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Rocks in My Shoes – Rockman Swimrun

Mirko and Hendrik of Team Amphibia Wolfsburg passed us again, getting out of the water just ahead of us. It was definitely the coldest swim so far and it showed. As the four of us stumbled into the aid station, all of us cramping. Thor asks us each how we were doing. We were all smiles and thumbs-up on the surface, but underneath, we were all suffering in some form or fashion.

Up to that point we had just finished our 4th swim and were on our way onto our 5th run, inappropriately named, “The Seaside Sprint”. Inappropriate as there is nothing “sprint” about it. It was one of the most technical portions of the course with tons of boulders, waterfalls to traverse and cliff-side scrambles. It was a cruel joke for a name, but we loved the joke just as much as we loved the extreme technical nature of this section

Let’s jump back to the beginning of the race. Dan and I had raced a ton and trained even more for this race. We knew It would be the biggest race of the year so far and definitely the hardest. I raced Rockman back in 2015 as a last-minute, fill-in partner for Dan. It was my first swimrun and as you can see, certainly not my last. Dan saw the course again last year, so we felt like we knew what preparation was necessary going in. And prepare we did. Like most weekend-warriors, Dan and I both have full-time jobs and families. We’ve struggled over 2018 to fit in everything and still get in plenty of training. Somehow, it has worked out and I think we were as prepared as we could be going into the race. As we stood on the plank of the ferry, getting ready to jump in, Thor, the race director snaps a selfie. As I smile into the camera, the butterflies hit… or was that my need to go pee?

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We hopped in the water and took off swimming towards the lead mixed team of Simon Börjeson and Marika Wagner (an Otillo World Champion). She was part of the winning team last year and has also finished 2nd overall at OtillO.  Simon, well, he designed the Rockman course. We knew they would be a force to be reckoned with. After jumping off the ferry and starting our swim, It wasn’t but about 500 meters in when Mirko and Hendrik passed us. We had seen quite a few jellyfish in the crystal-clear water, but we didn’t see the three-footer that Dan swam right over until it was too late. He managed to escape with just a minor sting on his left arm.

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We scrambled up the hillside keeping them in sight all the way up to three more swims and then running up to Preikestolen, also known as Pulpit Rock.  For the racers new to Rockman, this would be a very quick preview of what they were in store for.  The bulk of the “running” in Rockman is scrambling across very technical terrain.

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The climb up from the fjord to the top of Preikestolen is a good 2000 foot climb with its share of muddy, mossy fields and non-stop boulder step climbs. Although some of the climb up is a tourist path that thousands of people visit per day, very few RUN up it. Dan and I walked as little as possible, usually reserved for the steepest steps. The rest, we were running. They advertise it as a two-hour hike. We would ascend it in less than 40 minutes. Luckily for us, it was foggy and raining. This meant minimal tourists. On the flip side, it also meant we wouldn’t have the privilege of some of the most epic scenery on the planet.

This is what the final climb up to Pulpit Rock looked like during the race.  Since we were in the clouds, you couldn’t really get an idea of how far down it was.  The rocks were very wet with the rain, making it difficult to find sure footing and not sliding off the side of the mountain.

With other friends from the U.S. making this race, I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t get to experience all of the beautiful views that Pulpit Rock has to offer.  They had no idea how much they had truly climbed since they couldn’t see the fjord below.  I would later go back the next day to capture t for them.  We had clear skies for the most part, so I captured :

On our way back down to the fjord, we would hit some more technical train running. I’m not talking your typical “technical trail running” like what we have back in the United States. These trails would be classified, back home, as very technical hiking trails. Most runners would not think these were running trails. Not even close. We caught up to Mirko and Hendrik and passed them. They stuck with us for the bulk of the run, even with us swapping places a couple of times. We chatted a little, joked a little, but for the most part, we were all just concentrating on the run and not breaking something. Towards the end of the run, we pulled away a little, but not out of sight.

As we entered the “Hillside Swim”, named for it’s beautiful cliff-side views, we knew it would be a cold one. The second longest swim of the day at 1500 meters, we settled into a good pace and tried to watch out for the jellyfish, like the one that tagged Dan in the first swim. Mirko and Hendrik passes us right before the exit and we climbed up the chain out of the water.

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Heading into the Seaside Sprint, I was ecstatic. I had figured out that with the training that Dan and I had accomplished, coupled with what we had experienced so far in the race, that this would be our strength. If we were going to gap these guys, it would have to be on this section. For most of the first half and even into the second, they kept up with us. However, when things got really technical, Dan and I pushed harder and eventually pulled away.   This portion of the course is the most technical.  You use your hands just as much as you use your feet.  You’re constantly jumping down off of boulders, grabbing rocks, trees and what-not to help propel you forward.

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In addition to the constant battle of overcoming rocks, boulders and other land-based obstacles, you also have to contend with water crossings as well.  These aren’t your typical creek crossings, but fast moving, rapid water.  At this point in the race, I had somehow picked up small, sharp rocks in my shoes, so I was hoping that with each water crossing, they would somehow make it out of my shoes.

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We arrived at Songesand and picked up our GPS device (that somehow missed the ferry to the start) and ran up the 6 km (4 mile) paved run up to the farmer’s house (Kåsen Gård). As we pulled out of sight on the road, there was still no sign of Mirko and Hendrik.

Arriving at the Farmer’s house was a welcomed relief. It meant that most of the climbing on the pavement was almost over. Although not very steep, it just seems to nag at you, especially that late in the race. We arrived at the aid station there and were welcomed by waffles!!

After another steep, technical downhill section where the rocks in my shoes were jabbing my toes.  They’ll eventually come out, I thought, not wanting to take the time to stop and clean them out.  On this section of steep downhill, all of the rocks were slippery and mossy.  After descending and trying to keep sure footing, we finally made it down to Kåsaklubben which is the dock for the 1700 meter (a little over a mile) fjord crossing. This was the longest swim of the day and one where you have to fight the tidal currents. I was tired and my arms didn’t want to swim. They had been used so much during the technical runs that they were not happy having to do more work in the water. I know I was holding Dan back. Just like last time, every time I looked up, that huge white building still looked way too small and not getting any closer.

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Finally making it across the fjord, we had a team pass us just before the ladder. As they climbed out, I recognized their jersey number as Mirko and Hendrik. They had closed the gap!! We managed to get through the aid station and onto the long stair climb ahead of them. As we climbed, they stayed about 30-50 steps down.

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The Flørli stairs make up the longest wooden staircase in the world. An advertised 4,444 steps, they rise over 2,000 vertical feet in less than a mile. Following the water pipeline up to snow-fed lakes, they vary in pitch, as well as height and depth of the steps. Several times I stopped momentarily to allow my legs to rest, even if only for 2 or 3 seconds, and to throw out a few choice words. Each time I did, the two following teams would close the gap more. At one point, we were so on top of each other, you could barely make out that there were three teams on the GPS tracker (teams 45, 67 and 76).

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Near the top, team 67, Hetland Sport (Andreas Alsos and Jørgen Grønsund), passes us. Once coming off of the steps, all six of us, along with the lead sprint-distance ladies team, waded our way into a refreshingly cold swim. All four teams stayed together through the rest of the swims and it wasn’t until the gravel road headed back to the final technical trail descent that the pack started to split apart.

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As we entered back into single track, the other three teams had pulled out of sight. Dan and I decided to settle into a good pace as we didn’t feel that we could do anything to change our position, and knowing we had to race Casco Bay Swimrun the following weekend, there was no use in pushing it. Until…

Once the trail started to turn into steep, technical switchbacks, we spotted another team ahead of us. Although it was the sprint-distance ladies team, we also spotted on of the men’s teams just ahead of them. Dan turned on the afterburners.

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We quickly passed the female team and, just as quickly, caught up with Mirko and Hendrik. As we passed Mirko, Dan catches Hendrik who matches his speed. Every hard downhill step, the little rocks in my shoes were jamming into my tips of my toes.  Every step.  It was extremely painful but I couldn’t stop and as we put on the heat more, I thought a lot less about those little bastards in my shoes.

At this point, Hendrik, Dan and I were all pulling away from Mirko causing a bit of an issue for their team. Rules state that you have to stay together as a team and he was pushing the maximum distance. Climbing over a fence ladder, I stated, “Gotta stay with your teammate.”

Dan and I pushed the pace all through the houses and as we stepped onto the final stretch towards the finish line, I yell to Dan that he could “dial it back” because we had the position. No sooner did I state it, I looked behind me to spot those boys making a sprint run for it. “Go! Go! Go! Sprint!” I yelled to Dan as the four of us took it to the line. Luckily we held the position and finished for 3rd overall and 2nd mens.

Here’s a full video of how it went down. I’ll warn you, it’s very shaky, but it’s fun to relive it.  Keep in mind that in this video, it is ALL steep downhill, even through the houses.

We barely pulled across the finish line ahead of them and it was truly a blast to race against them all day long.  We were leapfrogging pretty much the entire race and it made for some fun and interesting racing. I love the atmosphere of swimrun and the other athletes are what makes it so wonderful.  It’s laid-back, relaxed, fun and unpretentious.  It reminds me a lot of the atmosphere around XTERRA.  I hope that it stays this way, especially as it grows in the U.S.

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This race is nothing short of phenomenal.  I’ve raced it twice and Dan has raced it three times and we’re still wowed by the scenery, the friendliness of the locals and the outstanding job of the race staff along with their volunteers.  This is the hardest swimrun I’ve raced to date.  Don’t get me wrong, ÖTILLÖ is hard, but I think it has more to do with its distance/duration.  Rockman is technically challenging, mentally challenging, and couple that with the venue/staff, is extremely rewarding to finish, especially as well as we did.  If you want an epic, fun, kick-ass race to put on your bucket list, THIS is the one.

Race Recap:
Rockman Swimrun
Location: Stavanger, Norway
Date: April 4, 2018
Distances: 9 swims, 10 runs, 3.75 miles of swimming, 22 miles of running, 8000 feet of elevation gain
Result: 3rd Overall, 2nd men’s
Full Results
Products used: Orca Core Swimrun suit, GU Roctane and GU Brew, First Endurance Multi-V.

Double Duty – Technical Trail Running

My mom and dad used to call me “Squirrel”. I used some of my squirrel skills during this epic training weekend. See if you can spot them. #teamorca #guforit #saltyssquad #orangemud

Riding Bikes and Stomping Grapes – ITU Multisport World Championships – Cross Triathlon

“Looking for a race report on speedylizard…” was the text I got from a friend.  It was proof, yet again, that I had been slackassing on getting a race report done for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships held in Penticton, Canada.  It was also a reminder that I have at least one person that reads my blog.  Well, I suppose I should throw it out there.  Heck, maybe even some of the folks who are racing tomorrow might be looking for something to read… to put them to sleep.

Alba and I got to Penticton, home of over 300 wineries, a day before our housemates, Jen and Phil Horstmann along with Chrissy and Chris Haloris.  Want a fun bunch of folks.  Nothing like sharing a house with some great XTERRA Family.  Of course, our view just absolutely sucked.

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Our AirBnB digs just happen to be sitting smack dab in the middle of a vineyard.  The owner even provided us with a couple of bottles from the winery that buys his grapes.

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Since we were there early, I decided to throw the bike together and get in a full preride of the course.  The first 3 or 4 miles of the course was on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which as the name implies is a rails-to-trail with a gravel surface wide enough for, you guessed it, a train.  After that, it turns into steep, technical single-track, which I just loved.

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Unfortunately, my day was cut short just when the fun, descending section hit.  I fell victim to a flat tire and in classic Marcus fashion, I had forgotten my seat bag.  With no way of fixing the flat and needing to get to the Parade of Nations, I found myself running in bike shoes to the trail head which also happen to be several miles away.  A quick call to Alba for a rescue pickup and we made the parade with time to spare.

The next day, Alba dropped me off at the top of the climb and I was able to ride the downhill portion with good friends, Deanna McCurdy, Kristen Wade and Al Wade.  We had a blast of a time riding down and followed it up with some great apple slushies.

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Since we were in Penticton during the eclipse, our landlord, Grady, came over to show us a quick and handy way to view it using a spotting scope.  We just pointed it to the sun and let it focus on a piece of paper.  Pretty snazy.  We also attempted to set a world record to be the only folks within viewing distance of the eclipse to play horseshoes during the event.

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Fast forward to race day.  The day before we had to check-in our bikes and leave them overnight.  Everything with the ITU (International Triathlon Union) is all o-fish-y-al and all.  Heck, they even checked my bike for a motor.  I joked with them that I really needed one to keep up with the fast boys in my group, but they didn’t seem to find it too funny.  Anyhow, I got a great spot assigned to me near the end of the row.

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The race consisted of a 1500 meter, point-to-point swim in a horseshoe shape.  There were flags and a very straight line scratched in the sand to which we had to toe the line.  Calvin Zaryski even got yelled at for having his toe ever so slightly over the line.  With a quick blow of the horn we were off.  Like clockwork, there were several waves of competitors going off, one right behind the other.  In addition to the pros, there was another wave of age-groupers ahead of us.  By the time we got to the mid-point of the swim, we were catching the previous wave.  Early in the swim, I found a good person swimming slightly faster and I chose to draft, but when we hit the wave of folks ahead of us, it became crowded very quickly causing me to lose him.  I came out of the water feeling pretty good and ready to get on the bike.

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I had a very quick transition and managed to get out onto the bike without any issues, even passing a few people in the process.  After passing a couple of folks on the steep, paved section going up Vancouver avenue, I hit the Kettle Valley Rail (KVR) trail.  One of the guys I passed on the way up made his way back in front of me and I hopped on his tail.  We stayed together pretty much throughout the climb, conversing and just having a good time.

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The technical descending was the most fun part with me doing the “wheeeee” like the little pig on the commercial.  I felt smooth and even managed to get a compliment thrown my way as I whizzed past one of the locals in his full face helmet and pads.

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Hitting the KVR on the way back, I hooked up with Jeff Neilson.  We chatted along the way and decided to fly down the steep paved section side-by-side once we got off of the KVR.  My watch recorded 42 miles per hour, which is pretty darn fast on a mountain bike (at least for me).  In my speedy downhill section, I completely forgot to get out of my shoes.  I had planned a barefoot dismount going into transition but found myself hopping off the bike with one foot out and one foot still in the shoe AND still clipped into the pedal.  Needless to say, I almost ended up crashing into one of the fence barriers as I stumbled one legged for a bit before I could get my foot unclipped.  I ran into transition with one shoe on and one shoe off.  Total rookie move.

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After a short jaunt on pavement, we dove into singletrack which was fairly non-technical, but hilly and along the bluffs of the lake.

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Once we ascended the bluffs, we were met with a few miles of running on an out-and-back section of the KVR trail.  I would have felt a lot better with all, technical single-track, but I made the best of it and tried to maintain a good pace.  I saw Calvin on his way in and gave him a high five, along with encouragement of everyone I came across.

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Once back onto single-track, we had to descend the bluffs to the lakes edge and run back towards the finish.  The beach was only 5-10 feet wide and many sections of it covered with brush and trees.  In some places you could go under or over the trees, but in others you were forced to run out into the lake to get around.  This was a BLAST and the kind of racing I really, really enjoy.

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After dumping back out on the pavement, I ran past one of the female pros and spotted two guys ahead of me.  I asked the pro if she thought I could reel them in and she responded with, “Of course you can.  Go get em!”  I picked up my pace to try and run them down.  I lost sight of them as we weaved in and out of the marina, shops and resturants and along the backside of the park.  It wasn’t until we turned left at the peach and onto the final stretch that I saw one.  I grabbed an American Flag handed by our team coach and tried to run him down.  As I sprinted past him, the crowd started cheering, giving away my sneak attack.  I should have held off a little longer before attacking, but since I was already pulling up beside him, he had enough time to pick the pace back up.  The crowd became louder and the announcer started, “Barton or Girard, who’s it gonna be?  Girard or Barton. Barton or Girard?  Sprint finish, who will come out on top?”  Needless to say, Evan had better legs than me at that point, so he beat me across the finish line.  I gave him a big hug and congratulated him on a fine sprint.

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I ended up being the top American in my division, coming in at 6th place behind some super fast boys.

All-in-all, I was very impressed with the course that was laid out for us.  I’ll be honest, going into it I didn’t have very high hopes.  There have been a couple of ITU Cross courses that were nothing more than a road tri on dirt. This course in Penticton ended up being, what I would consider, a good measure of an all-around athlete. It didn’t cater to an athlete that may be really good at one type of course or excels at one particular skill.  I think they did a great job!

Upon finishing, we were presented with a Penticton beanie which I LOVE.  One of the coolest race gifts ever.

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It was also wonderful to have our AirBnB hosts, Grady and Gail come out and cheer us on at the race.  They managed to cheer us from several spots on the course and even take some great pictures like this:

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The gang headed out for some good eats, but not before I had this (just) dessert, first.  Yep, that’s strawberry layered cake on top of a strawberry milkshake.  They told me it was zero-calorie and I took their word for it.

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My bike just wanted to rest and enjoy the view before being packed up in its case for the trip home.

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Race: ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships
Location: Penticton, British Columbia, Canada
Date: August 23, 2017
Distances: 1000m Swim / 20 mile mountain bike / 5 mile trail run
Result: 6th in Division (top American) / 21st Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane Gel and GU Roctane Drink Mix, American Classic Wide Lightning Wheels, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tires, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V, Hawk Racing Bottom Bracket, Hawk Racing Pulleys.

Be a warrior!

Marcus

Some Like It Hot – XTERRA Whitewater

Well, once again, I’ve fallen waaaay behind on my posts, so here goes a recap of XTERRA Whitewater.  I’m gonna try and recap some of the previous races for some of those Throwback Thursdays I keep seeing.  Some race directors, racers and friends are due their props and I aim to deliver.

Anyhow, since XTERRA Whitewater is in my backyard and the fact that I know the guy who created it, there was no way I was going to miss it.  Even though heat hath descended upon us with a vengeance, I was still going to get my butt out there and race.  Caleb and I showed up to the race site early (as always), but since I had to stop for ice, gas and a few Twinkies on the way to the race, he beat me to it.  He even gloated about it on the interwebs.

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So. the GU Crew WAS ready and we were itching to race, matching blue GU shirts and all.  We even had a bit of fun waiting for transition to open up

Folks started rolling in and the morning preparation seemed to be Continue reading

Cheetahs and Gazelles – XTERRA Fort Yargo

It’s been a couple of years since I hit the one-cow town of Winder, Georgia to race XTERRA Fort Yargo.  With the change in the XTERRA points structure, I figured it’d be another good race to earn some points.  Race morning, the temp and weather were perfect for a fun day of racing.  There was a slight threat of rain, but not until later that afternoon.  As we gathered at the water’s edge, you could see the low-water effects leftover from the park draining the lake for maintenance purposes.  The shoreline extended way out and you could see trees that were normally submerged.

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Photo: Nozomi Shinoda-Wade

The advertised swim distance was 750 meters, but looking at the buoys, I could tell it was a bit long for 750.  This was more than the normal, “Geez that looks a lot farther than 750” reaction that most folks have when looking at their first open water swim after spending the winter in the pool.  With at least a half-dozen open water swims under my belt already this year, along with a swimrun race, the usual, post-winter suprise had already been overcome.  I could definitely tell it was long.  I didn’t give it much thought beyond my first peering out at the buoys. Quickly dismissed, I got in ready to race.  After a short briefing, the ~100 person race was underway.

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Photo: Alba Barton

I managed, somehow, to stay out of the normal washing machine mess this race.  I didn’t feel like having any sort of punch fest this day, and I lucked out and found clean, calm water all the way to the first buoy.  The entire pack started out pretty fast but Continue reading

GUforit in Cali

Recently I had an opportunity to go to California as part of the day-job. It’s great to get to work with a bunch of REALLY cool people and with some REALLY cool technology.  It also allows me to get to see some new trails and even do a little sight seeing during my off-hours.

Whenever traveling, it’s tough to get in the biking, but swimming, and especially running is no problema.  I found some cool places to run just outside of Santa Clara overlooking Silicon Valley (pay no attention to the ugly mug, but concentrate on the background).

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I even managed to squeeze in some time to head up to ol’ San Francisco.

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The best part about being in this area, however, was getting to pop in on my longest standing sponsor, GU Energy.  Any of you that know me also know that I seek out sponsorship of products I like, not the other way around.  I’ve had a few offers by sponsors of products that, to put it mildly, I just didn’t like. No thanks.  I have to be able to get behind it.

So, here I am, partnered up with GU since 2008.  So… when I had an opportunity to pop in, I was on it like white on rice.  Heck, after I reached out to Celia, my partner-in-crime at GU, she was ecstatic that I was in town and offered up a one-on-one tour of the facilities with MacKay Gibbs, Director of Manufacturing.

Before I could go back to see where and how the magic is made, I had to get suited up.  How do you like this getup (makes me look like a scientist, looking all official):

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Don’t laugh.  They take their quality control to another level.  After all, this is a food processing facility, so there’s standards that have to met (or in their case, exceeded).  I can’t show you any other pictures inside the facility because their processes, ingredients and other intellectual property are tightly held secrets.  There are many imitators, but there’s only one GU.  If you want to see a sampling of what I got to see first hand, check out this cool vid:

Speaking of quality control, I was absolutely amazed at how much goes into making sure the best possible product gets into your hands.  From the minute the raw ingredients hit their dock to the moment the finished product ships out, it is tested and inspected continuously throughout the process. The guys and gals I met making these products are true professionals that take pride in what they’re making, all while keeping an eagle eye on every packet that goes down the line.  As a bonus, I was handed a Chocolate Outrage packet right off the conveyer while it was still warm.

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I was also equally amazed at how GU cultivates a culture that consists of employees that like sports and racing as much as I do.  I didn’t get a picture of it, but there’s a huge board where employees write their goals, the races they’re doing and when they accomplish them it’s celebrated.  Another bulletin board had countless pictures of them participating in events and races.

My jaw dropped when I got to see their gym and bike storage.  Each employee is encouraged and incented to ride their bikes to work.  Not just a pat on the back incentive, but given extra days off once they accumulate a certain number of commute days.

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It was great to meet all of the staff that not only make great products, but have a real love for sports fueling that passion.

Want to know more about GU Energy and the products they make to fuel your passion?  Then head over to their website and check em out, or hit me up anytime. No matter what you do, there’s a #GUforit.

SwimRun Connects Nature to the Concrete Jungle

One of the primary premises behind the sport of swimrun is connecting the athletes with nature.  If you ask Michael Lemmel, race director of OtillO, he’ll be quick to tell you that it’s about the athletes moving through nature and becoming one with it.  I’d have to agree with him.

So, when it comes to having a swimrun race, most folks wouldn’t think of having one right in the middle of a large city like Richmond and if I hadn’t raced XTERRAs in Richmond before, I would probably have thought the same thing.  When I stumbled across that there would be the SwimRunVA race held on some of the same trails of the XTERRA, it took me all of about 2 seconds to make a decision.  I had to do this race.

I reached out to Jim Fisher, local Richmond athlete and an XTERRA friend of mine to see if he was interested in teaming up for the race.  Being an avid racer and lover of adventure, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.  As the race approached, I received bad news that Jim tore some of those important tendons around his knee and would need surgery.  Of course, this knocked him out of the race, for sure.  After some further searching and pleading with folks on social media for someone as crazy as us, Keith Schumann, another XTERRA athlete stepped up.  With zero time training together we found ourselves at the start line before you knew it.

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The race course looks a little something like this:

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I’ll spare you the turn-by-turn details, but it was 6 separate swims and 7 runs totaling 3.37 miles of swimming and 15 miles of running.  We started the race at Continue reading