Monday, April 25, 2016

Race recap: The Leatherwood 10-mile ultra!

Come to Leatherwood again, they said. It'll be fun, they said.

So I did.

Leatherwood is the site of my one attempt to run an ultra, in 2014. That didn't turn out so well.

I came back in 2015 to enjoy a weekend in a nice cabin and run the 10-mile race. That went considerably better.

This year, still recovering from injury, I decided once again to run the 10-miler. I told myself in no uncertain terms that I was only running the race "for fun." Arriving the day before the race at the palatial cabin Sam had reserved for our group, I did the funnest thing I could think of -- climb up onto the giant horse sculpture in front of the house:

Yeehaw! Somehow I don't think my wife thinks this is as funny as I do....

I didn't restrain myself in beer-drinking the night before the race as this was all supposed to be "fun." That might have been a bit of a mistake.

The next morning I awoke early enough to see Karl, Sam, and Tristan start the 50k:

Smile now while you have the chance!

The 10-miler didn't start for another two hours, plenty of time to go back to the cabin, drink another cup of coffee, have breakfast, and get ready for my race. That extra cup of coffee might have been another bit of a mistake.

Finally the five of us who would be running in the 10-miler piled into cars and drove back to the start, where we met fellow DARTer Chad Randolph, who was also running the 10-miler:

Stephanie, Michelle, Chad, Chris, me, and Ashley

We had found out that the course would be different from last years' 10-miler. This time it would mostly follow the second loop of the 50k, the one that had given me so many problems two years ago. Fortunately it had been a relatively dry week and race day was cool and sunny, so I hoped it wouldn't be as muddy as before.

The course started on a paved road, which allowed the runners to string out nicely. I figured the race would take about as long as a road half-marathon, so I should probably be running the road portion at my half-marathon pace, about 8:00 per mile. I completed Mile 1 in 8:14, which seemed about right considering it involved 84 feet of climbing. There were maybe 15 people ahead of me. Then we turned onto the first trail, a singletrack that headed across a couple small creeks and then up a major hill. I passed a few people on the hill, traded places with a woman a couple times, then crested onto a rolling section before hitting a steep climb. Since I was walking this part anyways, and since this was supposed to be for "fun," I pulled out my phone and snapped a selfie:

I didn't see Chad behind me (in red) until I looked at this photo later!
Everything was feeling great until I hit the first steep downhill of the race, about halfway through Mile 3. Then I began to feel the beginnings of a cramp in my quads. I've never cramped in my quads! What was up with that? After another 100 yards the cramp was strong enough that I decided to try to stop and stretch. Chad and woman behind me in the photo above passed me, and Chad looked concerned. I said it was just a little cramp and I should be okay, but I was concerned too. Leatherwood doesn't do switchbacks; you're either going straight up or straight down, and any hill steep enough to cause me to break my stride was leading to cramping.

Somehow I made my way down the steep sections (with a couple more people passing me) until the trail broke out onto a gravel road. Now the incline was less and I was able to run with my usual stride. It hurt, but it was bearable. Near the end of Mile 4 was an aid station, where Chris caught up with me and I had a couple cups of Tailwind and a couple pieces of banana, hoping they would help with the cramping. Now we were on a paved road for most of Mile 5 and I picked up the pace to around 8:10, again up a gradual hill. I caught one guy who had passed me earlier, and at the end of the mile arrived at the infamous creek crossing. I had done this crossing two years ago and knew it was no big deal so I plunged right in. The guy right ahead of me was taking it more gingerly so I managed to pass him in the creek:

The water was actually refreshing!

Next was another big climb, which I remembered being horrendously muddy in 2014. This time the footing was great, and I was able to walk/run up it pretty easily. I began to figure I was through with the quad-cramping. I passed another runner (a shirtless guy) on the climb, but he passed me again on the next downhill as I noted that the cramping had not gone away. But fortunately there was another big climb ahead and I passed shirtless guy again.

This became a theme of the last half of the race, me passing shirtless guy on the climbs, he passing me back on the descents. There was a long, gradual climb on a gravel road up to the second aid station at Mile 6.5, and I figured I'd lost him for good, but then the trail descended rapidly and I began to cramp up again nearly as badly as before and he passed me back. I passed him yet again on the next climb and then hit a more gradual downhill that I was able to run down without breaking my stride. I figured I could hold of the shirtless guy, but before I knew it, he had passed me again around Mile 8.

At Mile 8.2 on my Garmin we came back out onto a gravel road, and Chris had caught up with me as well. "There's no way I'm going to stay with you on the road, Dave," he said, putting a little pressure on me to pick up my pace. Shirtless guy was in my sights ahead, and I gave it everything I had. This was a gradual downhill to the finish, about a mile long, and I was running a 7:10-ish pace.

About halfway down the road I passed Shirtless Guy again, and he just said "go get 'em," so I figured he was cooked. I strode as hard as I could all the way to the finish, which my GPS clocked at 9.3 miles (inaccurate as GPS tends to be on trails). Chris had passed Shirtless Guy too, so the two guys wearing their Brolympus Racing Team shirts finished as a team!

Go Brolympians!
I ended up 18th overall, just behind Chad. DARTer Ashley Neff was ahead of both of us as second female, and it wasn't long before Michelle and Stephanie rolled in as well.

My quads were sore, but I don't think I injured them. A few days of taking it easy and I expect they will be ready to run another day.

All the 10-milers headed home for showers, then returned to have some beers and watch the 50kers finish:


Tristan got the "soccer tunnel" finish as he completed his first ultra!

Back at the cabin that night we were able to really let loose and celebrate a great race. Karl even filmed me doing Old Skool rap in our rustic country lodge:

Bustin out the rhymes Whodini-style

Primary objective achieved: I had fun! In hindsight, the several beers the night before the race, plus the coffee before the race, may have contributed to some dehydration on race day, which might have caused the cramping. But I still finished strong with no permanent damage, so I'll take it.

Leatherwood, for all the grief it has caused me, is one of my favorite races, and I hope it continues to provide great times in the years to come. Details of my race are below.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Race Recap: The Belews Lake Tri- er- Duathlon

On Friday morning I was in a bit of a panic. The aero wheels I had borrowed for the race were great, but my running / cycling / swim buddy had left out a key component: The cassette (the gears on the rear wheel). I could use the cassette from my wheel but I didn't have the tool to do that. My buddy suggested taking it to the local bike shop. But the more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure I wanted to use the wheels. The forecast for Saturday's Belews Lake International Triathlon was for temperatures in the low 40s, with winds of 18 miles per hour, gusting to over 30. Aero wheels make a bike more unstable in any conditions, and gusting winds make the task of handling bike even more challenging, because they give it a bigger profile in the crosswinds. I decided to stick with my tried-and-true wheels. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. As I left my house, the thermometer read 37 degrees. I didn't notice much wind, but it wasn't really forecast to pick up until 9 or 10 am -- right when I'd be getting on my bike in the race. Sure enough, when I arrived at Belews Lake 90 minutes later, the wind had already picked up. I wore my down jacket to the race check-in. At the body-marking station, racers stripped off several layers and left their clothes in heaps to get their numbers and divisions marked — only to cover them back up to avoid freezing!

I walked my bike down to the lake and looked down at the swim course. The wind was howling across the course, and there were whitecaps in the water where we were scheduled to be swimming in an hour! Here's a photo of the course:

If you look carefully, you can see the orange buoys we were supposed to swim around
As the morning progressed, the wind just got stronger, and after I laid out my gear in the transition area, I headed to the warm up tent. About 30 minutes before the race start, a guy popped into the tent and said "swim's cancelled." Most folks let out a sigh of relief. I went outside to see what the problem was and saw that the whitecaps and gotten even larger, and one of the course-marker buoys had blown at least 100 yards out of position. And the wind was only forecast to get stronger. Probably the right call!

Waiting for an open-water swim in a down jacket....

So now we would be running a duathlon - a 5k run, 27-mile ride, and another 5k run. I decided to wear my cycling shirt, arm-warmers, and bike gloves for the run. Then my first transition would be easy -- just throw on my helmet and bike shoes and go. But as I prepared to start the run, I noticed that I had forgotten the toe-covers on my bike shoes. Nothing I could do about that -- I guessed I'd just have cold feet during the ride. Next I tried to start my heart rate monitor -- no luck with that either. No problem, I could run and ride by feel.

I headed up to the start line, where the race had already begun. As they had planned to do with the swim, runners were being released gradually to minimize congestion in the transition area. I ended up lining up near the back. No worries, I thought, It'll be fun passing people on the run and ride.

Sure enough, as soon as I started I was passing people with regularity. The 5k course was a hilly out-and-back:

Holy mother of mountains!
The total elevation gain for the course was 213 feet. Compare that to the "hilly" Tightwad 5k course I ran in January -- 141 vertical feet. I did that race at an average 7:07 pace and was dying by the end. This time around, a similar pace felt comfortable. I guess the three months of training since then have paid off! I ended up measuring the course at 3.23 miles, with a 7:06 pace, officially a time of 22:53, feeling like I had plenty left for the ride. As I passed by the finish, Ryan, the official announcer (and a running buddy of mine), said he figured I'd passed over half the field during the run. I'm not sure about that but it definitely gave me a boost.

My transition went smoothly (1:25), and soon I was on the bike. My plan for the ride had been to pace myself using heart rate zones: Zone 4 for the climbs and Zone 3 for everything else. But that plan had to be tossed because I didn't have an HRM. My hope had been to go at least 20 mph on average, or 21 if I was really feeling good. But that plan hadn't accounted for the winds. By the time I was on the bike, the forecast proved to be quite accurate: 18-mph winds gusting to 30+. The one consolation was that the wind was mostly from the side. The course layout, a double loop, turned out to be very forgiving for this wind:

The wind was from the northwest, but the ride was mostly north/south, so for the most part it was just a crosswind. It was tending to a tailwind on the southbound part of the route, which was mostly uphill, and much of the dead-on headwinds we got on the northbound portion of the course were on downhill segments. As on the run, I passed lots of riders on the bike leg, and I'm pretty sure no one passed me, so I had a good ride. I also was experimenting with Tailwind for my nutrition on this tri. I've never carried anything but water to drink during a race but I've tried it at aid stations during ultras, and unlike Gatorade, it goes down quite well. My mixture had 3 scoops, or 300 calories' worth of nutrition, and I made sure to drink regularly. I'd almost finished it by the time I got to the aid station around Mile 15, so I decided to grab some water. I may have been going a bit too fast, because as I grabbed the water, it squirted out of the top like a geyser. Fortunately, I managed to hang on and dumped it into the bottle with the rest of my Tailwind.

There were a couple points on the back side where the wind really whipped across the course. I had to lean in and oversteer dramatically to counter the wind. I'm not sure if I would have been able to maintain control if I'd been using aero wheels! That said, many riders did finish the course using aero wheels, and one brave biker even had a disk on the rear wheel, so maybe I'm just being chicken. Either way, I don't think they would have given a huge advantage except for the few miles on the course when we really were riding straight into the wind.

In the end, I finished the ride, which I measured at 27.2 miles, at a 19.7-mph pace, officially 1:23:03. That was a little slower than my goal, but given the conditions, I'm pretty happy with the ride.

I didn't feel especially cold during the ride (and I LOVED the new arm-warmers), but as I rode into the finish I could tell that my feet were quite numb. I hopped off the bike and hobbled into the transition zone. I found I just couldn't get my legs to move as fast as I wanted. I sat down and took the time to double-knot my shoes and take one last swig of Tailwind from the extra bottle I had in the transition area. Then I climbed back on my feed and stumbled out for the run. My T2 time was 2:13, slower than ideal, but not terrible.

Starting out on the run, I really struggled to get my legs moving. I simply could not feel my feet, and while I trusted that they would do what I wanted them to do, my legs were cold enough that they were not responding like they normally do. Add to that the fact we were running up an 8 percent grade, and it felt like I was crawling up the hill. The guy ahead of me actually started walking less than 100 yards from the transition zone, so clearly I wasn't the only one struggling with this!

After the hill leveled off a bit, I did manage to gradually pick up the pace, but nothing like what I had done during the first run. I made it over the top of the hill and started heading back down, but still I struggled to make my legs move like I wanted them to. I still had no feeling in my feet! I've experienced numbness in my feet after a ride before, but never to this degree. It was very frustrating. Somehow I managed an 8:01 first mile.

For the next two miles, I gradually warmed up a bit, sliding off my arm warmers and breaking a sweat on my forehead. But the feeling never returned to my feet. I did gradually increase the pace, with a 7:37 Mile 2 and a 7:26 Mile 3, but I never hit the pace I had attained for the first run, and I felt like, if not for my cold muscles, I could have run faster. Overall my time for Run 2 was 24:38.

My total time for the duathlon was 2:13:56. This turned out to be fourth in my age group by less than two minutes. Argh! But it was my best age-group result in a triathlon to date, so I'll take it!

It was frigid in the finish area so I didn't hang around for long. I put sweats on over my race gear, put my down jacket back on, and packed everything up quickly to get back to the car. It was only then that I realized that I hadn't taken a post-race photo, so I snapped a quick shot in the car:

Still looking pretty cold!
So not the ideal setting for a duathlon (or triathlon), but I'm pretty happy with how I performed under the conditions. I'd like to try another one before my main race in June, and I'd also like to sign up for a nice, flat road 5k to see how I do in that. We'll see if I manage to do either of those things! Next up is a 10-mile trail race at Leatherwood. Details on yesterday's race are below:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Race Preview: The Belews Lake International Triathlon

My first triathlon of 2016 will be a "tune-up" with a total of 34.1 miles of swimming, biking, and running. In other words, it matches my longest triathlon. I consider it a tune up because I'm training to do a 70.3-mile half-Ironman in June.

The Belews Lake Tri is known for having cold weather, a hilly but fair ride, and a tough run. This year, the weather is currently forecast at 47 degrees for the start, with a chance of rain. The organizers are concerned enough about the cold that they added a duathlon option -- run 5k, bike 27 miles, run another 5k -- in lieu of the full triathlon.

But 47 degrees doesn't strike me as awful. I'll be in a wetsuit for the swim so that will be fine, and on the bike I've been riding in much colder temperatures this winter. Conditions should be nearly perfect for running. The only downside is that there does look to be some wind.

So what's my plan for the race?

On the swim, this distance shouldn't be a problem for me. My training swims have been close to 3000 yards, so 1500 meters should be a relatively easy effort. I've done two open-water swims in the past week, and with my wetsuit, I'm comfortable swimming faster than 2:00 per 100 yards, which is much faster than I swam at last year's International tri. I think a stretch goal might be to swim 1:45/100, which works out to a sub-29-minute swim leg. For a B goal, 2:00/100, or 33:00. Both of these would be considerably faster than last year's 37:21 swim.

For T1, this will be the first time I have to remove a wetsuit. I don't have a lot of practice doing this but I've gotten some tips from fellow triathletes, so in the best case I think I can do it in 30 seconds. I will have to put on a little extra gear as well -- arm warmers and gloves, and a shirt -- so I'd be happy with a T1 under 3:00. (Compare to 1:51 last year)

On the ride, I'm actually glad that it starts with a gradual uphill. This will give me a good chance to warm up. Hopefully I can keep the pace in the 19 mph range here.

The second 5 miles are all downhill, so hopefully I can really crank things up and be solidly in the mid-20s here. Then the next 10 miles are mostly uphill, so once again probably 18-19 mph there, and finally a final 10 miles with only one big climb that should be really fast. From what I've read, keeping your heart rate in Zone 4 is a good plan for this distance. That seems pretty high to me though -- even riding in Zone 3 for 30 minutes takes a lot out of me. I might fudge this a bit and look to ride in Zone 4 for the climbs, letting it slide back to Z3 for the descents. A Goal for the ride: 21 mph, about 1:17. B Goal is 20 mph, 1:21.

T2 should be more straightforward, so I'll look to be sub-2:00.

The run is a notoriously hilly double-out-and-back. Even though Stumpy Creek was supposed to be a hilly run, this one will be hillier, with three big climbs and several smaller ones. That said, I felt very strong on the 8-mile brick run I completed last weekend, so I think a pretty quick pace will be warranted. My plan is to try to hold back to around an 8:00 pace for the first (uphill) mile, then pick up the pace, ideally averaging 7:30 for the whole run. If I did that, my time would be 46:36. B goal is 8:00 miles, or 50:00. But if I'm feeling good I might push the pace even more...we'll just have to wait and see!

After a very high workload last week, I'm on a cutback week now, and I can really feel my muscles settling into place after aching all week. It's giving me confidence that I can have a strong race.

To sum up:

A Goals:
Swim: 1:45/100y, 29:00
T1: 3:00
Bike: 21mph, 1:17
T2: 2:00
Run: 7:30/mi, 46:36
Total: 2:38

B Goals:
Swim: 2:00/100y, 33:00
T1: 4:00
Bike: 20mph, 1:21
T2: 2:00
Run: 8:00/mi, 49:43
Total: 2:50