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Keeping Motivated, Coldwater Mountain and Improving Your Swim

Going into the holidays, it’s hard to stay motivated, especially with travel.  A few tips, a Coldwater Mountain trail highlight and some swimming Q&A… oh boy!  Grab your Santa socks and your eggnog for a quick vid…

Running Stuff from a Yoga Store? lululemon Product Review

That was my initial thought.  Back in 2005 or 2006 (if I recall the timeframe correctly), I’d heard of lululemon athletica and checked out some of their clothing when shopping for gifts, specifically, fitness clothing for my wife, Alba.  Back then, they sold predominately yoga clothing for ladies, or at least that’s how I remember.  So, when I won a gift certificate by winning a 5k in Birmingham, Alabama, I almost immediately dismissed it.  Honestly, I did.  Being one not to ignore a good deal on some free clothing, I said to myself, “What the heck?” and went to the store to check it out.

I met up with Alison Hoover, the Assistant Manager at the Summit Birmingham store where she gave me the run-down on the running gear.  I was very surprised to see some amazing pieces that were not limited to just yoga.  She had explained at the race that they had great running gear, and when checking it out at the store, I was amazed that it didn’t look like just your average pair of running shorts or shirts, but, instead, stuff that really had some thought put into it.  It’s apparent that this clothing was designed by athletes that were active in sport and not just big wigs sitting in a corporate office pushing paper around.  Alison helped me pick out some gear, I tried on several things and finally settled on the Metal Vent Tech Hoodie and the Surge Short 3.


I was super-excited to give them a try and had planned on running in them within a couple of days.  The only stipulation that I had when receiving the free gear was that I needed to provide them with honest product feedback.

I thought that was a good trade.

good trade

Unfortunately, me getting a chance to run in the gear was delayed since I started having issues with my calf.  To my dismay, this delay lasted almost a month.  In the meantime, I did some research on the company, checked out their Continue reading

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”).


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



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



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


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.



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



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


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



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).


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




Whelp, I’ve gone and done it.  I’ve made the short list for the 2017 Blogger Awards at RunUltra.  However, I need YOUR help to make it to the finals.  Will you PLEASE vote for me?  Of course, you could use the 2.21 minutes it would take you to vote for me in some sort of other valuable way like pondering why you’re coffee smells funny, acting like you’re actually working like your boss thinks you are or, better yet, picking your nose.  Aww, come on.  Help a fellow runner out and vote.  Please?



New Years, New Friends and Mud

For the 7th year in a row, we had our annual New Year’s Day Almost Noon Almost 10k Unorganized Group Trail Run.  After everyone arrived, even a few folks who still had race bibs on from the morning (literally running straight there from the race), we ended up with a total of of 22 runners.  I got to meet some great new people who I really hope to spend some more time with jumping, skipping and hopping the trails.


We loaded up on goodies from GU Energy and headed out.


The temp was per-fect-o and the trails in good shape even though there were a few Continue reading

XTERRA Panther Creek

I raced the XTERRA Panther Creek Tri back on August 1st.  I know, I know.  That was 4 weeks ago.  After some pestering from a few of my buddies who wanted the low-down, I figured I would post it anyhow.  Plus, with going into my next race, I have been thinking a lot about Panther Creek, as any racer should.  What went right?  What went wrong?  What changes should I make to improve?  You get the idea.  So since it’s been on my mind lately, it does make it easier to throw it on paper.  Well, uh, not really paper, but again, you get the idea.

For the second year in a row, it was a wet course.  It was on and off raining in the area the 24 hours leading up to the race.  I wasn’t overly nervous about it, as I had a pretty good race there last year and it was muddy as all get-out. 

Fred and I had chatted a couple of times leading into the race and we hooked up on race morning to talk strategy among miscellaneous small talk.  It was still on-and-off misting as you could tell from the foggy camera lens in the picture below.


Like last year, the bike course was modified slightly to prevent the racers from going through a slick boulder and bridge section.  It’s a fun, fun section when it’s dry, but could be very, very sketchy when wet.  Here’s a dry picture of the section that was cutout.


After getting transition all laid out and things ready for the race, Fred, Dan, and I decided to head out on the course for a little quick pre-race warmup.  This also gave us an opportunity to check out the course and to see if my decision to go gloveless would work given the wet conditions. It was slick as expected with every wet root acting like a gremlin to throw your wheels out from under you.  The ESI Grips worked well, even wet and even without gloves.  I was pleasantly surprised as I knew that going gloveless could save me time in transition, especially if it continued to rain. Have you ever tried putting on wet gloves? 

On a second lap of the section we decided to pre-ride, I opted to push things just a little too hard.  Inevitably, I crashed.  Not only did I crash, but I did so twice.  The second time down, my decision to go without gloves bit me.  While hitting the dirt, I tried to catch myself and both of my hands scraped across sharp, pea-sized gravel.  The result were cuts and scrapes to both of my palms.  The pic below was from post-race while cleaning the wounds.  Can you imagine what they looked like bloody?


Getting back to transition, I grabbed my Bellwether Scout gloves from my transition bag and placed them in their appropriate spot.  There was no way I was going through that twice.  I headed down to the water for a warm-up swim.  During the swim, as soon as I took off, the first couple of strokes were painful.  I expected the cuts to sting, but that wasn’t the problem.  The real pain came from the fact that my right palm was not only cut, but bruised quite a bit.  Matter of fact, it had already begun to swell and discolor.  “This is not going to be fun on the bike,” I thought.  After my warmup swim and RIGHT before the race start, I ran back up to transition and swapped my Scout gloves for a pair of the Bellwether Supreme gloves.  I normally reserve these for road biking because I favor full-fingered gloves on the mountain bike.  My decision to use them was based up the fact that they have a padded palm.  They ended up being saviors on the bike course.

The swim consisted of a 400 meter course of which we would have to two laps.  On the first lap I attempted to keep a strong, fast pace to stay ahead of the main pack.  I knew I couldn’t keep up with Fred’s super-fast pace, so rather than blow up trying, I just kept him in sight and settled into my own pace.  I was in 6th place coming out of the water and couple of minutes behind Fred (pretty significant on such a short swim). 

My transition went super smooth and I entered the trail in 4th place.  I passed another racer very early in the bike which put me into 3rd.  I held 3rd place for a good portion of the first (of two) laps.  That’s when my friend Dan caught up to me.  “Abracadabra,’ he says as he passes me.  We stuck together into the second lap.  About a third of the way through, I crashed again on slick roots, hitting more sharp gravel, taking a huge chunk out of my tri suit and my arse with it.  I shook it off quickly and kept on trucking.  About the time I caught back up to Dan, I heard Ryan Oconner behind us and I informed Dan that we had a tail.  Ryan kept his pursuit and eventually passes me once the trail widened.  Shortly after his pass, I tried to pick up my pace in an effort to keep on his tail.  It wasn’t long before the conditions took over and I crashed, AGAIN.  Same side, same area, leaving more arse on trail.  This allowed both Dan and Ryan to get out of sight.  I continued my pursuit to both catch the guys in front and to ward off anyone trying to catch up.  As I was about to finish up the bike leg of the race, Bence Roemer catches up and takes a pass. 


Sore and beat up, I entered T2 and ditched the bike gear as quickly as possible.  It went pretty smooth and I went into the run in 6th place overall.


After about a mile or so of technical single-track, the run course opened up onto a gravel fire-road.  I could see Bence in the distance and tried my best to reel him in.  Once we entered into a lolly-pop loop section of the course, I wouldn’t see him again.  Matter of fact, I didn’t see or hear anyone for the rest of the run.  I spent it all alone till the end of the race. 

Since the conditions were quite muddy, I was a little concerned that the Avia Avi-Stoltz shoes would get clogged up and lose grip.  Only in the most extreme, greasy mud did this happen (which any shoe would have had trouble).  The rest of the time, they worked like champs.  I held 6th place overall and first in my age group.


Great race and good times!

Congrats to teammate Fred Smith for taking 1st place overall!!

Full results:  http://www.xterraplanet.com/races/view_results.cfm?race_id=1088

Be a Warrior! 


Better Late Than Never – XTERRA East Championship Race Report

It’s hard to believe that the XTERRA East Championship race was over A MONTH ago.  With everything going on (vacation, getting ready for XTERRA Whitewater, you name it), it’s been difficult to get this race report done.  Alas, here it is.

Dan and I headed to Richmond Saturday morning since our day jobs wouldn’t allow us to get out of town sooner.  We debated leaving Friday afternoon, but it just didn’t pan out.  After arriving, we shot straight for the course to go for a pre-ride.  We hit the XTERRA University clinic hosted by Conrad Stoltz and Melanie McQuaid.  If you haven’t hit one of these clinics at the Championship races, you’re missing out.  No matter what your skill level, you could still learn a thing or two.  Even if it’s little tips and tricks about the course, I always pick up a few nuggets.

After XTERRA University, we picked up our packets and headed out onto the course.  We rode portions of the course that were reverse from last year just to get a feel for the flow.  We bailed out on the rest of the course in order to reserve our legs for the race.

Race morning, we headed down to the transition area and began to setup.  I looked up and saw a BEAUTIFUL sunrise.



We took off on the swim in three waves.  Pros were first, men up to 39 in the second and everyone else (including me) in the last wave.  There wasn’t as much of a current in the James River this year, but that was due to less rainfall than last year.  Unfortunately, this meant a heck of a lot more climbing, crawling, and swimming over rocks.  I just couldn’t seem to get into a comfortable rhythm.  The very second I felt like I had a rhythm going, I’d hit a rock.  I’d try my best to shimmy across the rock without wasting too much time.  I decided to try and sight a little more to see if I could spot anyone having to crawl over something in front of me.  It was a futile attempt as the entire field in front of me looked like a bunch of whack-a-moles popping up and down.  We made it to the island, a quick romp across the island and back into the river for the return swim.




Coming out of the water, I felt pretty good, but still a bit frustrated that I couldn’t get a good rhythm going.  I headed for T1 as quickly as I could.  I was happy that we weren’t forced to run down the pea gravel embedded sidewalk.  There were a steady stream of swimmers coming out of the water and into T1.  This meant that I had to contend with traffic and passing during the bike leg.  My goal was to beat as many of them out of transition as I could.



T1 went fairly smoothly although I did have a bit of trouble with my shoes.  Unlike some of my brethren, I choose to put on my shoes in transition for certain races (this being one of them).  This time around, I hadn’t pre-positioned my straps properly, so it caused me a bit of time getting them on and strapped.  Like going into transition, there was a steady stream of folks coming out.  We had a short road ride before we came to the concrete bridge that crosses the river.



mmmmmm  Gloves are tasty.

Running up onto the concrete bridge and over the river, fellow 40 year old, friend, and MelRad Alumni, Frank Fernandez-Posse yells out to me from behind.  “Go, Marcus!”  Frank and I had chatted on the phone a couple of times leading up to the race.  We were both excited to be there and to duke it out a bit.  We headed over to the island where we engaged in a little fast fire road riding along with some sweet single track.  As we departed the island, Frank was still hot on my tail and passed me on the rickety wooden bridge that crosses the dryway.  He pats me on the back as he passes and says, “Come on, let’s go.”  I tucked in behind another rider he passed and the three of us headed for the stair case.


The staircase is a three-story tall, concrete, spiral staircase that we have to climb in order to cross a set of railroad tracks.  Originally designed for pedestrians, it is a bit difficult to climb it with a bike over your shoulder.  Luckily, unlike last year, we only had to climb the staircase once and did not have to descend it.  After crossing the railroad tracks, we rode some of the sweetest, fun, and technically interesting single track courses on the circuit.  With drops, tunnels, weird bridges, and some of the greatest trail maintenance I’ve seen, Richmond is just a bit different than most trail systems out there, especially for one located smack-dab in the middle of the city.  The local trail gnomes have done a tremendous job with some of the brick and stone work.  Absolutely amazing.

IMG_8907 IMG_8910 IMG_8908


I continued to keep Frank, a great biker, in my sites as we rode the trails.  He maintained a good two or three rider spots ahead of me.  As we caught up with the tail-end of the first amateur wave of riders, this proved to be a little difficult.  With every person that I had to pass, it seemed he’d squeak a little bit further out of sight.  At one point, another rider and I became a little tangled up during a poor passing attempt (on my part).  I apologized profusely as I continued my Frank pursuit.  By the time I got going again, he was completely out of sight.  I searched through the switchbacks for him but just couldn’t spot him.  I had lost too much time passing and he was riding a good bike leg.  Once we arrived back onto the pavement at the end of the bike portion of the race, I had an opportunity to look straight ahead to see if I could spot him.  Nothing. 

After a horrible T2 (I was flustered and seemed disorganized with my gear), I headed out on the hot run.  While fumbling with my hat and bib (see pic below), I looked up to spot a racer off in the distance.  I couldn’t recognize the person (he was too far), but it sure looked like Frank.  The signature bald head (like mine) and the coloring of the uniform made me think it was him. I set out to try and reel the person in, regardless of who it was.


As I got closer, sure enough, it was Frank.  As I passed him, he gave me words of encouragement and I returned the favor.  He’d  been nursing an ankle injury and it surely showed up on the run (I hope it’s better by now, Frank).  I continued on to the flood wall and tried to maintain a good pace.  The heat coming off of the rocks, river and the flood wall was overwhelming.  I pulled back my pace a bit just so I could handle the heat.  After the floodwall I ascended the “Ruins” which is a staircase made of railroad ties.  Once on top of the ruins, I was really beginning to feel the affects of the heat.  The run quickly turned back to single track where I welcomed the coolness of the shaded trail and rolling terrain.

IMG_8941 IMG_8955

I passed one more person in my division just before we went onto the dryway, an area of large boulders and rocks.  I had asked Kahuna Dave the day before if we’d be climbing the hill on the island just after the dryway and he stated that we wouldn’t.  My strategy was to pick up my pace after the dryway and negative split all the way back. 


I picked up a rabbit just after the dryway.  Looking at his calves, he had a 45 stamped on one (which meant he was in the 45-49 division) and a permanent IronMan tattoo on the other.  Running at a pace just a little faster than I could maintain, I tucked in behind him and asked if he’d mind the company.  “Nope, let’s do it,” he replied.  I stayed right with him until I saw a red arrow pointing us up the hill on the island.  DRATS!  My whole strategy was ruined.  I had paced myself thinking that I had mile or so flat run left.  A last minute course change dictated that I’d need to quickly modify that strategy.  I didn’t have the juice or the mental capacity to attack the hilly trail on the island.  As I started to climb the island hill, both quads started to burn and cramp up.  I pushed through it the best that I could but lost my rabbit in the process.  I grunted, groaned and generally whined my way through the hilly singletrack and over to the other side of the island.  As I came out onto the flat section of the course, I could see the concrete ramp leading to the bridge back across the river.  I faintly spotted two runners ascending the ramp.  “I can catch them,” I thought.  I picked up the pace and attempted to reel them in.

Coming into the finish, I was 29 seconds off from those two guys, WHO JUST HAPPENED TO BOTH BE IN MY DIVISION!  Lesson to be learned:  Every second counts!


Final results were 7th in my Division (bleh) and 23rd overall amateur out of a field of 197 amateurs.  Due to my placement and one of the guys in my division being Canadian, I qualified to race as part of Team USA at the 2011 Cross (offroad) Triathlon World Championships to be held in Extremadura, Spain.  (yay!)


Be a Warrior!

Marcus Barton

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