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There is No Map in Hell

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How would YOU like to do TWO marathons with over 16,000 feet of climbing, EVERY day for a week?

Ever since Dan Kimball dragged me into doing OtillO and Rockman, he’s gotten me involved in 50K trail runs and thinking about other crazy adventures. So, with that said, I’ve picked up books here and there about other folks taking on really crazy challenges.

Back in 1986, a guy by the name of Joss Naylor ran all 214 Wainright fells (a fancy Norse term for mountain) in the Lake District of the United Kingdom.  He accomplished this 300 miles (or so) in 7 days and 1 hour.  Everyone thought it was a record that would never be broken.  Enter Steve Birkinshaw.  His book, There is No Map in Hell, recounts his attempt to break this record, complete with how he prepared, how the attempt went and gives you insight to what some would call a crazy mind.

I had only one question for Steve.

Marcus: If you were to change anything, what would you do differently in planning a Wainwrights challenge again?

Steve: Looking back at my run around Continue reading

Trail Work Day at Hickory Knob

Hey XTERRA Southeast peeps. If you’re not doing Tsali this weekend, there’s a great opportunity to give back AND win some prizes. THIS Saturday there is a trail work day and cookout at Hickory Knob hosted by SorbaCSRA. They’ve got a bunch of gracious sponsors who have tossed in lots of goodies for give away. You could win a custom wheel set with I9 hubs, score free tires, shades, race belts, Rudy Project gear or a slew of gift certs. I’m even throwing in some GU goodies, new tires and a surprise or two. For more info, hit up http://sorbacsra.proboards.com/thread/3543/hickory-national-trails-party-cookout

Assault on the Carolinas Report


On April 9th, Dan and I headed up to the wonderful, friendly town of Brevard, NC to ride the 12th Annual Assault on the Carolinas.  It was a beautiful morning, just the right temp and even though the weather was forecasting rain, it wasn’t due to hit until well after the ride. 

Not being roadies, but knowing a few things about group ride etiquette, we decided to take our trainer road bikes instead of our Jamis Xenith T1 triathlon bikes.  We both wanted to take them as we knew they would be a helluva lot more comfortable (believe it or not) and a helluva lot more fun to ride.  Alas, we decided against it.

Upon arrival, we shot over to registration to pick up our packets.  We were amazed at how friendly and welcoming were the locals.  There were quite a few tents setup in the expo including the local bike shop, t-shirt vendors, GU Brew on tap and GU gel boxes abound.  There was even a “bike parking” area with plenty of bike racks to stash your bike before and after the ride.  Also in the expo area was a large stage setup with live music.

After getting on our gear, checking out the mechanicals on our bikes, we made our way over to the start line.  There were three distances offered, 40k, 60k, and 100k.  All distances started together in one mass start.  They attempted to line everyone up according to distance, but it didn’t seem to matter as everyone just ignored it.

WP_000369  WP_000370

We took off in a mass start and everyone (approximately 800 of us) jockeyed for position going down main street and into the outlying neighborhood.  By the time we made it through the first couple of climbs and to the outskirts of town, everyone was spread out into small packs ranging fro 2 to 30 riders each.   


Dan and I were kind of just doing our own thing, not trying to beat anyone or keep up with anyone.  Instead we just enjoyed the ride, the scenery and the companionship.


We were pretty stoked about this ride.  It seemed to be a great way to cap off the end of base training for the upcoming triathlon season.  The course profile shows that it wasn’t a “piece ‘o cake” ride.  It had it’s share of hills including a 12% at mile X and a six-mile climb towards the end of the ride.


The curvy downhill sections were a BLAST to ride.  It reminded me of back in the day when I was into sportbikes.  Back in that day, we rode some of these same back roads to enjoy the curves.  Honestly, I’d have to say that riding them on a road bike were just as much fun, if not more, than on a motorcycle.  Even on my old trainer road bike, I still hit over 40 mph on a couple of sections.

Once we hit the 6 mile climb, I settled in mentally for what I knew was going to be long arduous climb.  Amazingly, even on the climb as I cam across other riders, everyone was in great spirits and talkative.  We laughed, joked, moaned and groaned together.  After topping the climb, I was waiting for the “15 mile downhill” that everyone had talked about.  My butt was ready for some out-of-the-saddle time.  It wasn’t exactly all downhill from there.  There were a few more drops and a few more hills before it became a decent decline.  One of these hills included a short climb to cross the Eastern Continental Divide.


We were very surprised at how many tri bikes and time trial bikes we saw. They made us envious that we didn’t bring ours, especially on the climb.  Arriving back at the finish in downtown, Brevard, we were greeted by a party-like atmosphere with free food.  I scarfed down a burger and was tempted by a beer.  I forewent the beer and we decided to head home.  We donned some Zensah compression gear for proper recovery and hopped in the truck.


A HUGE thanks goes out to the town of Brevard and all the locals who went above and beyond in putting on a great event and welcoming all these big-city folk into your quaint town.

On the way home we saw some comfy rocking chairs that we really wanted to try.  We wanted to kick back and relax but the guy wouldn’t stop, no matter how hard we tried to flag him down.


That Goofy GPS

I’ve been asked by numerous folks who are members of my running meetup group about GPS watches and how they sometimes seem goofy.  Every had a problem where it seems inaccurate?  Ran the same run numerous times but get different distances?  Well, you’re not alone.

There are multiple things going on here, but basically, you have to realize that your GPS device is inaccurate.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. If you check out USATF instructions on how to measure a “certified course”, you’ll notice it has a pretty strong stance about using GPS devices, because they know how inaccurate they can be.  ­

But some of you may be saying, “Wait a sec… I’ve seen land surveyors using GPS devices.  What gives?”  So how do land surveyors get accurate readings with GPS? First off, they require two GPS measurement devices (much more accurate than our wrist-based devices and much larger in size) used in conjunction with a starting known position. All measurements are made from that known starting position, one that has been accurately verified and measured, usually marked permanenty.

Let’s take a look at your device and where it falls short. Consumer GPS devices can be inaccurate for numerous reasons. Here are but a few:

  1. Atmospheric conditions – yep. the usual stuff, rain, temperature (density), humidity, precipitation, among other effects of the ionosphere and troposphere (too much to explain here, but I can expand on it if you want).
  2. Multipath issues – these result when the direct path to your receiver is blocked (by your body, your house, roof, trees, mountains, buildings, etc) and the signal from the satellite is REFLECTED by some object. The reflecting surface could be buildings, mountains, the ground, or other radio emitting objects. In the case of running on the trail, running in and out of valleys can also cause multipath issues. When you have a multipath problem, it causes the GPS signals to travel FURTHER than expected to get to your receiver. The result is your GPS miscalculates its position. This can cause the biggest variety of error because the signals may have traveled anywhere from feet to miles further than expected (as opposed to direct line of sight which it’s expecting).
  3. Signal Noise – Noise results from static or interference from something near the receiver or something on the same frequency.
  4. Problems with satellite orbits – There can be inaccuracies in the measurement of the gps satellites’ orbits. These are considered “ephemeris errors”. Obviously, we need to know the accurate measurement of the satellites’’ orbit in order to accurately measure distances. These can be fixed with accurate satellite information and use of more satellites.
  5. Clock drift – This is where the clock on the GPS unit is not set to the same time as the time on the satellites. This is corrected, usually when you turn on your GPS, when it sets the time via the time of the satellites. However, the clock on the GPS unit is not as accurate as the ones on the satellites (which using atomic time). The longer you have your GPS on, the greater this may drift, especially if it only updates on initial power on.

There are a bunch more, but these are the big ones.

With all of the reasons that can cause error, it sums up to these possibility of these amounts:

  • Tropospheric effects ± 0.5 meter
  • Ionospheric effects ± 5 meters
  • Multipath effect ± 1 meter
  • Noise and Calculation rounding errors ± 1 meter
  • Satellite orbits ± 2.5 meter
  • Clock errors of the satellites’ clocks ± 2 meter

Altogether this sums up to an error of ± 15 meters at any given point of time. Couple that with an hour-long run and you can have measurement and pacing errors.

So what can you do about it? These problems above? Not much. HOWEVER, there are two “fixes” you CAN implement to try and get a better reading.

Fix Number 1: Keep the software on the device up to date. Periodically, Garmin and other manufacturers will release updates to the software that runs the GPS units. Sometimes these updates include algorithms that can improve accuracy and get rid of glitches in the code. How to update it depends on the model and manufacturer. Check their website for info on how.

Fix Number 2: is not really a fix, but rather a change in configuration.
Most folks use their GPS device with the configuration that it has out of the box. This would be fine for road runners, as they tend to run in a relative straight line (for the most part). But for us trail runners, the default configuration can cause errors.

Here’s how:
Out of the box, most GPS devices measure distance by taking a sampling at specific intervals. Garmin devices use a method called ‘Smart Recording” that takes a measurement anytime that you change direction, speed or heart rate. By only taking measurements at these events, it conserves battery life, IF you were running on the road. Unfortunately, that’s all the time on the trail. The problem that I have seen is that it gets quite confused with switchbacks, the constants speed changes with the terrain and to make matters worse, you throw in the signal multipathing issue.

So in order to FORCE it to give me a more accurate reading, I have found it best to set it to “Record Every Second”. (Just go into your Garmin’s Data Recording setting and change it there. I get more accurate readings, but you still have to take them with a pinch of salt.

To summarize, should you trash your device? No. It can give you great information about heart rate and other valuable data. Plus, even with incorrect distance and pacing, running the same course on subsequent workouts can give you information from each run to compare adn to use for measuring any type of improvement in fitness. However, don’t take the distance and pace readings to heart. As a trail runner and mountain biker, the trails can magnify the inherent problems that GPS devices exhibit. Keep them and use them, but keep in mind they may be off a bit. And above all, don’t gripe at the race staff at your next trail race at how the course distances are wrong. If the race director is any good, he measured it with a calibrated odometer on a mountain bike, not a GPS.

Happy Trails


Off-Road Duathlon

OFF-ROAD Duathlon in Fort Mill, SC – Nov 8th – http://recondoubletrouble.racesonline.com

XTERRA Panther Creek

Short, quick race report (lengthy one on the way).
Decent 800 Meter Swim.  2 mins slower than I had wanted, but running aground on the back stretch messed with my mojo.
Super smooth transition onto the bike
Back tire went flat at about mile 3 of the 16.6 mile mountain bike.  That was extremely frustrating.  About 8 people passed me, but they all offered their assistance.  After the flat, I rode as fast and as hard as I could to catch back up.  So much so I crashed 4 times.  I ended up catching just about everyone that passed me.
Transition from bike to run didn’t go quite as smooth, as I had to shed the flat tube that I had wrapped around my neck.  It threw my routine off.  Amazing how one small thing like that can get you in a tizzy.
I caught the remainder that passed me during my flat on the run leg, and then some.  However, I still couldn’t completely make up for the flat.  Guess I couldn’t pull it off like Conrad did in Alabama.  :-)
Finished 5th in my division and 15th overall.  Not bad for having a flat tire in during the race.
To make up for it all, I won a free XTERRA wetsuit in the post-race activities.
The course was awesome, very well taken care of and marked well.  Only once did I question my whereabouts (running along the soccer fields could have used a couple of arrows on the ground or something).
BIG congrats goes out to Scott Mills for not only winning my division, but the overall winner of the race as well!

Race Report: Xterra Southeast Championship

Sorry it took me three weeks to get this out, but with vacation, business travel, training for my next race, and writing my end-of-year review, I just haven’t had time.
June 8, 2008
1500 meter swim, 18 mile grueling mountain bike, 6 mile grueling trail run
Official result: 12th in my age group (horrible)
Official time: 3:11:10
Synopsis:  There were so many things that went wrong in this race, 98% of them within my control.  This means there were plenty of “learning opportunities” for me to improve my performance, race logistics, etc.   I’ll chalk up this entire race as an opportunity for me to improve.  The only thing I couldn’t control was the heat.  The race started at 9:30 am and I finished right around 12:30.  Check out this info from AccuWeather from race day’s actual measurements:





Wind Press














































I would have to completely concur with a quote from 3x Xterra World Champion: “I woke up not feeling great, couldn’t regulate in the heat, went nuclear early and I was going to be dead on the side of the trail if I didn’t stop and walk.” – Melanie McQuaid.
Due to family commitments on Saturday, we departed for a 6 hour drive the day before the race (problem number 1).  It was a very, very important family event, so it was a must that we stuck around town.  We arrived in Pelham around 9pm, had dinner, checked into the hotel and settled into bed around 11pm (problem number 2).  After a rough night sleep (problem number 3), we were up at 5 and out of the hotel by 6.  Breakfast which consisted of a bowl of oatmeal, a banana and two pieces of toast was complete at 7:15, well inside the 3 hour window of race start (problem number 4).
I setup my transition area near the end of one bike rack.  While setting up, my good friend, Andrew Jones (Rock Hill, SC), comes over and comments on the heat. 
Andrew Jones of Rock Hill, SC stopping by to say Hi.
It was only 7am and it already felt close to 90.  Everyone was walking around, sweaty, and the race wasn’t even close to starting.  All the spectators, family, friends, and dogs that had shown up were trying to find a shady spot near the lake to keep cool.  I could tell It was going to be a scorcher as I was waiting in line to get numbered.
Waiting to get numbered
The good thing is, at the regional races, they mark the back of your calf with your age group division number.  In the Xterra points series, you’re racing more against your age division than you are everyone else (of course, the Pros are in a league of their own).  When it comes to qualifying for Nationals, it’s all about where you stand within your age group division.  As always, it’s a motivator when you come up  behind someone on the trail, spot the number on their calf and see they’re in your division.  Instant motivation to push harder.
The Swim Course
The swim was two laps around a 750 meter, triangular course (notice the two yellow, 6-foot tall buoys in the picture above).  On the return lap, you have to come through the big arch, run past the flags and back into the water.  This is always a welcomed break from the swim and gives me a breather.
Getting Ready to Swim
The sea of triathletes lining up at the lake always makes me nervous.  It’s always the first chance you get to look around and see your competitors.   As we lined up at the lake, the announcer stated that the water is a balmy 82 degrees.  “It’d be like swimming at the YMCA,” I told myself.  They always have the pool uncomfortably warm.
My swim went fairly well.  No one kicked my goggles off, although a few of us did get tangled up at times.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting in a grove only to have it broken by someone running into you.  There were several times that I felt overheated (yes, in the water).  I would breast stroke for a few strokes to catch my breath, costing me valuable time.  At the half-way point, I was about middle of the pack.  Coming out of the water, I could get an idea of my position, which I was not happy with.  It was frustrating and motivating all at the same time.
Halfway through the swim
The second half of the swim went about as well as the first half.  I played a constant battle in my head if I should push harder and risk overdoing it too early in the race or whether I should stay steady and make up for it on the bike.  In past races, I’d made up tons of positions/time on the bike, with the exception of Fort Yargo.  I opted to keep the swim steady (problem number 5).
Running from the swim to the transition area, I was already evaluating my performance on my swim.  “I should have swam faster.  I should have gotten a better time. Man, do I hate running barefoot.”  Just many of the thoughts. 
Run from Swim to Transition
Once in the transition area, a lot my thoughts quickly subside into neatly organized steps that I needed to follow once I arrived at transition.  Feet.  Socks.  Shoes.  Camelbamk.  Helmet.  Gloves.  “Damnit these socks always slow me down.”
Sidebar: I’ve always wondered how the Pros do it without socks.  In my many tries during training, I always end up getting chaffed or blistered by the dust, dirt & grime from mountain biking. 
Unfortunately, they didn’t use the same timing methods as last year, so the splits included transition times and were hand tallied.  The only place they used a chip was one that they laminated into the run bib.  Very bad idea in my opinion.
Swim to bike transition
Transition went very smoothly with no issues.  This race was the first time I rode this particular bike.   The week prior, I broke a main pivot bolt on my normal, trusty steed.  I knew it was coming as the pivot bushing was already moving around a bit.  However, I put off taking it into the shop knowing that I had training rides that needed to be performed.  That decision would be another mistake (problem number 6) as it would break on the very next ride.  After finally taking it to the shop, they informed me that it would be a week before they could get the part.  I had already test-ridden this bike, so I decided to make the purchase in order to be able to race.
I was a little concerned with the stock, crappy tires that came on the bike.  They’re tons better than the stock tires you get on your average Huffy, but not as good as the tires I was running on my race bike.  Pressed for time, I decided to take the bike as-is instead of bothering the bike shop about swapping the tires (problem number 7).  The tires would prove to not corner as well as I was used to and the bike felt very loose as I slipped on just about every sandy corner.  This took my confidence and speed down a couple of notches on the switchbacks.  However, on everything else, the bike was flawless.  It especially handled well on the rocky down hills.  Every time I went downhill, a smile would appear on my face.
In an effort to mitigate cramps from the extreme heat and sweat, I had planned on taking electrolyte capsules about 5 miles into the bike.  The night before I had installed a capsule dispenser into the end of one side of my handlebars.  It’s a nifty little contraption that dispenses the capsules one at a time, making it possible to do it on the fly.  However, during one of my downhills, the edge of my handlebars clips a tree causing the dispenser to bust open.  All five capsules go flying into the woods (problem number 8).  I should have given this method a test run before the race.
The Bike Leg
The rocky 3 mile 700 foot climb at mile 6 would be my undoing. Twice I would have to get off and walk a bit as my heart rate exceeded acceptable levels.  Between the long climb and 106 degree heat index, “going nuclear” is about the only way to describe it (as Melanie McQuaid explained).  The second time I probably pushed a little too hard and too long.  This made me feel exhausted for the rest of the ride.  The long downhill was a welcomed relief.  I gained *super* speed, loosened up my arms and let the bike do its thing.  It was amazing how well it performed and I passed numerous riders as we approached Blood Rock.
Blood Rock.  Photo Courtesy: Bump.org
(Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers)
Blood Rock is a technical downhill section with some decent sized drops.  I was told by numerous folks that the best way through Blood Rock was to carry speed.  That doesn’t mean fly through it, but to go steady.  Just as I enter the rocky section, I came upon two riders who had come to a complete stop.  As I came to a stop, I couldn’t get unclipped and fell over. What a goofy newb move. The crowd of 50 or so people sitting around (watching the race at this section waiting for a casualty) applauded.   My new bike receives its first riding scar on one of the jagged rocks.  After picking myself up, I attempted to get going again, but couldn’t get clipped in quick enough for the next drop, causing me to step off of the bike again.  As I got back on my bike for a third attempt, someone in the crowd said, “Wow, he’s determined.”
“I’m gonna ride it!” I exclaimed.  I leaned against a tree, clipped in both feet and yelled, “Ready?!”.  Almost everyone in the crowd yells back, in unison, “Ready!”  I took off, riding the rest of the way down the next 4 or 5 drops to the applause of the crowd.  It was awesome and very motivating to have that little exchange with the crowd.  If anyone who was sitting out there reads this, I extend a warm thanks.
Switchbacks after Blood Rock
The transition from bike to run went very smooth.  I came in, racked the bike, yanked my helmet and camelback off, stepped out of my bike shoes and into my running shoes.  I grabbed my hat, belt, water bottle and took off.  Wanting a cold drink of water, I started to take a swig out of my bottle.  However, about the same time I decided to do so, I felt the heat of the water through my bike gloves (I always wear my gloves on the run in case of a fall).  On my way out of transition, I grabbed two glasses of water from the in-transition water stop.  One over the cap and one in the mouth.
I knew there was a water stop at the trail head, so while I ran up the road, I emptied the bottle into the grass.  Many folks have asked why I run with a bottle.  It’s a security blanket for me I guess.  I never end up drinking all of the water, but it sure is nice to wet the whistle when you want to, not when a water stop is convenient.  On my way to the trail head, I was still having problems dealing with the heat.  Although I usually keep the gloves on, they sure were uncomfortable and I wanted to shed them.  Where to put them?
As I approached the trail head water stop, a volunteer offered to fill my water bottle.  Simultaneously, I handed him the bottle and  grabbed a cup of water from the little girl that was manning the stop with him.  I noticed that someone had taken their bike gloves off and placed them on the water stop table just behind one of the jugs.  What a great idea!  I shed my gloves and placed them in the same spot.  Running away from the water stop, I pop in three electrolyte capsules since I didn’t get any on the bike.  I had stowed them in my water bottle pouch as a backup.  Good thing.
On the Run
The first couple of miles on the run is the same course as the first couple of miles on the bike.  It has some moderate hills, switchbacks and some technical rocky sections.  All-in-all not a bad run.  At about the 2.5 mile mark, you dive off of the bike trail and into a hiking trail that consists of nothing but hills.  As I became closer and closer to that portion of the run, my quads and hams are beginning to cramp something fierce.  “Damnit, this is going to be just like Uwharrie.”  I had fought this battle before and thought I had the problem nipped.  I started to think about the race and what could have caused it.  I surmise that it had to be lack of electrolytes as I had been getting plenty of fluid AND doing plenty of sweating.  It made sense too as I lost my electrolyte supplements on the ride.  I can’t stand Gatorade, so I had been avoiding it at the water stops.  “How in the heck am I going to run the hills with these cramps?!”
The Run Leg
The run is a “suffer-fest for a trail run that features eight climbs amounting to roughly 1,800 feet of vertical gain” as the XterraPlanet.com website claims.  Boy, they do not lie.  As I began to run up the first steep climb, my legs were killing me.  Knowing that I had many more climbs to go, I had no idea how I was going to complete it.  On the way down the first climb, my hams cramped so bad I had to come to a stop for a second and work them out.  It was very disappointing to see the person that I had been following, for almost the entire run, pull away.
However, at the second climb they began to feel better.  By the second downhill, the cramps had almost completely subsided.  This didn’t take away the pain from exhaustion and trauma from the cramps, but at least I could run.  By the third hill, I had caught and passed the person I had been following for most of the run.  By the end of the run, I was feeling pretty good and had passed numerous people.  I guess the electrolyte capsules I took at the beginning of the run helped.
I came across two hikers who were still surprised to see a race happening on their favorite trail.  “How much further to the road?”, I asked.  “About a half-mile”, one of them replied.  No sooner did he answer the question, I heard the sounds of the finish line (announcer, music, crowd, etc).  Time to pour on what I have left.  I finished up the last half-mile to the road very strong.  Once the trail dumped onto the road, I could see the finish line.  About 100 meters from the finish, they divert you off of the road and back onto a trail that follows the lake shore.  Coming into finish, I knew I hadn’t done near as well as I wanted, but finished strong.
Coming into the finish
As soon as I came across the finish, they had volunteers there to grab you (literally) and whisk you over to a cool-down tent.  By the time I came across, they already had folks in front of me pass out from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  When they grabbed me by both arms, I thought I was getting arrested for something.
I finished at 3:11.09, almost a full HOUR behind the first place Pro, Conrad Stoltz.  He was finishing up his third I.V. of fluids as I sat reveling in the idea of misting hoses mounted inside the cool-down tent.
I finished 12th in my age group and a horrible 93rd overall with an official time of 3:11:10.   Even with the terrible finish at this race, I still gained 37 points for the series.
For the points series, my standing is currently at 2nd place for the Southeast and 9th nationwide for my division.
Hopefully I’ll qualify for nationals.  :-)
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