awful start, it sure was a great day...thanks to running in the rain and mud and doing glorious skips and a wonderful unexpected surprise.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"You don't use bookmarks?!?"

I got this question tonight after a friend asked me about syncing such things like bookmarks and contacts and email and finding out I don't actually use bookmarks. Apparently this wasn't considered normal. Worse is I had to admit I haven't used bookmarks in at least 12 years.

But how could this be? How does one live without bookmarks?

Well, it's no great secret that I'm lazy. But strangely, it's my laziness that causes me to not use bookmarks. Back when I did use them I remember being constantly annoyed at having to file them into usable groups and then remember or figure out which group I had put them in. Then I needed to cull the no-longer-necessary ones or things still got out of hand. So ultimately they did get out of hand and I just stopped using them.

But how? Well, mostly because of Yahoo! search, and then Google once it got better and faster (and, coincidentally, it was around this time that my old company, Red Hat, actually had meetings and attempted to buy Google long before they went public). If I couldn't remember the URL I needed, I just did a quick search and clicked on the result. These days it's even easier, as your browser caches the places you visit and can do "auto-complete" for you if you type any small part of the URL. Now, I don't often go places where I can't remember some word in the URL, so this makes life easy. For example, if I'm looking for the twitter page for the Warrior Creek race:

Then I just click the down arrow twice and hit enter. Boom. No muss, no fuss.

But do I do that for all the pages I visit multiple times per day? Nope. I simply leave those open in my browser all the time. Firefox (and Safari and probably other browsers) now do tabbed browsing as well as session management. This means that you can open multiple web sites in different "tabs" in your browser. And if you quit your browser those sites come right back into the same places when you start it again. And now Firefox even has what they call "application tabs", which let you make certain sites use tiny tabs with no words. It is even smart enough to highlight things like the Twitter tab when there are unseen tweets. Check this out:

To explain further, from left to right, we see a Twitter tab (with unseen messages), a Facebook tab (no new notifications), a Tarheel Sports Car Club forum tab, another useless racing forum, then a "page not found" tab, etc. So I actually do generally have anywhere from ten to thirty different tabs open across different Firefox windows.

So, to ease my "no bookmarks" pain, I simply leave everything open I use often, use the cache to type part of a URL that I've visited before, or failing those, a quick Google usually gets it in a click or two. So the only real pain is when I'm using a new device for the first time, but that's not terribly often, and definitely not enough to go back to the pain of maintaining bookmarks.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How rugged are you?

Well, I don't know how rugged you are, but I'm feeling pretty rugged right about now. Just got home from the Rugged Maniac 5K in Asheboro. Wow, that was fun!

Got there in time to watch the start of a wave before our start, which was incredibly useful. Much like our bike race last weekend, there was a choke point near the beginning that caused a long line of people to have to almost stand and wait. So we made sure we got near the start line for the start, and we bolted pretty hard at the beginning.

The only problem with that was I was worried about it spiking my heart rate, so that made me watch my heart rate, which made me slow down in the middle of the race more than I really should have. I learned my lesson there...I really can go in the 170's for a 5K and even navigate obstacles just fine. But we never got choked at any obstacles, so it worked out pretty well.

Obstacles? Oh yeah, OBSTACLES! They were AWESOME. Early on there was a water and mud pit covered in barbed wire you had to crawl through. I mean completely soak yourself in muddy water awesomeness. Then there were all sorts of other obstacles including MANY walls to scale, tubes to crawl through (which were also all muddy at this point), rope ladders to climb, fires you had to jump over, and long "skinnies" you either ran across or waded through water beside. Even just the trail part was SOFT mud that caked your shoes instantly. At the end was a huge slide you went down into a water pit with floating pipes you had to go over, then you had to scale a 4' vertical mud wall and off to the finish.

There simply was no way to do this without being completely soaked and nasty. The tips I have for a race like this are to start at the front and start fairly hard, wear GOOD trail shoes, and wear as little clothing as you can get away with because it will be instantly soaked. Oh, and keep an eye after EVERY obstacle to make sure you don't lose your number since it has your timing chip on it. Many competitors lost theirs, and many had to just run holding it.

Alan finished in about 24 minutes and I think I was about 25 and a half in our wave. I forgot to start my watch right at the beginning, but didn't miss too much of it, I don't think. Less than a minute, probably. The data is here. You can see I actually lost my Garmin cadence pod off my shoe about 12 minutes in. I'm not entirely sure about the 189 HR spike in there, but an average of 172 is pretty high for me, but maybe where I need to be for a race this short. But I do know I really could have pushed harder in the middle than I did...I kept trying to get my HR back down in the 160's for some stupid reason, and that cost me a good bit of time.

I really don't feel burnt out for the day, either. I really think if I took a few hours to rest, eat, and then warm back up well, I could actually go out and do that course again even faster just from knowing the obstacles better. I did pass a lot of people thanks to obstacles, but I also felt like I could shave a good bit MORE time on my next race like this. And there will be more!

Training at the ranch by running on my trails, even on rainy days, was a HUGE help. And it made me want to put in some optional obstacles. Muahahahahahaaaaaaaa. Anyone know where to buy huge rope nets?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Want to see me race a mountain bike?

I used to wonder what I looked like, but now I'm a little frightened by it. I mean why couldn't I have my mouth shut? Oh, right, I breathe through it. Then why couldn't I be doing something cool with my tongue like Michael Jordan? In case you forgot:

I wanna be like Mike, really I do, but I guess it just ain't happening. At least we both had the red thing going. That reminded you of Mike, didn't it? Just a little, even? No? Damn.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Warrior Creek Six Hour Mountain Bike Race Report

Well, I've been training for it for a while now, and today we headed to North Wilkesboro for the 6 Hours of Warrior Creek. My friends Alan, Bob, Michael, and Tom all shared a pit space, and Reid and I partnered up to do the race as a team (the rest of the guys went solo). The way the race works is there is a 13 mile loop and you complete as many laps as you can complete before the 5.5 hour cut-off when you can start one more (which also must be finished in under seven full hours). The first lap is 13 miles but has nearly a mile of pavement first to help string the field out, but all the rest of the laps are trail only.

If the mile of pavement was supposed to string us out, I can't imagine what would have happened without it. The big problem was the area got a reasonable amount of rain overnight, so as soon as people hit the trail, it was stop and roll city for several full minutes thanks to soupy mud. Things settled out to where you could ride finally, and then it was just sloppy and nasty and crazy. There were steep hill sections where one person would spin out and cause a huge pile-up behind of riders who had to walk because once you lost your momentum, there was no re-starting in the soup. Some spots were so slick you couldn't walk your bike up without being VERY careful. I saw several walkers fall, not to mention a bunch of riders falling here and there. Heck, I had to slalom a few downed folks once.

One problem I found was a little too much of a willingness to just ride behind people that I would catch rather than bothering to try to pass. Passing on these courses is kind of bad as it is, and in this soup it could be downright dangerous. But I still could have been a good bit more aggressive in going around people instead of settling for their speed instead of mine, and I worked on that later. But this first lap was more about survival, and survive I did. It was pretty slow at 1:26 (I had done an "easy" ride about 10 days before that was 1:21), but I had no crashes and only had to walk up maybe two very slick hills. Tom apparently did a 1:08 on the first lap, but that was in huge part thanks to lining up on the front row (I was a minute back in the pack) and doing a huge sprint on the start to be up with the experts when he hit the trail. So no big traffic, and he's just fast. Alan was second out of our group at about 1:25, I was third, and Michael was right behind me (I actually didn't pass him until the last climb when he had a minor fall in a slick spot). Bob was a good ways back, but he hasn't been able to train like he would have liked and riding solo was really just taking it easy.

I passed off the team duties to Reid, and he went out and did about a 1:30 lap. That was pretty good given his level of training (and bike choice, which was a little bit limiting), and apparently the mud did a LOT of drying during his lap. In fact, I chose ten minutes before the start of the race to switch from my 29" bike with fast rolling but small knobby tires to my 6" travel full suspension bike that had big knobbies on it. Excellent choice given the slop (I knew it had rained, but I thought it was just a small amount that wouldn't affect the awesome clay at Warrior Creek...thankfully I came to my senses!). But what I didn't know was how well it I went back out on the same bike. Bad move. That bike is heavier and robs a lot more power via the rear suspension, and my 29" bike is a hard tail. And has fast rolling tires. And the course was now just good and tacky, which would have been perfect. Oh well, didn't cost but maybe a couple minutes, I'd guess.

The second lap for me (and third for the team) started out kind of weird. Even though I trained a few times by doing hard rides, taking a long break, and going hard again (thanks coach!, I wouldn't have done that without you and it would have been worse), it still took a mile or so to get back in the flow. But when I did, wow did it feel good. Unfortunately, I didn't keep myself in check and I really started flying. I was passing aggressively (but nicely!) and really rolling well. But I sort of just blew out early thanks to that...I was at the six mile marker in just 35 minutes, but died on the second half. I could have done a third lap thanks to the break, but it wouldn't have been much fun.

I got back in and handed it over to Reid (just in front of Alan!), and he did great for about four miles, but then he blew out, too. His final lap was right around two full hours, and we missed the cut-off to start a fifth lap. I really feel like we would have made that if the conditions would have been perfect from the start, but that first mud lap really sapped the energy and killed my time (I was hoping to be under 1:10), and I think Reid's first lap (even though it was drying up) did the same to him.

My real goal, having never done anything like this before, was to simply have fun for the entire ride. Unfortunately, it was all but impossible to enjoy that first lap, but even so I didn't hate it, either. I sort of felt like it was kind of neutral, which was kind of a mental achievement in itself. If you had told me the course was going to be that muddy I might not have raced at all, but having done it I don't think I'd shy away next time if I really felt like it was going to dry out like it did. The second lap was one I really did enjoy, with the only exception being most of the climbs on the last half of it (which aren't terrible, honestly, so it's not like they ruined my fun or anything). It was a lot of fun stepping up the aggression level and having it pay off in terms of passing, too. My big fear in doing that is always that you over-do it and pass someone that's just in a little rest zone or something and then you have to let them go by you when you die on a climb, but that never happened. Which makes sense as once people are that spread out on a course, if you catch them, you ARE faster than they are. And as a team rider, there were a LOT of solo riders who were kind of starting to die pretty hard on their third lap (to my second!). So I got to do a lot of passing.

One of my bigger fears about mountain bike racing from the beginning was passing. By design most of these trails are fairly narrow, and since you're racing you'd think it would be hard to pass. But racers generally have a lot of respect for one another and if you catch someone they will often OFFER you a place to pass. And even if they don't, all you have to do is "claim" a pass by letting the rider know which side you intend to pass on (verbally....a simple "pass on the right") and they will almost always not only move over, but slow a bit to let you get it done easily. It helps to pick your passing spots well, too, so it doesn't slow the other rider much, or simply make sure you have the legs to BLAST by. I really like that part of this sport. I'm sure once you get to the top levels and you're nearing the end of a big race, the etiquette dries up a little, but that's to be expected.

Anyway, we completed four laps and had fun. Tom completed four and barely missed the cut-off to do another (thanks to a heinous flat tire early in the race that cost him 20 minutes!), and Alan was second in the group with four as well but right at six hours. Michael did three in under the cut-off, but chose to stop there thanks to some big cramping issues. Bob did three in just under six hours and was really happy with that. The laps were almost exactly 13 measured miles, but the berms and switchbacks always fool the GPS into thinking it's shorter and show only 11 miles or so. You can see my data from the ride here.

So, long day, but a lot of fun. I'm a little bewildered that my power average was only about 25W higher than where I have been training, but honestly I did go 26 miles. That is further than I typically ride, too, by a decent amount, so going longer and a significant amount harder is still a nice accomplishment. I have no idea how we finished relative to everyone else, and don't care too much, either. I'll look at the results whenever they get them available online, but for now I'm just gonna recover (plug!) and look forward to more riding and more fun and getting even better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What do we learn by teaching?

A string of recent events in my life have led me to ask what do we learn by teaching? There are a lot of general answers to this, and I'm sure there's a lot of study about it. First I'd like to share some anecdotal evidence of things I've learned by teaching.

The first thing I noticed when I started doing high performance driving instruction was how much I learned about how to be a better driver from teaching. One of the main things is the most obvious, and that is it simply reinforces those things you already know. You hear yourself telling your pupil what you want from them, and it helps solidify those things in your own mind. Their questions and struggles might be things you've questioned or struggled with yourself. Even if not, sometimes it's enlightening to see what others do struggle with and relate that to how you might have been struggling and not even realized it. But either way, this all relates to getting better yourself at the things you know how to teach.

Another thing we learn by teaching is what we don't know. Sometimes we can teach things we can't actually DO ourselves, but most of the time that's much more difficult. If you can't do it yourself then you find a need to learn it quickly, or at the very least recognize it's a skill you lack and lack the ability to teach and might want to learn before you take on another student. But teaching can be a good way to learn your own shortcomings. Well, it's good for the teacher, maybe not so much for the student!

Something else we learn by teaching are valuable attributes like patience. Coaching kids on sports teams is really a lot of teaching, and it's an environment where you are required to have a lot of patience. It's really not acceptable to do it if you can't have the patience to keep from getting angry or upset when the students don't get it as fast as you'd like...or worse, simply won't bother to learn it because practice is too close to bed time, they haven't had supper yet, or school was simply a complete drain on their cognitive ability for the day.

Okay, so those are some things you learn from teaching. Today I got some nice praise by being a good student, and that got me to thinking about why I might actually be a good student. Now, don't get me wrong, I did pretty well in school. I attribute that to a reasonable IQ along with a fear of getting in trouble for not doing what was expected of me (for the most part). But what about now? Is it just those things? Is there something more? Yes, I think there is something more. Something much more. There has to be something more, because I think I'm a much better student now than I ever was. I think that difference comes from my experience as, you guessed it, a teacher.

Having had a variety of experience now as a teacher (and no, I'm not claiming to be very good at being a teacher...far from it, but that's not the point here), I know the feeling you get when a student has an epiphany. I want my teachers to have that. But not necessarily because I just love my teachers or anything sappy (I mean I do, I do love you teachers!), but also because that epiphany feels good. It's a mutual thing. I know they are in it at least partly because they enjoy that feeling of seeing a student succeed, and I'm in it because I want to succeed, too. So while I'm only doing things I want to do and be good at, I also enjoy seeing my teacher have that sense of success that comes with me succeeding. It's really what we're both in it for, after all.

Okay, so this is no great revelation. But what I couldn't help but wonder is how do we get our kids to become teachers themselves at an EARLY age? How do we maybe give them some of that experience of being successful teachers so they'll better understand what their own teachers go through? I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear yours. What I know is that my kids often learn things that I don't know and next time that happens instead of saying "show me" I'm going to try to demand that they "teach me." We talked at the dinner table tonight about the difference in showing someone something and teaching someone something, and we're doing to try to adhere to that. And when they struggle with the teaching part, we'll try to help them. Nobody just inherently knows how to teach. It's a skill. But it's a skill that can be built at an early age, that much I'm sure. Maybe not all the intricacies of being a great college professor, but enough basics that they can more effectively help their peers, siblings, and at times, the parents.

It's never too late to learn, and often teaching is learning.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why am I working out so much (or so hard)?

For the last 9 years I've worked out with a professional strength trainer. At times it's been as many as five days per week, but for most of it I'd say the average was three times per week. Otherwise I was occasionally mountain biking and playing basketball. I've gotten a lot stronger and more explosive in that time, and both sports have seen the benefit of it. But a few months ago I dropped back to two days per week of strength training and added a professional endurance training coach to also get me running and biking more. How much? Three days of running and three days of biking. Each per week. And I take one day off completely, so that means two days a week I'm doing both strength along with running or biking. Oh, but there's more...I recently started a church basketball league, so while that's going on I also have two days a week where I'm playing basketball along with the running or biking.

So, why am I working out so much (or so hard)? I get this question a lot. Often times it really means different things. Sometimes it is literal because the person asking it doesn't know I play basketball and wonders what I'm training for. Sometimes it's more philosophical because they know I have a goal or two but they wonder why I have those goals. Sometimes it's something in between, I think. And sometimes the question comes with an incredulous "why would anyone want to do that?!?" That's the one I least understand because that one has some strange caring undertone. Like I'm crazy and they are concerned for me, which I find odd. There are plenty of people out there who are truly obsessed with training, and believe me, I'm not even near THAT scale.

At any rate, I do have some real goals. First, well, I want to live longer and be more healthy. Strength training alone won't do that. Second, I love playing basketball and want to remain good at it (and even continue to improve) for quite some time. Third, I want to be a much better mountain biker (I want to ride for longer periods, I want to conquer bigger hills and obstacles, and I want to enjoy killer days that much more by being ready for them). Last, I want to try to see if I can do triathlons.

Whoa, what? Triathlons? Those are a big deal. What's up with that? Well, I've done a couple now that were "adventure" triathlons, which meant they were kayak paddling, mountain biking, and trail running. Unfortunately, those are hard to find. What there are a good many of, however, is XTERRA triathlons, which are open water swimming, mountain biking, and trail running. I used to run cross country and track in high school, though for a time I was a self proclaimed "hater" of running. Probably because at some point (ie. most of my life) I was really bad at it.

The bigger problem, though, is that swimming thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I can swim. I have no problems jumping in a big bad lake from my boat and swimming around after my kids. But I've never done any kind of endurance swimming, and the few times I've tried to do it, I've failed miserably. And I'd say at some point I considered myself a "swimming hater", too.

So what the heck am I doing considering triathlons if I "hate" 2/3 of the sports? Well, that's just it. I don't really hate them. In fact, I'm finally starting to enjoy running some. Probably because it doesn't make me feel like I want to vomit and/or shoot myself for 95% of the time I'm doing it. I think I would hate it if I were trying to do it all on the road, but since I can do most of it on trail, well, I like it more. My mind stays engaged the entire time and can't wander to thoughts of being bored or how much something "hurts" or whatever. You have to watch out so you don't trip or break your ankle or whatever. There are surface changes to contend with, slippery roots, and the occasional snake who doesn't appreciate being awakened from his nap.

I'm just getting started with the swimming thing, but I'm treating it like some foreign task I've never done before and want to be really good at. I'm getting top notch coaching and trying to pretend that, other than being able to save my life if I screw up by using my instinctive swimming ability, I've never done this before. It's a completely new challenge in a completely new environment. It's giving me the opportunity to meet some new and interesting people, and honestly, I've found that a coach/athlete relationship is kind of awesome when the athlete is completely willing to throw themselves into what they're doing and the coach is doing what they love doing. It's a perfect mix, because both parties are going to see serious results.

My biking and my running have improved by a lot in four short months. I've got a little over three months to get my swimming passable before my first XTERRA triathlon. Now, I've got no real goal about how I finish. I have no idea what to expect, honestly. But I do have a friend who will be doing the event with me who has not only done a good many XTERRA events, but has done very well in them. So I don't have much to worry about with how the event itself will go. Sure, I'll make some transition mistakes and maybe worse, but the first event will be all about seeing what they are all about, learning how things go, and getting a good taste of it all. Will I do more? I have no idea. I'd say the chances are good, but I have to get better into this swimming thing first. I believe I can, though, and I know I have some GREAT coaches around me. I not only enjoy seeing my results, but I enjoy making them proud, too. I don't know why, but that part is something that helps me, too.

What else is there? Mountain bike races. Trail running races. And, not to be forgotten, the Krispy Kreme Challenge! Four miles broken up half way with a required consumption of a full DOZEN glazed hunks of awesome. Go big or go home, I always say! I am not ruling out an occasional traditional triathlon, though I don't generally enjoy road riding and find road running a little harder on my surgically repaired knees. But sprint triathlons may be an option as I do have a nice road bike on the way from Victor at The Bicycle Lab. It seems a waste to only use that bike for a trainer and two weeks at the beach (where there is no mountain biking, but there is a really great highway for road biking fairly safely).

The last reason for all this? Curiosity. I'm genuinely curious how far I can push things and how well I can do as a result. That's certainly only a small part, but it's also something out there. The handful of races I have done reminded me of something I had forgotten from my days of high school cross country: I race way better than I train. I think back then I thought that was just because I didn't like to train and was lazy. But now that I'm not so lazy, I find that I still race better than I train. I wonder if I'll find a point where that's no longer true, or I wonder if there's something inside me that will always let me beat anyone who I'm still near as a race nears its end. Competing in bigger and bigger races will answer that. Might as well go find out...