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 dried...so 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.