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Last Minute Stocking Stuffers for Athletes

By now you may be scrambling to find gifts for your friend or better half.  If that person is a runner, triathlete or biker, maybe I can give you a few ideas. To the untrained eye, these may seem a bit cheesy, but trust me, if you want to get them something that they need and will actually use, then think about these. Not only are they practical and show that you’ve put some thought into their love of sport, but may even add a few snickers on Christmas morning. You can find most of these at your local running or other sports-oriented store and maybe even online. I’m a firm believer of supporting local shops, so definitely try them first.  (Throughout, I’m referring to your athlete as “him”, but can be very well a “her”).

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1. Anything GU – Most athletes are in need of nutrition and can always use more. So stuff a few Stroopwafels, a few gels, a package of chews or maybe a tube (or two) of GU Drink Tabs into their stocking. The electrolyte tablets bring electrolytes to water with minimal calories (only 10) and something I use EVERY ride and on runs when I carry fluids. If you don’t know what a stroopwafel is, check out this video.  You can even get creative with the nutrition.  On our New Year’s Day run, we break out with Jet Blackberry gel on mini, powdered donuts. Now THAT’s one good jelly donut. www.GUEnergy.com

 

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2. Give them Warmth – If your runner or biker likes training in cold weather, then you cannot go wrong with arm warmers. These gems are great because they can be taken off and stowed easily during those long workouts when you start of in the cold, but the temperature rises as your workout progresses.  These are especially a favorite with ultra runners and even bikers.  Be picky with your choice and don’t go for just any arm warmer.  These arm warmers from Orange Mud are made from bamboo.  Why a bamboo arm warmer? From a sustainability perspective it’s a crazy fast growing plant that requires very little water and no pesticides to “grow like a weed”. When you chop down a bamboo plant, it doesn’t need replanting, rather it simply regrows for continual harvest. The plant is also fantastic for erosion control, and also feeding pandas. Yes, pandas. www.orangemud.com

 

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3. Elastic Shoe Laces – If you have a runner or triathlete that you’re buying for, chances are that they may already be using these handy laces that allow them to get into and out of the shoes without untying. Even if they already have them, they can use an extra pair for when they buy another set of shoes. Not only do you relieve yourself from the hassle of tying, but as you run, especially long runs, your feet tend to swell.  These beauties will stretch as your feet swell, keeping your shoes comfortable but snug.  www.locklaces.com

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4. Socks – Yep, you heard right. The same gift we used to dread getting when we were kids is a cool gift now. Well, they’re cool if you get the right socks. As long as they are for riding, then you can’t go wrong. There’s many to choose from out there, but the best ones come from DeFeet, Sock Guy, Sugoi, and Pearl Izumi to name a few. You score extra points (and laughs) if you get some with a cool saying or picture on them. Can’t settle on the funny ones? Go a little more practical with Merino wool socks from Orange Mud (great this time of year) or compression socks which aid in recovery after a long workout. Want to go with a completely American made sock? Then check out Farm to Feet.

 

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5. Get Grippy – If they’re a biker, ESPECIALLY a mountain-biker, then get them a pair of ESI Grips for their handlebars. They’re the most comfortable grips on the planet. So much so, that I ride without gloves (unless it’s cold). They come in a variety of thickness and colors, but I prefer the “Chunky” ones. On most regular handlebar grips, manufacturers put raised logos, tread patterns and all other kinds of crap that just make them damn uncomfortable. That junk belongs on tires, not handlebar grips. The whole idea of putting something on your handlebars is to 1: improve your grip and 2: keep your hands comfortable. Forget other grips that don’t put these two things FIRST. And if they’re hung up on having their “lock-on” grips, never fear, I used to as well. But the only grips that slip are the poorly made ones. ESI’s grips have their priorities straight and theses puppies won’t move once installed. So get them this gift and they’ll love you for it. www.ESIgrips.com

 

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6. Seal it up – For the mountain bikers in the bunch, there’s a good chance your loved-one is riding on tubeless mountain bike tires. If so, this is a great stocking stuffer. If not, this may motivate them to take advantage of swapping to tubeless and experience all the benefits. For you, if you’re not a mountain biker, this will score major points that you happen to know something about tubeless tires and the need to use sealant. This stuff seals up the tires making it possible to hold air without a tube. The best part is it also acts as an automatic seal should they get a puncture on the trail. Don’t settle for that sealant with some guys name on it. Instead, go with the orange stuff made from NASA technology. One 8 ounce bottle is good for a set of tires, but if you go with the 4 ounce bottle, get two. I’d recommend getting the first bottle with the injector. FYI, I’ll be riding a product review on this soon. www.OrangeSeal.com

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7. Crankbrothers Multitool – You can’t get more handy or practical than a multitool. Necessary for trail-side or road-side repair of bike foul ups and tends to work better than a MacGyver twig and rock combo. Crankbrothers has many to choose from at different price ranges. My favorite is the mutli-17 tool since it comes with a chain tool. It even comes with a lifetime warranty. www.crankbrothers.com

 

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8. Co2 cartridges – If he’s a biker of any sort, having extra Co2 cartridges handy will ensure he has a way to fix a flat. It may take a little bit of snooping to figure out if he needs the threaded or non-threaded type. Just check his current stash (usually in his seat bag or where he keeps the rest of his stuff). If you can’t figure it out, go with threaded. If it’s the wrong type, he can easily swap it out with the right ones at his favorite shop. Go with either 16oz or 20oz. www.GenuineInnovations.com or your local bike shop.

 

If you found this list helpful, please vote for me in the #RunUltraBlogger awards (please scroll all the way down to complete the vote).

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If you’re in the Charlotte, NC area, be sure to come check out our 10th Annual New Year’s Day Almost Noon Almost 10k Unorganized Group Trail Run

-Marcus

I’ll Tumble For Ya in the Woods–XTERRA Whitewater

It was slated to be a hot one and with the torrential downpour the night before, it was also a slick one.  Hot.  Steamy.  Slippery.  Take those ingredients and mix it with a hard course and you have yourself one tough-as-nails race.

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Photo by Deb Dandro

Showing up race morning, not only had it rained, but the winds had blown everything out of whack.  Cones were strewn, transition had taken a beating and pop-up tents were completely missing.  The folks at the Whitewater Center had their work cut out for them.  They quickly got things squared away and before you knew it, transition was beginning to fill up.

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Photo by Deb Dandro

I knew that Caleb and Dwayne would give me a run for my money to get on top of the podium, with Dwayne being favored for the win.  My only chance was my intimate knowledge of the trails, knowing just about every root and rock out there.  With that said, we saw Continue reading

Adapt and Overcome – USAT OffRoad National Championships

One of the beauties of racing an XTERRA race is the fact that anything can change on a moments notice.  The majority of XTERRA racers just go with the flow and make the most of it while citing it as a fun aspect of this sport.  The same goes for the majority of XTERRA race directors.  Case in point:

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I couldn’t have put it better myself.  More about the course changes in a bit.

Before the rains, the course was in beautiful shape.  Racers began showing up about mid-week in order to get some time on the course.  I had the opportunity and managed to snap a few photos in the process.

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As you can see it’s a fairly rocky course with loose pea-sized gravel over Continue reading

Hulk Got Some Upgrades XTERRA Myrtle Beach

One of the beauties that makes XTERRA so much fun is the change.  How boring would it be to go do that same road triathlon, with the same boring course, that never, ever changed? Again.  And again. And again.  One thing that keeps me coming back to XTERRA, year after year, is the fact that some races are constantly evolving.  Take XTERRA Myrtle Beach for example.  The first year it was held, the swim course was a rectangular course in the intercostal waterway.  This meant that if the tide was on the move, you’d be fighting it on one of the sides of that rectangle.

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Rear from left: Danny Pagan, Pete Dizon, Ornela Vazquez Rivera, Jim Dandro
Front from left: Caleb Baity, Marcus Barton

The next year it was a one-way swim.  Last year, I raced Myrtle Beach for the first time and I thought the trails were a blast.  I wrote about them last year, so I won’t rehash that over again, but the run was Continue reading

Hulk is not afraid. Hulk SMASH! – XTERRA Myrtle Beach

XTERRA Myrtle Beach appears to have been a big success, at least that’s what I could tell from afar.  I was all signed up and excited to do this race, especially since we’d made a trip down a few weeks ago to pre-ride and run at the Horry County Bike and Run Park, aka "The Hulk".   However, a last minute decision dictated that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip, so instead, I spent the last several days texting, emailing and calling all of my XTERRA family to get the scoop.  At least I could live vicariously through them.  Here are the details from talking to folks.

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One very interesting story behind the race is the challenge that race director, Andy Kennedy dreamed up called the “XTERRA Ultimate Endurance Challenge”.  This was a challenge to race the Hickory Knob 50k Trail run on Saturday, April 5; the XTERRA Hickory Knob Tri on Sunday, April 6; the Myrtle Beach 50k on Saturday, May 3; and the XTERRA Myrtle Beach Tri on Sunday, May 4.  Yep, you read that correctly:  two weekends of 50k runs followed by XTERRA triathlons.

Dan Kimball took just such a challenge. “I wasn’t even sure I could do it when I signed up, but once I signed up, I was committed,” he said.  Dan not only tried, but succeeded in doing all four races, and did so with great success winning the Ultimate Endurance Challenge.  He won first overall in both 50k races, and 2nd overall at the XTERRA Hickory Knob triathlon.

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Dan Kimball dominating the Myrtle Beach 50k

He admits it definitely wasn’t a cake walk and that along with months of physical training preparation, it also took mental fortitude.  “After doing the Myrtle Beach 50k, I just wanted to go home.  I was sore, tired and dehydrated.  I really didn’t think that I could complete the [triathlon] race the next day, but it just goes to show that your mind can overcome the physical,” Dan stated.  He led the triathlon for most of the bike leg and held onto second place until the last mile or so of the run.  Dan continued, “Having ran the 50k the day before, I just couldn’t sprint it in with the others.”  Sprint finish or not, Dan finished 5th overall at the XTERRA Myrtle Beach triathlon, pretty high in the field of fierce competitors, despite having won the 50k the day prior.

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Dan Kimball just ahead of Dominik Van der Veen

Other racers had their own mental challenges during the XTERRA Myrtle Beach triathlon.  “I crashed on the first whoopee during the bike and broke my seat and sunglasses,” says Patrick Clark who went on to finish 2nd overall.  “It was frustrating but it motivated me enough to have a good run,” he added.  Patrick went on to say, “Considering the challenges, I think it was more than a pretty good day for me.  The only frustrating part was how close I was to an overall win. Without the crash I might not have had the drive to run as hard.  It’s what makes this sport so great.”

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Patrick Clark followed closely by local, Brad Stone.

Patrick finished only seconds behind Josh Schaffer who not only won XTERRA Myrtle Beach, but also placed 3rd overall just one week prior at XTERRA Fort Yargo.

“This is the third XTERRA that I have competed this year and I have been having a great time!  The Myrtle Beach race is new to the series this year and I was excited about seeing the venue for the first time.  One of my good friends, Chris Hollingsworth, a local triathlete and training buddy, was one of the volunteers so I knew that the race was in good hands,” stated Josh Schaffer.  He added, “I was also looking forward to seeing my new XTERRA friends that I have met doing these races.  Everyone is very friendly and we are all having a great time regardless of our abilities and motivation.”

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Josh Schaffer tackling the bike course

On the bike, under the pressure of racing, things can sometimes get a little weird.  “The trails loop around each other and I started to feel like I was in a house of mirrors. I would see other riders on other parts of the trail and couldn’t tell if I was chasing them or being chased,” said Josh who realized late in the race that he was having a better race than he expected.  “I didn’t even know I was in the lead until the turn-around point on the run,” he stated.  The race was truly a battle with the lead pack fighting it out in the last miles of the run.  Josh added, “I was feeling it and knew at that point it was my race to lose, so I was trying to keep the pain high and my speed up.”

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Winning the overall female title was XTERRA veteran, Tanya Houghton.

"I went into the race with a bit of fatigue from IM training last week, but I am happy with the results, " said Tanya Houghton who finished first overall female.  Tanya continued, "I felt stronger on the bike in this race, which is closer to the top times than I usually am, so my run ended up suffering a bit."

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Candace Zipf keeping the heat on

Tanya came out of the water together with the other two top female finishers Candace Zipf and Jamie Burton who finished 2nd and 3rd overall female respectively.  Tanya added, "We pulled out of transition at the same time and raced to the trailhead.  We were going so fast that we went right by it.  I swung my tail around and got in first."  Candace dropped in the trail second with Jamie hot on her tail.  Candace kept the pressure on Tanya throughout most of the bike leg.  "The trail design allows you to see who was on your tail often.  She (Candace) stuck with me for a while but about 3/4 through the first lap, I couldn’t see her anymore.  She made me push real hard to lose her, " Tanya stated.

Candace Zipf not only finished 2nd overall female in the triathlon, but did so after racing the 20k trail run the day before.  She not only won the female division in the race, but was the first overall finisher.

Both races took place in the famed Horry County Bike and Run Park, aka The Hulk, which was created in the summer of 2012.  For a two year old trail system, it has come a long way for a short single track mountain bike trail in Myrtle Beach thanks to the Waccamaw Trail Blazers.  Along with the Trail Blazers, the trail underwent tons of volunteer work including last-minute trail maintenance and all course marking for the race by volunteers from the Myrtle Beach Triathlon Club.   Not only did they use typical arrows and tape, but even went hard core by adding wooden stakes and rope to keep the racers on course.

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“The course was extremely well-marked and all of the volunteers were outstanding.  Thanks to their hard work and support, both the 50k and triathlon were great races.” stated Dan Kimball.

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Local racer, Brad Stone commented, “For an inaugural event, it went extremely well. Very fast, fun course! What a blast!  It was impossible to make a wrong turn. The trail markings, volunteers, and transition area were superb! You won’t want to miss this one next year!”

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Local, Wade Davis with Ali Arasta hot on his tail

The park has an interesting history which you can read about at  http://mbtriclub.org/hulk/.  “I did my first off road race at HK a few years ago. I fell in love with the sport and wanted to help set one up here,” said Pete Politis of the Myrtle Beach Tri Club. He added, “We had about 15 members volunteering today and about 10 racing.  Our club has several members on the trail building committee. We have been preparing for this race for over 2 years. We are looking forward to next year!”

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From left to right: Hugh Myrick (7th), Darren Cox (4th), Patrick Clark (2nd), Dominik Van der Veen (3rd), Jason Baldwin (8th), Eric Hammond (9th), Dan Kimball (5th), and Josh Schaffer (1st)

Well, it truly sounds like I missed an awesome racing weekend.  I registered for this race early but couldn’t make it.  Looks like I have to add this one to my racing calendar again next year.  In the meantime, if you find yourself traveling to the Myrtle Beach area, be sure to take your bike and look up the Waccamaw Trail Blazers and Myrtle Beach Triathlon Club.  They’re an extremely welcoming bunch and can make sure you have some fun stuff to do.

BIG thanks to Sherry Stone for most of these photos!!

Full results:

Trail run results: http://www.actioncarolina.com/xt14runs.html
Triathlon results: http://www.actioncarolina.com/xt14tri.html

Be a Warrior!

Marcus

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Tougher than a woodpecker’s lips – USAT Off-road National Championships

When putting together the race calendar for this year, I attempted to figure out what my “big” races would be. My original plans were to race as part of Team USA in the Netherlands at the ITU Off-road Triathlon World Championships as my first big race. My second would be racing the road equivalent in London (ITU Triathlon World Championships).

After digging into the off-road race, I discovered that the bulk of the race would be racing on the beach or on sand dunes. To me, that didn’t sound like much fun, especially given the price. Where I REALLY wanted to race was at ITU Offroad Triathlon Worlds in Germany for 2014. Giving up the Netherlands race in 2013, however, meant I would also be giving up a spot on the team. Soooo, that meant I would have to re-qualify for 2014. I set off to figure out how since, in the past, the qualification had been fuzzy at best.

I discovered that this year, USA Triathlon would be holding their inaugural Off-Road National Championship in Grand Prairie, Texas, which would be the qualifier for Germany 2014. The problem? It was the same weekend as London (road triathlon worlds). So if I REALLY wanted to go to Germany, I’d have to also give up racing in London. After a quick calculation of the costs to fly to London, accommodations and a brief discussion with Mr. England himself, Peter Lilly, I decided to forego it as well.

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After racing a fun XTERRA season, joining the 325 club (grin) and qualifying for XTERRA Worlds, I set my sites (and training) on USAT Off-road Nats. Training went well despite a few injuries and setbacks. I felt good, but still worried that I was unprepared going into the race.

Alba and I showed up a few days in advance to unwind from work and life while allowing some ample time on the course and acclimating to the heat. Indeed, the course was flat as a pancake and despite two creek crossings and some sand to contend with, it was a non-technical course.

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Race morning, the transition area was abuzz with locals, out-of-towners and a mix of XTERRA athletes.  Lots of familiar faces such as Charlotte Mahan, May-Li Cuypers, Darrel McHugh, Victor Mason, and power couple, Steve and Melanie Etherton (to name only a few).  It was good to see old friends and to make a few new ones.

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Mandatory pre-race briefing led right up to the start of the race, so there was no time for swim warmup. Bummer. We started off with a 600 meter swim.  Even though it was a short swim, my swim felt “flat”, but I knew with the hot water and the upcoming hot bike, I didn’t want to overdo it.  I may have been a bit over-cautious as my swim was waaaaay slower than I wanted it to be: 11 minutes, 12 seconds which was 20th fastest. Ugh.

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Coming out of the water with a herd of folks already in transition, I knew I had to make up time. I wasted as little time in transition as possible: 35 seconds (5th fastest).

Since the bike course was flat and non-technical, the goal was to hammer it as hard as possible while still remaining upright in the turns. There was one small creek crossing, one larger one and a couple of bridges. Other than that, it was flat and sandy. Final bike time: 52:29, 10th fastest.

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Coming into second transition, there was a pack of 4 of us coming in at the same time. I noticed a couple of guys in my division, so again, the goal was to get in and get out asap. Racked the bike, ditched the helmet and put on my running shoes. T2 time: 22 seconds, 4th fastest.

The run was more of the same sort of trails as we had just biked. Most of it was shaded with a couple of open spots where it felt like the surface of the sun. I managed to pass two more guys in my division to put me into first. I couldn’t catch the other 4 guys ahead of me (that weren’t in my division) and I finished up 26 seconds behind 4th place. Final run time: 16:25, 6th fastest.

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I finished 5th overall and 1st in my division and the first old guy over 40 (Masters) securing a National Champion title and a spot on Team USA.

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Going into this race, I expected it to be a lot “easier” given that it was flat and non-technical. Boy was I wrong. The effort expended may not have been horrendous climbs or gnarly, technical single-track, but it still was a tough race. You had to race hard to gain or maintain your position. Since there were no climbs, there also wasn’t any downhills to recover. This meant a sustained, hard effort for the duration of the race. It was a tough one for sure.

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I am REALLY looking forward to being on Team USA for the 2014 ITU Cross (Off-road) Triathlon World Championships. It’ll be my fourth year on the team, and if all goes well, my third ITU World Championships participation.  In 2014, they will be held in the small border town of Zittau, Germany. While cross triathlon normally consists of a 1km swim, 25km mountain bike and 6-8km cross-country run, Zittau has proposed a 1.5km (1 mile) swim, 36km (22 mile) mountain bike, 9km (5 mile) trail run course through the mountains.  Sounds like my kind of race.

Some stats for this race:

Race: USAT Off-road Triathlon National Championships
Location: Grand Prairie, TX
Date: September 15, 2013
Distances: 600m Swim / 14 mile mountain bike / 2.5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Male Masters, 1st in Division, 5th Overall
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Rocket Ron Tires, Cobb DRT SHC Saddle, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals.

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Super special thanks goes out to Alan Tyson and team at Architect Sports and Physical Therapy for patching me up and making sure that despite injuries I could still perform at this tough event.

And of course I couldn’t have done it without Alba being my all-around sherpa and chasing me around on the course to be my personal photographer.  If it wasn’t for her, you’d be reading text without any cool pics.  :-)

USA Triathlon Off-road National Championship

Full race report is still forthcoming.. But just wanted to do a quick update to let you know the results.

I finished the USA Triathlon Offroad National Championship in 5th place overall and first in my division. That gives me the title of National Champion and secures a spot on Team USA where I will be representing our fine country at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Offroad World Championships in Germany next year.

And since I managed (ever so slightly)to squeak out a win over anyone above 40 years old (yes there were some FAST boys in 45-49), I was awarded the National Champion Overall Masters Male title as well. (big grin). A polite way of saying “old guy”.

Race report on the way

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