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New XTERRA Point System – Good or Bad?

If you haven’t heard by now, XTERRA revamped the points system for it’s various tours across the globe.  I started writing a post about the new points system and before I knew it, the post was pages long, complete with a history lesson in the old rankings system.  I came to my senses and realized you probably didn’t want to read that much and would prefer I just get to the meat of the matter.  Well, here’s the meat.  Believe it or not, this is the short version.

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First, Kahuna Dave explained it very well in a short news release, but I want to cover a few points from an athlete’s perspective.  Keep in mind that this is my opinion and for the purposes of this post, I am focusing on amateur athletes.  Let’s start with the “WHY”.

Simplify: The old point system had some cool aspects to it.  It made for an interesting race season and you definitely needed to put some strategy into it.  But, that’s also its downfall.  It was complicated (more about that later).

Standardize: The point system we had here in the U.S. for the America tour differed from the other tours around the globe.  This was AMPLIFIED with the introduction to the Pan America Tour for 2016.  You had two points series with differing rules which encompassed some of the same races.  Having the same rules makes it easier for folks that want to compete in multiple tours.

More competition: This reason is not the quickest and easiest to explain.  Some of you may even argue with me on this one, but when the rubber meets the dirt, it results in more competition.  Allow me to explain by getting into the “HOW”.

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What HASN’T changed is the basic premise behind the points system, within the America tour, is to become a regional champion within your respective age group.  The other tours aren’t broken down into regions, so each age group encompasses the entire tour.  So for the purposes of explanation, we’ll just say “champion”.  You still race against others within your age group and in order for you to become a champion, you have to end the season with the most points in your age group.  That part hasn’t changed.  Becoming a champion is also one way to qualify for the XTERRA World Championships.  That’s still the same as well.

The other part that HASN’T changed is how points are awarded.  Some races have the designation of a “Gold” race while others have a designation of “Silver”.  Gold races have a 100 point value, so if you win your age group at a gold race you will receive 100 points.  Silver races have a 75 point value if you win.  From there, it goes down in points as your placement goes down and points are awarded down to 15th place.

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In the past, under old rules, you only counted your top 4 races.  This means that you could race as much as you wanted, but only the top four counted towards the points.  Another old rule was that if you raced more than one Gold race, you could only count one of them at the 100 point value.  For example, if you won your age group at one Gold race and three Silver races, you’d max out at 325 points (100+75+75+75).  That’s the most you could earn.  Period.

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So how does this equal more competition?  The downside to only counting the top 4 races meant that someone could “lock up” the regional title early in the year, effectively shutting out anyone else from having a shot at the title.  Under the new rules, the most points wins.  Race as much as you want, and ALL points count.  Furthermore, there’s no cap on the Gold races.  In the U.S. there are currently only two Gold races.  Race them both, and if you win your age group (at both), you get 200 points.  By not limiting the number of races that count, this effectively puts more people in the running to become champions and keeps the competition going all season long.  If you think about it, the premise is that anyone can get to the top.  It’s not just about the fastest anymore.  Granted, being a fast racer will definitely help, but you also have to be loyal.  If the fastest racer only does 4 races, but someone who’s not far behind him does 6 races, guess who might come out on top.

Some folks are quick to say that this favors the ones with the deepest wallets, meaning, as long as you shell out enough cash to race a ton of races, you don’t have to be fast.  I can see how some may perceive it that way, especially if you are on a very limited budget.  While this definitely has different implications for pros, who are racing for dough, for amateurs, it’s really just about a title and Maui slots.  They would go on further to say that it doesn’t guarantee the fastest athletes get those Maui slots and go to Worlds.  This is just not true.  Maui slots are awarded at Gold races for the fastest athletes and overseas this is also true for Silver races, so you still have a chance at Maui without winning the champion spot.  And, at the end of the day, the fastest athletes will be crowned World Champs.

I really think this is a good thing.  Although I liked being able to pick the races I wanted, knowing it only took 4 really good races to secure a champ spot, having it be unlimited points adds another level of interest to the points series and puts anyone in the running.  Now, time for a new strategy.

See you on the trails.  As always, continue to be a Warrior!

Marcus

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

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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An Epic Adventure, XTERRA Epic Iron Mountain Race Report

I know that I just did Swank 65 yesterday, but last weekend I raced the XTERRA Epic – Iron Mountain race.  So, before I get ahead of myself and write the Swank report, I must first bring you up to speed with last week’s race.

Race: XTERRA Epic – Iron Mountain
Location: Iron Mountain Resort and Marina, Arkadelphia, Arkansas
Date: October 29, 2011
Distances: 1 mile swim, 34 mile mountain bike, 9.6 mile run
Result: 4th Overall, 1st in Division
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Synergy Adrenaline Wetsuit, Maxxis Ikon Tires, Cobb Plus DRT Saddle, Jamis Dakota D29 Pro, Rudy Project helmet, Scrub Brakes, Crank Brothers Candy Pedals.

Wednesday. 

Alba and I arrived in Little Rock looking forward to some quiet time alone and also a great race.  On our way from Little Rock to the venue (and our accommodations), I needed to pick up a couple of CO2 cartridges and other items from a local bike shop (since you can’t fly with them).  In the process, we also stuck to tradition and looked for a local coffee shop.  We stumbled upon one called Dogtown Coffee and Eatery.  WOW, they had some awesome joe.

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We arrived at the Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina a little later that afternoon where we were greeted by a very friendly and helpful staff.  Let me just say here that if you are in the area of DeGray Lake, you MUST spend a few days at Iron Mountain.  You will NOT be disappointed.   We had a sweet cottage with 2 bedrooms and 2 complete baths, kitchen and living room complete with fireplace (which we definitely took advantage of).  What awesome accommodations. The cottage had everything we needed for a great stay, including the small stuff like a bundle of firewood and starter block.  Heck, for 6 bucks, they would even deliver another bundle of wood to your doorstep.

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The place even had an awesome deck overlooking the lake.  I took advantage of the built-in sitting bench to put my bike together.

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As soon as I got the bike together, I headed out for a course preview.  The trails were fast and flowy.  There were a handful of technical sections, mainly rock gardens, that you had to work your way through.  For the most part, the course was just plain fast.  If you could get into a rhythm and hold on in the corners, you would haul arse.   Here’s a few pictures of the course and one of the rock gardens.

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During my preview of the course, my bike started shifting really strange.  I couldn’t quite make it out, but it was acting as if I had a bent derailleur hanger.   Knowing that I removed it when I packed the bike, I didn’t think it was possible.  I quickly dismissed it and tried making a few minor cable tension adjustments to smooth it out.  All of my efforts were futile so I pulled over to investigate.  Sure enough, it appeared that the hanger was bent.  If you don’t know much about derailleur hangers, they’re usually made of really soft aluminum.  On purpose.  The reason they’re made that way is so that if you crash or bang it, you break the hanger and not your frame (or derailleur).   Standing there looking at the hanger, it was only slightly bent.  So I reached down to give it a GENTLE tug.  When I did, I noticed the

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My First Half Ironman. Not too shabby.

Race: Augusta Ironman 70.3
Location: Augusta, Georgia
Date: September 25, 2011
Distances: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
Result: 12th place in division, 95th Amateur (out of 3100)(Top 3%)
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Synergy Adrenaline Wetsuit, Cobb V-Flow Plus Saddle, Jamis Xenith T1 Tri Bike, Rudy Project helmet.

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There were a little over 3000 athletes in the race, which was surprising as most of the races I have done are only a couple of hundred.

Since I am a mountain biker and not much of a roadie, I don’t own aero wheels.  So, a week out from the race, I took a look at the weather report and it was forecasting 10mph winds with 25 mph gusts.  Not wanting to be blown off the road, I decided to forego a disc, 808s or whatever.  Instead, I secured a pair of Reynolds Assaults (~45mm) wheels.  Of course, to my disappointment, the forecast changed and there was no wind.  Arrrgggh.  Too late to get anything else.

It being my first Ironman race of any sort, I was very, very surprised at how organized and smooth flowing the check-in process went.  Smooth as butta.  Despite the number of people there, I was checked-in and had everything ready to go in about 10 minutes.  It took me longer to find a parking spot than it did to get through the check-in.  The transition area was huge and there was an endless sea of bikes (the port-a-pottys in the pic below should give you some perspective, not to mention the swim and run in arch in the distance).  I walked around transition a bit to get acclimated with where everything was and some point of references to where my bike rack was located.  I got everything in place, kissed my bike goodnight and headed to the hotel.

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Race Day:

One hassle/disappointment was the fact that since it was a point-to-point swim, we had to check our bikes into transition which was 1.2 miles away from the swim start.  Made for a bit of a hectic race morning, but it would be the only hassle of the day.

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I don’t know how many swim waves in total there were, but I was in number 12.  My age group, Men 40-44, had 504 competitors in it alone.  So for only our age group, there were three waves of swimmers.  It was broken alphabetically and I was in the first wave of our group.  People lined the bridge we would swim under in order to watch the swim.  Hanging from the bridge was a HUGE American flag which was very cool indeed.  We slowly made our way to the river and with the sound of a horn were off.  In usual fashion, it was a bit of a washing machine start.  Since we were swimming down-river, I decided to swim as close to the buoys (as far from the shore as possible) in an attempt to catch as much of the main channel current as I could.  Several times, the current tried to pull me further out into the channel, but with a slight correction, I was back on course.  By the time I reached the swim exit, I had caught up with the tail-end of the previous waves.  I was one of the first swimmers in my wave to exit.  I would later find out that I was ranked 37th in my age group for the swim with 25:05.

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Again, the transition area was HUGE and after running what seemed like forever to get all the way around transition and then to my bike rack, I finally realized why there were 5 and 6 minute T1 times.  I came in at 3:59  Ugh.

Not having raced a 70.3 before, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of goal to set for the bike.  I had done a few calculations to figure out where I would be at in the standings (based on last year’s results) depending on what average speed I maintained.  As the bike leg progressed, I just maintained as hard of a pace I could while still maintaining something in the tank (leg-wise) for the run.  I spent the entire leg of the race passing folks in previous waves and was passed by a few in my age group.  The country-side was absolutely stunning and there were often people sitting in their driveways clapping or cheering you on.  One exception was some greasy-looking fella standing in his driveway holding a sign stating, “Go Home.  Get off this road.”  I guess he didn’t like us bringing all of the economic stimulus to his community.

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Every water stop was well-manned and had a ton of opportunities to grab water, other fluids or gels.  There were at least 15 or 20 volunteers in a row holding something out.  They did an outstanding job yelling out what they had to offer.  I took water at two stops and they were passed off perfectly without having to even slow down.  I think it helped that I would look right at the volunteer and point to them to signal I would be taking their offer.

I maintained a pretty steady pace without over-doing it.  Even with all of the passing going on, I only lost 3 spots on the bike and dropped to 40th in my age group with a time of 2:32:43.

Again, a long run through transition after a speedy change at T2. 1:47

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The run is usually my strength and this would hold true for this race.  I was off onto the run, again just trying to maintain as fast and consistent pace as I could.  I figured consistent was probably just as important as speed. About a quarter-mile into my first of two laps, I was passed by Amanda Lovato on her second lap.  Was kinda cool to see one of the pros run by.  I didn’t even attempt to keep up with her.  I joked however and said to her that if she was going to pass me, she had to at least throw me a tow-rope.  She chuckled slightly, but I could tell she was pushing pretty hard.  I maintained a 7:20 pace for the first lap and was pleased.  My goal was to maintain the same pace for the second lap.  As I came into a water stop at mile 8, I grabbed and chugged a cup of water and began to choke a little.  I stopped to walk it off which proved to be a bad, bad thing.  Before I knew it, I had walked through the entire water stop, wasting valuable time.  I told myself to get moving and was doing fine until I got to the stop at mile 10 (or so).  I grabbed ice and a sponge and fiddled around with trying to get the ice down the back of my suit, again wasting valuable time walking.  I got moving again and quickly returned to my 7:30ish pace.  I would finish up the second lap at 8:26 pace bringing my entire run down to 7:53.  The good part is, I managed to pass 28 people on the run in my age group bringing me up to 12th place.  If I would have maintained my 7:20 pace, I could have gotten 9th.

Primary lesson learned:  Keep running.  Do not stop at the water stops and get your business done on the run.

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Time 4:46:56
Placed 115/2784 Overall, 12/504 Men 40-44
Swim: 25:05, T1: 3:59, Bike: 2:32:43, T2: 1:47, Run: 1:43:22

Full results

My athlete tracker

Be a Warrior!

Marcus

Adapt, Improvise and Overcome. Multiple Race Report.

OK.  So back at the beginning of August, I mentioned that it would be the busiest month of racing for me.  There’s been a few changes, but alas, it was still a busy racing month.  One thing about the sport of triathlon is that it is comprised mainly of “age groupers”.  Yes, there are some really fast pros out there, many of them get the glory and are placed upon a pedestal.  Like any monument, it wouldn’t stand very long if it didn’t have a strong foundation.  In our sport, that foundation is the “age grouper”.  These fearless warriors have day jobs.  Permanent, full-time work that requires them to punch the clock at least (and I do say at least) 40 hours a week.  A lot of these athletes also have families.  Wives and children who love them dearly, kissing them goodbye as they head out the door at 4am to train.  If they’re not headed out at 4am, then they are trying to squeeze it in after work, somewhere between soccer practice and dinner.  A few of them pull “two-a-days” and head out in the morning AND afternoon.  Their weekends are also filled with more training, usually longer, multi-hour rides and runs, juggled between yard-work and house chores.

Rarely will you get a glimpse of these weekend warrior age groupers in the magazines or websites that highlight the fast pros.  Rarely will you see the age grouper, which makes up the vast majority of the racing “field” and pour their hard-earned dollars into the sport in the way of race fees, travel costs, equipment purchases and other sport-related money spends.  It’s these very age-groupers that buy the sponsors’ stuff.  The same sponsors that pour their funds into races and the pros.  The same sponsors that, in most cases (along with age grouper race fees) pay the prize purse at races that are fortunate enough to offer them.  So as one of those age-groupers, my hat is off to my fellow age grouper athletes that trudge through the training, not making a single dime, but instead spending it, for nothing more than the feeling they get when they’ve completed a race to the best of their ability.  Maybe, just maybe, they might get a medal put around their neck. We do it, not for money, but for the right reason: for love of the sport.

With that said, like my fellow age-groupers, sometimes your life, work or other things have to take a priority over your racing or training.  In those cases, you usually don’t just give up.  Do you?  So when other areas of my life threw me a few curve-balls last (and this) month, I adapted, improvised and overcame.  Without getting into any boring specifics as to why, let’s just talk about some of the changes.

August 20 – My intent was to hit XTERRA Charlottesville as my last XTERRA points race for the season (outside of the big races).  Instead, I made a last-minute decision to fly to Vermont and race in the USAT Age Group National Championships.  I qualified at one of my training races and decided to give it a shot.  Let’s just recap by saying: those boys handed my arse to me in a nice gift basket.  I finished 67th in an age group of almost 150.  Yep, my age group was that large.  Still a fun race though, especially the opportunity to ride my bike down the interstate that the Vermont Governor shutdown so we could use it during the bike leg of the race.  Very cool.

August 24Charlotte Mountain Bike Series, Whitewater Center Race – Another goodie.  Managed to get third in my age group after starting in the rear of the pack (like Coach instructed).  Me and the second place guy were duking it out right at the finish.  Again, I was sneaking up on him until one of my buddies yelled, “GO MARCUS!”.  If he wouldn’t have been tipped off, I could have taken him. ;)

August 27 –  Run Wild Cross Country Festival, South Carolina – I intended to get to this race, but decided against it since the only guidance from Coach was hitting a 5k race on this day. Instead of driving 2 hours, one way, to race for ~20 minutes and then drive 2 hours back, I hit a local road 5k, the Yasaou Greekfest 5k. There were some crazy-fast folks out there. I managed to get 3rd in my age group and squeeze out a sweet 18:14.

September 4 – XTERRA Canada National Championships – This is one of those races where other areas of life had to take a priority.  It was a mix of work-related things and the logistics that just didn’t pan out.  I didn’t get to go to this race and was super-bummed about it because it is one of my all-time favorite races.  Also, my training regimen was designed with the idea that I would “peak” for this race.  That means for the past several months, my training has been geared specifically for this race.  I didn’t get to go.  Maybe next year.  

In it’s place, I decided to race XTERRA Big Bear in West Virginia.  Here’s the race report:

Race: XTERRA Big Bear 
Location:
Big Bear Recreation area, Hazelton, West Virginia
Date: September 11, 2011
Distances: .75 mile swim, 14 mile mountain bike, 6.5 mile run
Result: 1st overall, 1st in division
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Synergy Adrenaline Wetsuit, Maxxis Ikon Tires, Cobb SHC DRT Saddle, Jamis Dakota D29 Pro, Rudy Project helmet, Scrub Brakes, Crank Brothers Candy Pedals, Inov8 X-Talon 190 Shoes.

The race, which consisted of both a triathlon and a duathlon, was slotted to be held on September 11th.  I thought it would be cool to race on such a historical day and to thumb my nose at the terrorists in my own way, all while honoring those who died that day.  Going along with the adapt, improvise and overcome mantra, Alba and I decided at noon, on September 10th (the day before the race) that I should do this one.  That may not seem like that big of a deal, but the fact that it was a good 6.5 hour drive away, we quickly packed the car and immediately headed that way.  Online registration was already closed, there was no race-day registration, and the final registration closed Saturday (the day we left) at 7:30pm.  We knew if we only stopped for gas, restroom breaks and food-to-go, we’d make it, especially if we did all three at the same time.   We made it to registration with only 10 minutes to spare.

I had a great conversation with Race Director, Nathan Kile, about the course, what to expect, his thoughts on tire choice and more.  You could tell he was just excited about the race as I was.  I got all my race registration done and we headed to the hotel.

The next morning we showed up just as the sun was coming up.

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The water temps were low enough that it was a wetsuit swim.  We would swim one large, rectangular lap of a .75 mile swim course.  It was basically an out-and-back course with a short leg at the turn back point.  I slid on my Synergy Adrenaline wetsuit and went for a warm-up swim where the water was crystal clear and shallow.  After a brief silence in honor of those who perished on 9/11, we were off on the swim.  After rounding the turn at the farthest point, I noticed that there were a couple of people ahead of me.  I didn’t want to waste any time with my head above water to get a firm count, so I just knew there were a handful.  I did see that the lead swimmer was WAAAAAY the heck up there (I would later find out he was a relay team member).

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I managed to get 4th out of the water, but didn’t know it at the time. I transitioned to the bike as quick as I could with relay team members watching on.

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The 14 mile bike course consisted of some sweet, technical single-track trails.  I endured my fair share of roots, rocks, boulders, climbs and descents as I made my way through the hills.  Did I mention rocks? There were plenty of tough rock gardens to trudge through and even a couple of creek beds to navigate. One minute I would feel the rumble of a technical single-track and next thing you know, I was dumped out onto an old airfield.   A short time later I made my way through a pine forest feeling as if I were at the battle of Bastogne. Here’s a good video of this section of the course.  Let’s just say there’s plenty of different terrain for anyone.  The Maxxis Ikon Tires were hooking up in all of the conditions and were handling all the challenges this course could throw at them.

Earlier that morning, our calves were marked with our age on one calf and a “T” (for triathlon) or “D” (for duathlon) to indicate which of the two races we were in.  On the ride, I passed numerous people in both races, but since there was no indicator of relay teams, I had no idea if the “T”s I were passing were individuals or relay members.  At one point, I passed a duathlete shortly after the airfield, which was about the half-way point of the bike course.  I asked how many were ahead and he stated two that he knew of.

It wasn’t long before I came upon a steep, technical, downhill that consisted of roots, rocks and small head-sized boulders.  As I descended (on the edge of out-of-control), I just held onto the bike and let it do its thing.  Every split second or so, I would nudge it in the direction I thought might be a good line.  In a way, I was suggesting to the bike that the path I wanted.  Sometimes it went, and sometimes it didn’t.  I just held on and knew that if I crashed, something was going to get broken; me, the bike or both.  While descending this Pisgah-ish hill, I had a rider behind me GAINING ground.  We hit the bottom of the hill where it took a hard left and dumped into a creek bed.  At that point, I came to a screeching halt as I nearly missed the turn in what appeared to be an inevitable crash.  Luckily, I stopped just before a big drop-off into the creek bed and as I came to a stop, 3 riders zoomed past me.

I eventually caught back up to the 3 riders, passing two of them and tailing the 3rd, who just happened to be the guy who almost passed me going down the technical hill.  I asked him if he rode that much and he replied with “as much as he could”.  He also mentioned that it was one of his favorite downhills.  He further explained that he was planning to pass me during that descent, but decided not to so that he didn’t cause both of us to crash.  I thanked him for making such a good decision and we rode on.  He eventually pulled away from me with his home-court advantage of knowing the trails.  He wasn’t in my age group, so I didn’t let it bother me.  About the time he pulled away, another rider comes smoking past me that WAS in my age group.  I would later find out that it was local, Marc Glass, a mountain bike racer.  I tried to keep up with him and had no problem on the flats.  But when it came to the hills, he would pull away from me.  At one point he hammered it up a hill so hard that I made the mental note that it would probably come back to haunt him on the run (if he wasn’t a relay team member).  Trying not to blow my legs up on the bike, I let him go and finished up the bike leg about 2:30 minutes back from Marc.

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I hit the 33 second mark for T2 and came out of transition with Dominik Van der Veen only 11 seconds back from me.  We ran across the Big Bear Lake dam, headed out for our 6.5 mile run, with him hot on my heels.  Again, big kudos to Race Director and course designer, Nathan Kile, for designing the run course.  I truly feel that it was one of the most interesting and fun trail runs on the circuit.  It consisted of trails just as technical (if not more) as the bike course.  I encountered even more rocks, car-sized boulders, roots, bridges and streams.  At the two-mile point (or so), we came back towards the damn and crossed over the ankle-deep spillway just below the dam.  As I exited the trees, I saw Marc crossing the stream headed for the water stop just ahead.  He paused at the first water stop to take a drink and I grabbed a cup but kept on trucking.  The next goal was for me to put as much distance between him and I as I could.  I kept a steady pace and took in as much scenery as I could in the process.  I felt like I was on a trail that had the rockiness of Crowders but the green, plushness of Whistler.

In talking with the Race Director the day before, he mentioned the “Crack” trail.  I had no idea what he was talking about, but found out soon enough.  The famous “Crack” trail is literally a three-foot wide crack in the side of a rock cropping. With walls on both sides from 10 to 15 feet high in spots.    I meandered my way through the crack, while having to climb and descend several feet at times.   Coming out the other side, I had to continue my trek along side the rock cropping through ferns and fertile soil.  The run also had its share of climbs and descents as well.   There was no time for mind wandering, as I had to keep my wits about me since the trail stayed technical the entire time.  The Inov8 X-Talon shoes worked AWESOME in that terrain.  In the loamy, rich soil, the knobs dug deep.  Across the boulders, they gripped like claws.  In creek crossings, they drained water within a few steps out of the water.  Love them.

As I came into the second water stop at mile 4 (or so), I was wondering what place I was in.  This water stop was a self-serve stop with a case of Gatorade and a case of water sitting on the ground.  I noticed that a little past the water stop there were two used water bottles on the ground.  If that was an indicator, I was in third place.  About a mile or so later, I saw Dominik in the switchbacks.  Since the trail switched back and forth a ton, I had no idea if he was 30 seconds or 3 minutes behind me.  I didn’t take any chances and picked up the pace as much as possible.  With about a half-mile left, I caught up with a biker since the trail merged with the bike course.  He said I could pass him if I wanted.  As I took him up on his offer, I told him thanks as I had someone right on my tail.  A new goal was established: go fast enough that I didn’t a) throw up and b) hold the rider back at all.  I met both goals and came across the finish upon which I immediately laid on the cool ground.

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As I looked up, some guy comes over and shakes my hand.  “You won it.” he said.  I was puzzled on two accounts.  Did he mean I won the race or my age group?  Also, his voice sounded familiar, very much like the guy who almost passed me on the bike leg during the technical downhill.  Sure enough it was him (him being Brian Menzies), but he was dressed already.

“How are you dressed already?” I asked.

“I was on a relay team.” he stated.

Still puzzled, I asked, “I won it?”.

“Yep, you killed the run.”

Sure enough, I won first overall, which I didn’t believe until I viewed the results.  Apparently, the two empty bottles at the second run water stop were from relay teams: one triathlon and one duathlon.  Not too shabby, huh?  The prize was a SWEET clay urn with the placement inscribed along with the XTERRA logo.

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Huge thanks to Nathan Kile for putting on a great race and all of the staff at the Big Bear Recreation area for welcoming us.  It is truly a beautiful place which you should check out, even if you’re not racing.  Gorgeous trails, lake and camp lands.

We headed home immediately after the awards and said goodbye to the West Virginia mountains.

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Be a Warrior!

Marcus

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