Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mountains to Mainstreet Triathlon - 2016 Race Report

Last Sunday was the first (of hopefully many) Mountains to Mainstreet Triathlon and Festival (aka M2M) held here in the Upstate of South Carolina.  I called it 'my multi-sport tour of the upstate'.  The main event is the triathlon, loosely called a Half (Iron) distance.  I say loosely because the distances are 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile (as opposed to 56) bike and a half marathon (which I measured at 12.93m).  The event's tagline is "Swim with the Bear, Ride with the Eagle, Run with the Rabbit". 

The swim starts in one of the most scenic lakes in the upstate - Lake Keowee, specifically at the South Cove County Park.  It's a beautiful start to a VERY difficult triathlon.  The bike course is VERY hilly tour of the Upstate with approximately 3200' of elevation gain.  The run has a few hills, but overall is mostly flat and mostly along the Swamp Rabbit Trail from Travelers Rest to Greenville.  The finish is on the TD stage, adjacent to the Reedy River in Downtown Greenville.

I didn't sign up for this event right away, I was hesitant due to it's point to point nature.  The shortest distance drive from T2 to the swim start is almost as long as the bike leg of the event and takes over an hour in good traffic conditions.  At the time I signed up, I only knew that logistics were going to be challenging.  That was back in December of 2015. 

I knew I had enough time to train for this event, while I was no longer taking advantage of the services of Malone Coaching, I had a plan, I even had a written plan.  All I had to do was follow it.  I could say a lot of things about why I didn't follow it, but suffice to say I had a plan and failed to follow through.  That's not to say I didn't train, it just means I didn't put the same effort towards training for this event as I did for last year's events.  Sunday just reinforces the positive influence that Katie Malone had on our results last year - that is to say everything we did last year is a result of the efforts we put forth under the guidance of Coach Katie. 

But 2016 (and specifically the M2M tri) is all on me.  On paper my plan was probably sufficient for a solid result.  Unlikely that it would have taken me to a top 5, but it would have likely put me in the top 10 for my age group.  I can't really complain too much as I still finished with a 14th place result in my AG (out of 30 finishers), however, it's not about the time or the placing, it's about how I feel about my performance and the reflections it's caused me to make. 

Before I go into any of that, here's how my race played out. 

I felt good for the swim.  The announcement shortly after we arrived said that the water temperature had been measured at 72.5degrees, which is definitely wetsuit legal.  I was happy about that as it just gives me a bit more confidence in the water.  I was thankful to have my friend Barry to chat with at the start - he had done a preview swim a few weeks before and was able to give me a few pointers on the swim course. 

From the start, we were swimming with the sun off of our right shoulder.  Thankfully not directly into the sun, but there was plenty of glare to contend with.  There was a good treeline in the direction of the first turn bouy that we'd be able to sight on.  Barry provided the next critical tip - after the turn there is a large water pumping station (or water tank - not sure what it is) that is excellent for sighting as you head to the second turn.  This was a great tip.  In both of these cases, the land based sighting objects were sufficient to get you up to the point where the actual sighting bouys were plainly visible. 

I started the swim and tried to set a steady pace.  My form is not the best so I tried to focus a lot on good technique.  Occasionally I could feel moments of that, slipping through the water, hips on or near the surface, good pull and recovery.  Other times I was a bit out of sync, breathing late such that I'd have to switch up to a breath every stroke to get enough oxygen.  Overall the swim to the first turn was pretty good and looking at my Garmin data I actually swam quite straight! 

Once I made the first turn, the water pumping station (or whatever) was very visible and I sent out another round of Thanks to Barry in my mind.  Again, moments of smooth followed by occasions of chaos.  This leg of the swim still went well overall although I was quite surprised when the turn bouy came into view.  I had to breast stroke a moment just to make sure I wasn't turning at the wrong place!!  If I was turning at the wrong place, so was everyone else, so head down and keep swimming! 

The final leg of the swim is the shortest and it takes you to the boat ramp and swim exit.  I swam all the way until my hand hit the ground before I stood up and starting moving fast (I'd say I ran, but it felt more like a quick walk).  I hit the lap button on my Garmin to get my Transition split.  The crowd was awesome as I came up the ramp - lots of people and I heard my name yelled several times.  Such a motivational bump when someone calls out your name!

I ran past the wetsuit strippers - I hadn't even got the zipper down yet.  Plus, I don't care to lay down in what is often a muddy mess by the time I get out of the water!  By the time I got into the entrance to T1 I was pulling the sleeves down and over my Garmin.  Surprisingly I was able to get out of the wetsuit pretty quickly and make a good transition.  I'm rather notorious for slow transition times, but even with the wetsuit and packing up the transport bag my transition time was only 2m59s minutes (Garmin showed 2m40s, but I know that I switched over to Bike mode as I was running my bike towards the transition exit). 

Swim split:  Garmin shows 41m36s, Official results show 41m33s. 

A note about the 'transport bag' - due to the point to point nature of the event, each athlete has to pack up all of their swim gear (and whatever they're not taking on the bike) into a bag which has their number.  This bag is then transported to T2 after all the riders have departed T1. 

With the transport bag packed, helmet, socks and shoes (and gloves even!), I was off on the bike.   Because I have it, I rode my Wilier Tri-Crono TT bike.  This is a very cool machine and I enjoy riding it (although not as much as I enjoy my Pinarello...).   It gives me the best aerodynamic efficiency and it just feels fast.  Doesn't hurt that it looks great. 

Out T1 and onto the South Cove County Park Road.  Lots of traffic as I left the park, even passed a course marshall on a motorcycle.  The beginning of the bike leg is always difficult for me.  Because I'm relatively slow at the swim, I end up behind a lot of people whom I'm able to pass on the bike. This puts me in a position where I'm either always working on my next pass or 'coasting' so I don't get into the draft zone.  Usually I end up pushing a bit harder than I intend at the beginning of the bike.  I need to consider this a bit more as all efforts put forth on the bike have direct impact to the run.  If I go too hard early it may not hurt me on the bike, but it can certainly hurt me on the run. 

On the bike is where nutrition and hydration are key.  Again the run is impacted by how you approach these elements while on the bike.  My Wilier is equipped with an aero bottle between the aero bars and I had stocked that with 20 oz of Infinit.  I used this last year as we prepared for IM Chattanooga and had great success late in the season.  I've used it during training this year, although the time I've spent training is not near what it was this time last year.  This may have had an impact on my overall result. 

In my saddle mounted bottle carriers I had in order of planned use:  one 24 oz bottle of water and two more 20 oz bottles of Infinit.  I didn't plan on using both of those bottles of Infinit back to back, I planned on, if I needed it, to pick up a bottle of water between the two.  I felt it unlikely I'd need more than, in order:  20 oz Infinit, 20 oz water, 20 oz Infinit.  For what I anticipated to be a 3h15minute ride, this seemed sufficient.  I carried the extra bottle of Infinit just in case and I knew I'd be able to get water at the aid stations.

The early part of this ride is a lot of rolling hills.  Big enough hills that in order to keep my heart rate in the targeted 140 - 145 bpm zone I had to shift down into my little ring.  This caused a rather noticeable yo-yo effect with a number of riders around me.  I targeted the same HR for the entire ride - this means both downhill and uphill.  Of course, on the downhills that meant I was in the big ring small cogs and a light pedal stroke while on the uphills I was in the small ring, big cog and only as hard a pedal stroke as necessary to get me up the hill. 

That means slow uphill and quite fast in comparison on the downhills - big yo-yo with other riders.  It didn't seem to cause any real trouble.  A few times I found myself passing a rider while they where passing another rider.  That put us 3 wide.  I don't believe there is any rule against this, provided we all stay to the correct side of the yellow line.  I believe this occurred when the course marshall was nearby, so I would think he would have corrected us if necessary.  "Corrected" would likely have been in the form of a time penalty - I didn't see anyone get tagged for a time penalty. 

About the time we approached Salem where we would make a turn towards Hwy 11 I started having some real pain in my groin, towards my backside on the left.  I've had this before, I'm not sure if it is a fit issue or a saddle issue.  It took a fair amount of time to work out as I rode up to and along Hwy 11.  I don't feel that it necessarily slowed me down a lot, although I'm sure it did.  I had to sit up to change my position on the saddle several times.  Thankfully the course was hilly enough that I could sit up while minimizing the impact to my aerodynamic advantage - sitting up on the slowest part of the uphills. 

The first aid station was in Salem - I rode past without taking any aid - I was still well stocked. 

By Salem I had mostly cleared the traffic.  Between then and Hwy 178 I was only occasionally passing or being passed.  Again, it was similar - I'd pass on the downhills, they'd pass on the uphills.  My HR was mostly staying in my target range, although there were occasions that it slipped higher than intended. 

The ride on Hwy 11 was outstanding!  The very hilly course made for some very fast downhills.  Unfortunately the strong wind (I've heard reports of up to 20 mph) made it much harder than it should have been.  It was mostly a head wind, but occasional gusts from the side.  I focused on staying in the aero position at all times - uphill and downhill.  I was still battling the pain in my saddle / groin area but it seemed to be subsiding. 

On one of the more prominent downhills I let it fly a bit.  I thought I must be doing 60mph!!  Unfortunately, perhaps it was due to the headwind, my garmin shows only about 43mph.  It was fun anyway. 

At about 1h35m into the ride, while on Hwy 11 I ended up with a mechanical.  While I was shifting into the small cogs for a downhill, the chain slipped off the small cog and jammed such that I couldn't pedal.  Thankfully I was going downhill as it provided me the opportunity to troubleshoot so I knew what I had to fix when I stopped.  It was a quick fix once stopped and I got right back on the bike. 

By the time I turned on to Hwy 178 I was feeling pretty good.  I know hwy 288 into Marietta and hwy 276 into Travelers Rest quite well.  Hwy 288 starts off as a gentle downhill with a large flat before a small climb into Marietta.  The climb continues past Marietta for another 1.5 miles or so.  This is not a horrible climb - I was able to keep a steady pace. 

The last 4 miles of the ride is a gentle downhill.  This means big ring, small cog and soft to moderate pedal.  I was moving pretty good through there.  As we approached Travelers Rest (near the hospital) the right lane was blocked off for us.  The traffic had been quite respectable throughout the ride and as we neared the end there was no change - except we now had our own lane. 

Down through downtown Travelers Rest, right at the Gazebo, wrong way down the one-way street and onto Old Buncombe road towards Trailblazer park and T2.  Of course there was a HUGE crowd at T2.  As I pulled in, I saw more friends than I can count cheering me on.  I hit the lap button on my Garmin, dismounted and took a huge bow.  I was having such a great time!  High fives to every person as I walked my bike to and into the transition area. 

Bike Split:  Garmin:  3h20m50s; Official results: 3h20m54s  Transition (official time): 2m9s

Again, considering my past performances in transition, 2m9s was pretty good considering I had to unpack my run gear from the bag we left it in when we set up on Saturday.  I also walked over to the fence where Jenny was cheering me on and gave her a nice smooch!  I think I learned that I just need to relax in transitions and not worry so much about it. 

The run course starts out with a left turn onto Wilhelm Winter street, down to Watson Road, right on Ina St and merge into McElhaney Road.  This is a hilly section of the run and on Watson Road's uphill, both of my quads cramped up.  I tried changing up my pace a bit but going up the hill it was too much and my quads couldn't relax.  I decided to walk it out.  Before I actually got to the top of the hill indeed they both calmed down and I was able to begin running again. 

Once I merged into McElhaney Road my left quad started cramping again.  More efforts to keep running and relax it out, but the quad wouldn't have any of it - I had to walk to get it to calm down.  Not long and I was back to running again, up the road and right onto the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  I was feeling pretty good at this moment, still quite early in the run.

I continued down the SRT and did a quick pit stop at the aid station at mile 3(ish) - I think it was the intersection of Old buncombe road and the SRT.  My pacing was still pretty good all the way through the Furman lake loop, although the mile that included the hill was, not unexpectedly, a bit slower. 

When I turned back onto the SRT at mile 6.3 I was starting to feel some discomfort in my gut.  I'd had issues with gas last year while Using Infinit, but they seemed to work them selves out as we trained with it.  Again, this is where my lack of training was likely coming back to bite me. 

By mile 9 the GI discomfort was really making me feel light-headed and very much like I was going to throw up.  I was also starting to feel cramping in my legs which I tried to take in some base salt to correct (I had used it throughout the bike and had taken it earlier in the run as well).  It is reflected in my pacing for mile 9, 10 and 11 - each one slower than the previous, although I was still running these miles.  A little more walking as the mileage increased.  Pacing was 11m18s, 11m46s and 12m13s / mile respectively for miles 9, 10 and 11. 

Mile 12 was the slowest mile and included most of the walking on the course.  At the SRT crossing of Willard Street I tried to run up a small ramp leading up to the road crossing and both legs locked up.  I was able to walk it out, but now my mind was starting to mess with me. 

The mental aspect of this run is what I am most unhappy about.  I let it get to me and I lost focus and motivation.  Mile 12 of this run was the hardest part of this race.  I kept thinking "if I could just throw up I'd feel so much better".  I should have just kept running and if it came up, I could stop.  As I started mile 13, I began to run a bit more.  The actual distance of the run showed as 12.93 miles in my Garmin data.  The last 0.93 miles I covered in 13m35s - obviously still a lot of walking going on.  When I hit Linky Stone park I knew I had to pick it up again - There was NO way I was going to walk across that line. 

Run split:  Garmin: 2h26m15s; Official results: 2h26m03s

Overall result:  Garmin: 6h33m35s; Official result:  6h33m36s

Of the three Half Iron distance triathlons I've done (both previous were on much easier courses), this is the slowest by far.  My event played out the way it did, and I can only analyze and examine what I can do different next time. 

**Of course primary on that list is to actually follow my training plan.  I do need to incorporate more bricks I think - the first brick I did this year started at T2. 
**Confidence in my physical conditioning aids in having the mental confidence when the going gets tough.  I need to feel good about my training approach which gives me that confidence that I can work through any physical issues which also helps keep the mental monsters at bay.
**I need to continue to refine my sport nutrition throughout my training.  Maybe my body needs to adapt to the infinit as it must have done last year.  I don't know - this is possibly going to be the biggest challenge. 

I'm sure there are other details that I'll think about over the course of the next several months as I prep for 5 more events throughout the summer.  The last thing I will say is a big thanks to my body for putting up with me and performing the way it did despite my poor preparation.  There are a lot of people who can't do what I just did and for that I feel very blessed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The 2016 Smoky Mountain Relay

Another Smoky Mountain Relay (SMR) in the books for the Blue Ridge Bootleggers.  It's the third time for many of the Bootleggers although we did bring on a few new faces to the crowd.  The original running of the SMR for the Blue Ridge Bootleggers was in 2014.  It was the brainchild of Master Tedd who recruited me and Jenny, along with Robin and Bo.  We had to go outside our regular group to bring in a grand bunch of misfits to form the First Blue Ridge Bootleggers Team.  There was a few changes in 2015 when several of the originals couldn't come back, but again, we found new blood and tackled the SMR again as a 12 person team in 2015.

For 2016, all but one of the originals came back to fill in the roster for the Ultra team.  Again, because of the Ultra team, we had to bring in some new faces for the 12 person team.  In the end, we assembled two teams worthy of the Bootlegger moniker and set out to conquer the SMR. 

Above is the entire Bootlegger Clan who did the SMR this year.  That's a lot of people, but it is actually two teams.  We returned with a 12 person team who kept the original Blue Ridge Bootlegger Team name but we also assembled a fine crew for a 6 person Bootleggers Ultra team.

That's the Ultra Clan right there.  Left to Right:  Me (aka HARLEY!), Alvin B, Diesel Daisy Mae, Big Jimmy, Billy Wade and Sissy.  Of course these are the Bootlegger names.  All of us were part of the inaugural Blue Ridge Bootlegger Clan, and it was Big Jimmy who put the call out to assemble.

Big Jimmy and Sissy weren't able to participate in the 2015 version, but we are super happy that they decided to come back in big style to do the Ultra team.

Planning for this event started last fall.  Not a lot was going into it at that point, making sure we had a commitment from the people was the biggest thing to get started back then.  Of course there was registration as well, but mostly until January rolled around, there wasn't much happening for planning.  The Ultra team was lucky - we had commitment from every member very early on.  The 12 person team however, went through several rosters before we were able to finalize a full team.  And a fine team it was too.

If you've never done a 200 mile running relay, here's how it works:
     The relay is a point to point run through very mountainous terrain.  It starts in the Pink Beds and finishes at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  It is broken up into 36 legs of unequal distance.  The guideline is that each runner will run an equal number of legs (not necessarily an equal number of total miles). 
     A 12 person team breaks up into two Vans, 6 people each.  Van 1 will rotate through all of it's runners then hand off to Van 2 who will rotate through all of their runners.  Van 1 meanwhile, has traveled around to the exchange where they'll take over the duties again, before handing off again to Van 2.  One more rotation for each Van and you're done. Each runner will run 3 legs - one for each rotation of their van.  Total mileage per person over their 3 legs for a 12 person team can range from 14 to 21 miles depending on how the team captain makes the leg assignments.
     An Ultra Team of 6 runners uses only a single van and covers the same distance and terrain (and number of legs) as a 12 person team.  Of course this means that the team stays together for the entire event, and rotates through each person 6 times (6 legs each). 

Two years ago when Big Jimmy called the Clan to action, my engineering brain took over and of course I created a spreadsheet that would aid us in making leg assignments.  I programmed in estimated leg finish times and calculated a finishing time (based on pace input from each team member).  In 2014 I estimated a final finishing time of 35h18m.  Our actual 2014 finishing time was 35h25m - off by just 7 minutes.

In 2015 I used the same spreadsheet with some small enhancements and estimated a finishing time of 36h20m and our finish time was 36h19m.  Hard to believe!!  Even the Race crew was astonished by my estimate!  For 2016 I made some larger enhancements but I missed a critical leg distance (off by almost 3 miles in my spreadsheet) and my estimate (original estimate) was 33h15m - our finish time was 33h35m - off by 20 minutes.  Had I realized that error of the missed mileage, that would have added 20-25 minutes to the estimate....  I would have just about nailed it again.  For my little engineering brain, this is a very fun exercise.

To further complicate my estimations, there were two rounds of course modifications.  Two very hard legs were removed, although two very hard legs were also added with the modifications.  Enough about that, suffice to say that a big part of this event for me is the analysis and trying to estimate our finishing time.

The Bootleggers Ultra Clan was amazing this year.  To start, everyone was highly motivated from the initial contact last fall.  Although we didn't get together a lot for training runs, we did manage to get together for several.  The team is awesome when it comes to organizing for the event.  The 12 person team had a pair of Co-Captains and I had a big assist from Billy Wade and Big Jimmy.

I know how these folks run, and while we are not going to set any records on this course, I knew we'd be able to run strong throughout.  Regarding records - the record that we're becoming known for is our ability to predict our finish time, not for our overall speed on the run.  The other thing I think we're becoming known for is our ability to just have a super good time.  And we're loud.  ;)

This year the event started on my wife's (Diesel Daisy Mae) birthday.  As I was assigning legs, I decided to give her a great birthday present.  It's leg # 5, a leg we have dubbed "Soul Crusher".  7.3 miles of rolling hills - and rather steep rolling hills I might add.  I thought to myself "what better way to say I love you and Happy Birthday than to give her Soul Crusher as a birthday gift".  You see what a generous and loving husband I am?  ;)

She killed it.  The 12 person team had a ringer on that leg who wore a shirt that said "Soul Crusher Crusha", while Diesel Daisy Mae didn't run it quite as fast as Bosefus I am very proud of her for her accomplishment on that leg.

One of the legs I was looking forward to was leg # 19.  In the past 2 years this leg went uphill for 5 miles for an elevation gain of about 3500'.  A very tough leg, and usually (for our clan) run in the middle of the night (Big Jimmy started at midnight in 2014, Alvin B started a few minutes past 11pm in 2015 and I started at Midnight this year).  I was looking forward to this challenge so I was disappointed when the leg was removed and replaced with something the Race crew called "Another tough mother".

I wasn't disappointed after I ran leg 19 this year.  While it didn't have 5 miles uphill, it did have something over 3 miles.  But then it turned onto double track which turned into fresh logging roads.  Unfortunately I was wearing my road shoes when I really should have been wearing my trail shoes.  Once off the fire road climb I was slipping and sliding all over the place!!  Thankfully it was all downhill.  At least I had momentum working for me.  It would have been horrible to have to climb with all of that mud!

Diesel Daisy Mae got the new big uphill leg.  Leg 23 had been changed from a relatively mild run on a fire road to a 5.8 mile uphill slog!  Again, she killed it.  I'm married to an incredibly strong woman!

Billy Wade had a challenging event.  While he did have 6 legs, he completed those 6 legs in 4 runs.  What I'm saying is he had two runs that were back to back legs.  The first back to back was approximately 9 miles and the second back to back was over 13 miles.  He rocked these legs out like a BOSS!  I knew he was hurting, but until we finished late Saturday afternoon, I had no idea that he had completed the entire event with a cracked rib!!  Amazing!  So glad to have him on the team!

Alvin B has an energy level that just can't be stopped.  He lays down in the back seat for 15 minutes and he's ready to be driving again.  He just doesn't' stop.  Probably good for him this year as he had several of his legs that were quite close together.  He also had higher mileage total as compared to some of us in the van.  He had one of the best trail legs on the course.  A section of the Mountains to Sea trail that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Of course he killed it.  It finishes with a mile long climb to the transition - very tough!

Sissy took over from Alvin B after that climb up to the exchange.  She took off for a 10 mile downhill trail section that crossed a creek (or creeks) a good number of times.  When we met her at the exchange, she said (paraphrasing) "Awesome trails!  If I had a camera I would have been stopping every 2 minutes!".  And while she rocked that trail, unfortunately it came at the cost of an IT band issue that would plague her for her last 3 legs.  Amazing woman though, she continued to push a solid and consistent pace for her 4th leg, then Alvin B and Billy Wade were able to switch and give her a little less mileage and more importantly a bit less climbing and descending.  She rocked that same consistent pace for those final two legs as well.  

Big Jimmy got to run one of my favorite legs - late in the race and some solid trail running with an awesome swinging bridge crossing.  This year the route was modified and it started with a swinging bridge crossing, onto some trails that led to the same bridge used in 2014 and 2015.  His reaction at the finish of this leg was pure joy.  Not because he was finished running, but because he was in pure heaven while running that leg.

I had the pleasure of bringing the Bootleggers Ultra team home.  We were doing ok on time, and I knew I'd have plenty of time to finish before the 6pm cutoff (perhaps an incorrect perception), but I was really feeling some pressure as I waited to run my final leg of the event.  I know that the pressure came from inside myself - Of course I didn't want to let the team down.

I was anxious and nervous when Daisy Mae handed me the wrist strap and I took off up the hill.  The leg was a bit easier than I anticipated for the first 2 or 2.5 miles.  Once it passed the gate and onto the gravel road it got really tough.  Not only was it very steep, but it was hot and the sun was blasting right down on me - maximum sun exposure on this climb.  I had to walk most of it, although I did run when the grade allowed.  I was very thankful to reach the top and start the descent.

The early part of the descent seemed to have a lot of shade.  Apparently the road crossed the ridge and now put me on the other side from the sun.  I really started feeling better and was able to pick up my pace significantly.  The feeling of light-headedness was dwindling and my heart rate was coming down to a more reasonable level.

As I approached the final descent for the leg, I started looking at my Garmin.  My estimate for my run time was 59m36s - I was going to be VERY close!!  As I came down to the finishing chute, the Clan gathered around and we ran in together.  I was very happy to be finished.  Of course there was celebration and we got the finishing photos I've shared above.

Another great year in the books.  The Ultra experience is very different from the 12 person experience.  I'm looking forward to next year already!

My actual run time for my final leg was 1h0m14s.  within a minute of my estimate.  When I did some after-action analysis, I found that I estimated 20 legs within 5 minutes of the actual, 12 legs within 2.5 minutes of the actual and 6 legs within 1 minute of the actual run time.  I love this shit!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ITT on the southern connector

Last Saturday was the USA Cycling National Championships for both the Team Time Trial and the Criterium.  Both amateurs and Pros lined up for their chance at the National Championship Jersey.  With the Smoky Mountain Relay coming up this week and future half Iron triathlons, I had to make a decision on my activities for the weekend.  Unfortunately, it did not include the opportunity to watch any of the racing.

It did however, offer me the opportunity to ride the TT course.  The course was on Interstate 185 here in southern Greenville County.  The course started towards the I-385 end, at the toll plaza between Ranch Road and Log Shoals Road.  The turn-around was the exit for Brown Road, just about 10 miles down the road.

I've driven on the Southern Connector maybe twice.  There were no cars and the road is smooth.  That's all from my car experience on the toll road I can recall.  I had no recollection of how flat the course is.  Come to find out, it's rather hilly.  Not surprisingly, it was rather windy as well while we were on the course.

Friends met up with Jenny and I at the Greenville Spinners' SCTAC parking area so we could get a few miles (~12 miles each way) beyond just the 20 mile TT.  Since we were going to be riding the TT course, I felt it necessary to bring my TT bike.  I haven't ridden the Wilier since IM Chattanooga and it needed to stretch it's legs!

We arrived at the start / finish with time to greet many other friends who had also come out to ride that day.  I'm not sure how many were actually there, but it was maybe 100?  I don't really know.  There was photographers and a little drone flying overhead so it was pretty cool.

I had my GoPro Hero4 Silver edition mounted under the aero bars on my bike, so I was hoping the video would turn out well.  I did capture some on the ride over, but have edited into a small 10 minute clip just the TT.

The mass start for us regular Joe's went off at 8am.  I lined up near the front and worked my way into the front shortly after the start.  I was in front by myself for a little while, maybe a mile, when I was passed by a group of 3 going up the first roller.  Not far behind them was a 4th rider on his own.  I knew two of the four, and I know how strong they are so I just kept to my ITT plan.

The plan was to do my best to maintain a hard effort of 145 - 150 bpm for everything except the hills where I would allow 155.  I caught myself going over 155bpm a few times, but generally it was right at the crest of a roller so it was no trouble.  Going up that first hill, chasing the 4 riders, I could see that the 4th was not pulling away from me all that fast.  I knew if I could hold him in sight I could catch and overtake on the downhills.

Sure enough, as we crested the first roller, I started grabbing gears and kept pushing and reeled him right in.  I never saw him again after I passed him.  This put me 4th on the road.  I felt pretty good about that so far.  However, we were only about 2 miles into the 20 mile ITT!

Not long after, probably within mile 3, I was overtaken by another guy.  I had met him only because we rode together from SCTAC.  He was pulling strong and passed me quite handily.  I didn't think I could catch him, but he gave me a lot of motivation to keep pushing.  I didn't want to be passed again!  I was now 5th on the road.  He was always in my sight, although quite out of reach.  He'd open his gap a bit on the uphills and I'd close them down on the downhills. 

The ride out was a tail-crosswind but with the Nimble Crosswind tri-spoke wheels I have I barely felt the crosswind part of it.  I definitely felt the tail wind!  I was averaging over 20mph even with the rather long rollers we were faced with.

I still had the guy in my view at the turn-around so I just kept at it.  I had no real chance to see if anyone was behind me during the turn, so I had no idea how close anyone was.  All I could do was stay full gas!

Up the entrance ramp on the other side and into the headwind!  It was also a cross-headwind, so much fun!  Except for batting those winds, I had no other contact from any chasers and Mr # 4 was out of reach.  Full gas netted me something just under 20mph average for the ride back - pretty good considering the winds and rollers.

As I approached the finish chute, I thought I'd give it a kick so I stood up to sprint - just like the Pros!!  HA!  My legs were having none of that.  I probably looked quite funny when I stood up - the camera is rocking quite severely for a brief moment before I sat back down to finish the ride.

I crossed under the timing banner at 59 minutes and 30 seconds.  My Garmin clicked off it's 4th 5 mile interval just past the banner.   I ended up the 5th finisher which pleases me.  Considering the effort I've put into training this year so far, I'm quite happy with that result.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Everybody needs the Peace run

During 2015 when my wife and I were preparing for Ironman Chattanooga, we worked with and owe a lot of our success to the training and mental preparation from Katie Malone, head coach at Malone Coaching.  She set our training plan from almost a year out.  With her I made two successive PRs in the half marathon distance, the 2nd of which was a rather hilly route.  I PR'd in the 10 mile distance, also on a hilly route.  I PR'd the half Ironman distance (5h10m, PR by 45 min) and we both went below our goal times for IM Chattanooga (I went 11h49m, goal time 12h).  At IM Chatt, I also met my secondary goal which was to be in the top 50 in my AG (46th). 

In that year of training we had hard workouts, long workouts, very specific workouts and much needed rest days - and I mean TRUE rest days where we had very specific instructions to minimize our physical output - certainly no workout for that day.  One particular run sticks in my mind and after the week I've had, I needed to re-create it. 

I'm not sure I'm remembering what she called it correctly, but I believe she called it a 'Peace' run.  Put away the devices, forget about any plan or specific run workout, just lace up and shoes and run; for the pure love of it.  On that particular day, Jenny and I ran into Paris Mountain State Park.  For us in our new home, it's basically our go-to run.  In fact, if I had to route out a 'flat' route from the house, it would be into the park and around Lake Placid.

It didn't hurt that Katie also sent out her weekly newsletter today with some great reminders to just get out and enjoy what you do and what we are so blessed to have here in the Upstate. 

Today, after a week of work, an eye exam that left me with bleeding eyes (figuratively of course) and a bit of a headache, I needed a Peace run.  When I got home and after I unloaded the groceries, I wasted no time in finding my trail shoes and heading over to the park. 

No heart rate monitor, no garmin, just my Nike shoes, my Maui Jim's and my running kit.  It's about a mile on pavement before I turn into the park, then a short run before I turn onto Mountain Creek trail. 

Mountain Creek to the Turtle trail connector, Turtle trail to the road, then back towards the Park Center.  Around Lake Placid, out and back on Turtle trail with a cut through on the connector back to Mountain creek.  Then the mile back to the house on pavement.  Five miles of pure running bliss. 

I took it easy today, or maybe I didn't, I just ran however my body and mind dictated.  The feeling of my heart beat in my ears, the sound of my breath, the scents of the forest, the wind in my beard.  All the things that running should be. 

Go find your own Peace run, then tell me about it. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tuesdays at SCTAC

Tuesdays at SCTAC - the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, formerly known as Donaldson have been a tradition for a long time.  I don't know how long, but I got involved in 2008 and they had already been a fixture in the Greenville Bicycling scene for many many years. 

During 2008 - 2011 I was quite active in these tuesday night rides - even becoming quite the fixture as a ride leader for the fastest country loop (known as the C20+ hammerhead ride at the time).  That group was a relatively small core group of about a dozen or so with most rides starting out around 25 cyclists.  That is a good number for a group ride on public roadways.  The core group worked well together and we turned some pretty fast loops of that country route.  We always tried our best to be respectful of the traffic out there.  Usually the size of the group steadily decreased throughout the ride and generally finished with just a few more than the core group that started.

In 2012 I got a bit disillusioned by the size of the groups and their manners.  The fast country group had expanded to 50 to 60+ riders and the few times I rode with them they acted like it was a race rather than a hard group ride.  Respect for traffic was not great and safety of the group was secondary to getting off the front.  (I'm sure plenty of people will argue with me, but this is the way I felt when I went out with that group early in 2012). 

I stopped going to the Tuesday night rides.  2012 was the year I got into triathlon and had recently met the woman who is now my wife.  We did all of our rides together and they did not include the SCTAC tuesday night rides. 

Fast forward to 2016.  In a brief conversation with a member of the Greenville Spinners board I suggested that I could probably help out with the ride leader duties.  I knew that I was not in the same shape as I was at the end of 2011 and into 2012, but I thought I could help out with what I know to be one of the largest groups out there - what they call the C18.  Of course the C18 group has a targeted average speed of 18 mph.  Frequently this average speed ends up above 19mph and I've heard complaints that it ends up sometimes near 20 mph.  2 mph difference in average speed is a lot over the course of 30 ish miles. 

So, last Tuesday I loaded up my bike and my gear in my truck, headed to work for the day.  At the end of the day, I cruised over to SCTAC with plenty of time to get ready to ride.  It was nice to see some old friends out there - some of whom I haven't seen since I'd ridden at SCTAC last.  I was a bit nervous, after all, my fitness isn't really there yet and my longest ride was just last weekend at 49 miles.  My previous longest (since IM Chattanooga) was 33 miles.  My only saving grace I think is the fact that nearly all of my rides since IM Chatt have been in our local mountains.  That means climbing and that builds a lot of strength.  I'd been running good distances lately so I felt ok about my endurance. 

I chatted with the Spinners President and the ride coordinator and let them know I'd be happy to lead the C18 group.  We watched what now seems to be called the C24 group head out for their ride.  It was a pretty big group but I didn't really get a sense of how many - 40 maybe?  I don't know. 

Finally, Jill called everyone up for the C18 group and announced me as ride leader.  Someone asked about our route and someone else said 'The Prison route' with a distance of about 31 miles.  While I know just about all of the roads out there, I wasn't sure exactly which way they were talking about getting to the prison.  No worries, we just headed on down the road.

Almost immediately our average speed was 18mph.  Jumped pretty quickly to 18.5 and kind of stayed there until after we crossed W. Georgia road and headed up Garrison road.  I had been on the front with a great guy who introduced himself as Mark.  He had been riding out there lately and was familiar with the route.  We began to move off of the front to give others the opportunity to lead. 

Not surprisingly, after the stop sign on Richey Road, the pace started to pick up.  Richey road has a nice little hill on it and it can really zap you.  It's fairly typical for people to push up that hill so truly not a surprise to me that the group started to blow apart.  What did surprise me was the fact that they stopped at the stop sign and waited for the group to reassemble.  Thanks.  This gives me hope for the cyclists in the upstate and restored in me some faith that riding in these groups is going to be ok. 

It's a serious pet peeve of mine to go out for a group ride where people get dropped, stop signs are ignored and traffic isn't looked at safely.  Up to this point, the group had been doing well.  Some of it because I was on the front, but it certainly wasn't all because of me - these folks were getting it. 

As we made the turn onto Woodville road, I figured we'd be in for another hard push to the next stop.  As we pulled away from the stop, I heard someone call out that a group had stopped.  I sprinted to the front of the group and told Mark that he was now the ride leader - I was going back for the group. 

It didn't take long before a solitary rider approached.  I asked him what the story was - He was dropping from the group saying "I should have gone with the C16 group".  But he also told me that a guy had stopped to adjust his seat and was also dropping from this C18 group.  Oops, now I have some catching up to do...

If you know me, you know I live for that kind of thing.  I don't want to ride out there by myself, so I put my head down, got into the drops and kicked it up a notch.  Woodville road is a super fun road to ride.  Mostly a slight downhill grade, with a sharp but quick uphill as you approach the turn onto Davis road.  I pushed myself for all I had and I just caught onto the back of the group as they started up that sharp uphill. 

Just as I caught on, I saw my good friend big Jerry pull off to the side - his saddlebag had gotten slightly askew crossing the bumps on the bridge.  I called out to him to meet me at the top and we could play catch-up old school.  Which means I was going to do my best to pull him back to the group.  There'd been plenty of times he and I had traded pulls on some hard rides, so I knew he'd be up for it.  Sure enough, as the group pulled away, he and I got together and started working. 

I did a longish pull that took us half way up the hill on Reedy Fork road and Jerry pulled through.  As we got near the turn onto Old Hundred road, I began a second pull.  We traded pulls one more time before I made a last long pull to catch the group just as they slowed down for the stop sign at Hwy 418.  I was getting whipped, but I loved it.  This is where the strength comes from - hard intervals followed by short periods of rest. 

We rested briefly at the stop sign until traffic allowed the group to pass.  Again, this group was impressing me.  Regroups, stops and respect for the traffic - most of the reasons I had stopped riding at SCTAC. 

Not surprisingly, in the miles to come the pace increased and gaps in the group were formed.  I played as much as possible chasing down the leaders whenever a gap opened in front of me.  I love that stuff.  Getting in the drops and just pushing hard to reel in someone in front of me.  I'd like to say I always caught the leaders, but alas, there were several times I was still reeling when they slowed for a stop sign.

By the time we got back to Reedy Fork road and headed back to SCTAC, I had regained my position near the front of the group.  Perhaps they still recognized me as the ride leader, I don't know.  They were still pushing pretty hard, but the group was a little more together it seemed.  I stayed tucked in near the front - I couldn't stay up there in the wind - until we turned onto Michelin Road.  At that point, my average speed was showing 19.1mph and I had decided that I'd be mostly noodling it back to the car. 

I finished with an average of 18.6mph and 31miles for the ride. 

My key takeaway from this ride is that there is hope for the Upstate Cyclists.  The new route is much more traffic friendly (roads are smaller with much less traffic) and the riders are showing respect for the road and the group's safety.  

Finally, although those guys were stronger than me on this day, it's still early in the season....

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Altamont Marathon / half / 26.2 relay race review

Today was a great day in Upstate SC.  Not only did we have some fantastic weather but one of the great new(ish) races happened today.  The brainchild of Coach Matt Hammersmith, the Altamont races are up and over our very own Paris Mountain. 

I say races because it is four in one (five if you count the ruck division which is part of the half marathon).  Except for the 5k, all of the races go up and over Paris Mountain via Altamont road.  This year, the full marathon crosses the summit 4 times, the half marathon (and ruck division) crosses twice and the Mountain goat relay traverses the same 4 summits as the marathon.

The relay is intended to be a 4 person relay, but as we got signed up, one of our members realized he had a conflict and had to pull out.  We didn't have a fourth at that point, so I chatted with my remaining team-mate and we decided to do the relay as a 2 person team.  That gave each of us the opportunity to run the half marathon course on our way to the finish.

The participant list seems to have been taken down, and the results are not yet up, but if I recall, there were about 6 relay teams out there.  Marty gave me the pleasure of going first, so I got to start with the masses.  There were about 50 half marathon runners that the relay teams started with so it was a pretty good group.

Of course the race immediately goes uphill, for just a little under 3 miles we climb to the first summit of Paris Mt on Altamont road.   Not surprisingly, some strong runners immediately went off the front.  I was close enough to see them make the turn onto Altamont road, but that was the last I saw of them until I crossed their path after their turn-around.

Last year I ran this relay as part of a 4 person team but I did so as a long run - even though only one leg (6.6 ish miles) counted in our relay effort, I went ahead and ran back to my car to make it a half distance.  I did that last year in something close to 2 hours (possibly just over 2 hours I don't recall).  I was in better run condition last year so this year my target was to race this event and finish the half marathon distance in under 2 hours (targeting an average 9 minute / mile pace or better).

As I set out on the lower slopes, per my last blog, I had a specific heart rate target for the uphills.  That target was 155bpm.  Maybe it was the focus that being in a race brings, but I had no trouble hitting and maintaining this HR during today's climbs.  It seemed like every time I looked down at my garmin, the HR was 154.  Yes, there were a few times I saw 157 (and once I did see 159 on a very steep section), but overall, I felt very consistent.

Looking at my garmin data, it does appear that I had peak HR above my target, but my averages are spot on for the uphill sections.  Overall I felt strong on the hills, training around the house and having Altamont road as my 'backyard' doesn't hurt!

As far as the downhills went, I didn't have a specific HR in mind, of course I wanted to try to keep it high which would indicate my effort was strong, but I was more interested in running as fast as I could with good form and without out-running my feet.  Clearly my avg HR was much lower on the downhills, but frequently it was still above 145 which pleased me.  

As I crested the top for the first time, I was neck and neck with a guy I know.  For some reason, I felt I had to out run him.  As we headed down the mountain for the first time, I opened my stride and let myself run free.  It didn't take long before I had opened a small gap.  I didn't dwell on it though - I needed to just run my race.  Lots of things can happen in a race, and of course I could have bonked.  Or worse, I could have out-run my feet and face planted.  I ran well so I'm thankful for that.

I had my first gu on the way down the first slopes coming off the summit.  Followed that with some water and I was feeling pretty good.  Perhaps a mile or a so from the turn-around, there is a very steep section of Altamont road.  On the way out we ran down it and of course up it on the way back.  I had started to feel a little niggle in my right hamstring, so down this steep section, I shortened up my stride and changed from forefoot to heel strike.  This took some pressure off my hamstring and I just kept that shortened stride the remainder of the way down the mountain.  I did change back to forefoot strike after the steep section, but it seemed like whatever was going on had reduced significantly.

At the turn, I had been trying to count the relay teams in front of me.  I was thinking that I was running in third place.   

After the turn around, I saw the guy I'm trying to beat and I had opened a pretty good gap.  Again, nothing's guaranteed, so I reminded myself to just run my own race.  Back to the target 155 HR and steady Eddie.

My HR did peak on that steep section where I had to change-up my stride, but the hamstring issues were pretty much gone.  I did take some base salt on the way up and that seemed to help.  Somewhere in there I had taken a second gu.  I don't recall exactly when, but my stomach started complaining to me and I realized I needed to hold back a bit.  That is when I took in the base salt. 

Altamont road from the CVS side is a series of 4 (I think - I can never remember!).  You get a little break here and there on the way up that side.  I tried to take advantage of all of the flats and downhills as much as possible.  At the summit my average pace was 9m20s per mile.  Not quite good enough to break 2 hours, but I knew what was coming for the last 3(ish) miles. 

Once I crossed the summit, I tried to let it loose and of course this is where my fastest miles occurred.  I watched as my average pace dropped to 9m10s / mile, then close to 9m per mile.  I came to the end of Altamont road, made the right turn and continued to push.  Not far from that turn, I see Matt Hammersmith himself coming up the hill.  Clearly he's running as a member of a relay team - to my knowledge, we were in third at that time.  He looked at me and said "you're killing it!".  Pretty good praise from a very strong athlete.  I found out later that he was running the third leg for what turned out to be the 2nd place team.

Finally, as I made the final turn to finish up my lap and hand off to Marty, my pace was under 9m / mile.  The half marathon finishes with a lap of the park, and for the relay we actually get to cross the finish line before we hand off.  I tagged off at 1h57m45s which my garmin showed as 8m55s per mile average pace.  I'm not sure I could have run that much faster!

After I finished, I was chatting with a friend who was on Matt's team - he was the first runner on that team.  They had been passed in the 2nd leg and he confirmed that I had brought us in in third place - that pleased me, especially considering the caliber of the runners in front of us. 

My team mate Marty is a very strong runner who is in the midst of prep for his first 100 miler.  He's been knocking out the miles so he has some awesome endurance.  It doesn't hurt that he's also a strong runner who can knock out some fast miles.  We waited and watched as the first and 2nd place teams came in for the finish.  I missed the 1st place team come in, but the 2nd place team finished in 3h25m (roughly).  Marty had a strong run with a half marathon time of 1h52m.  That did put us in third for the relay teams with a total of 3h50m.

I wanted to upload a summary of my race, but I'm having trouble with getting my data uploaded - I'll try to update if I get that problem resolved.

So, key elements from today - focus on HR and moderate effort to allow for a strong finish.  Maintain good form both uphill and downhill.  Listen to your body and take nutrition and hydrate per plan.  Be flexible in your nutrition and be ready to adjust.  Most importantly - HAVE FUN!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

There's nothing but hills around here!!

First blog in quite some time.  Lots has happened, IM Chattanooga '15 was the biggest thing.  This blog isn't about that, it's about today's workout. 

We've recently moved you see.  At the old house, not far from Bob Jones University in my adopted hometown of Greenville, there were plenty of hills.  Tough to find a flat course when running from the house for anything less than 5ish miles.  However, the Swamp Rabbit Trail (SRT) was just 2 miles away and that was great for a longer run.  It was quick to get to the SRT (by car) if we had a specific workout of a shorter duration as well. 

All of that running on relatively flat ground did pay off in September of 2015 when we did IM Chattanooga.  Both my wife and I accomplished our goals and we are very pleased with those results (Thanks Katie!).  A lot of those mid-distance (and many of the longer distance runs) were on the SRT because Katie was asking us to hit specific paces, heart rate and / or perceived effort.  On flat ground it is relatively easy to hold a steady heart rate or pace. 

However, since we've moved, we now live about a mile from the entrance to Paris Mt State Park.  I only thought the previous place was hilly! 

Tonight's workout was intended to be about an hour.  Warm up was to be 1.5ish miles with 4ish miles at a steady effort / heart rate, and then a warm-down of whatever I felt I needed (min 1/2 mile). 

My target heart rate today was 145 - 150bpm.  On flat ground I would have simply said 150, but knowing that I had a lot of hills in front of me and that I haven't done this type of focused workout lately, I decided I would give myself some latitude.  

It must be time to change the battery in the HR strap because it took longer to warm up than it took my body - HR of 190bpm would have me on the ground doing the kickin' chicken!  However, after about 1.5 miles it did settle down to register the correct HR. 

So, it's been a while (since IM Chatt!) since I really have done some strict targeted HR runs.  I've done speed work, and I've done long slow(ish) / steady efforts, but I haven't really incorporated this demand for discipline into my mid-distance runs.  I know it is going to help me in the long run, thus the reason for setting a target for today's run.

Well, if I were to turn my data in for analysis, I'd be a huge failure!!  Running these hills around the house is TOUGH!  Uphill my HR was bouncing off 158 or 160 before I caught it, going downhills (especially the steeper hills) I'd see my HR at 135 or less.  Even on the milder descents I would find myself in the low 140s before I realized it. There is a LOT more work to be done for these workouts around the house. 

So why do I even care about hitting a target?  This is how you train yourself to execute a plan on race day.  It's easy to just go out and go hard from the gun.  Probably survivable for sprint distance triathlons, maybe even up to International distance.  However, especially when the distances start to go into the half Iron distance or more, it's vital that you can plan your race and execute that plan.  Finishing shouldn't be the only goal - finishing strong should be the goal.