About Me

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Texas, United States
Welcome to my blog. What is a triathlon? It's a swim, bike and run usually in that order. My goal is to give exposure and insight to triathlons along with encouraging living a healthy life style. My post will also contain my collective thoughts pertaining to my training experiences. Feel free to send an email to ej@trilifeblog.com with any feedback or questions you may have. facebook: www.facebook.com/TriLifeBlog

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Capt'n Karl's 60K Trail Run Recap

Oh boy, where do I begin? There were two first for me going into this event. One it was going to be my longest run, and two it was going to be my first night time running event. The race took place in Colorado Bend State Park, the Texas hill country.

A few weeks leading up to the race I took time to put in a few night time run sessions on the mountain bike trails of River Legacy Park. The goal was to try and get accustomed to running with a head lamp. While training I noticed that having a head lamp on wasn’t the only thing I had to adjust to. There was also depth perception of the trail. There were several times on this non technical trail I had missteps. I spoke with a few trail running friends, and a hand held light was also recommended. I ended up purchasing one the week before the event.

This was a cup free event, meaning there were not going to have any cups at the aid station. Runners would have to carry their own bottles if they wanted fluids. The day before the race the 7 p.m. DFW temperature hovered around 99 degrees.  This had me concerned about running out of fluids. I planned on carrying a handheld which would contain enough liquid nutrition for a 3 ½ hour run. I didn’t want to mess with my nutrition bottle, so as suggested by a friend I ended up carrying a plastic icing decorating bag. It was triangle shape which made it easy to drink out of, and I could quickly roll it up and carry it with me to the next aid station.

I drove into the race site the day of the race. I picked up my race packet , and listened to the pre race meeting. The race director stated that if we found ourselves ducking limbs we were pretty much off course. He also mentioned that last year’s winner was running the 60k again. I was glad he was there, because at least I knew that one person knew the route.

Before the start of the race I ran across a fellow trail runner wearing huaraches, a sandal some use for trail running. For those who do not know what a huarache is, it literally is a sandal. There is no protection other than the thin piece of leather between your foot and the ground. I spent a few minutes talking to this person about his training with the shoe. Before leaving the conversation I asked him if he was going to race in them. He said he was faster in a normal shoe, and would probably use them for the 60k race.

The race was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and we had until 7 a.m., a 12 hour window to finish the course. The 60k consisted of a two 30k loop route, with 4 aid stations. On the second loop there were designated cut of times to insure all participants were off the course by 7 a.m. I approached this race as a training run, and my plan for this race was to try to run the first loop with the front runners. I was hoping I could stick with them to allow me to get to know the trail before it got dark. After the first loop I figured I would slow down. I wasn’t sure how my legs would hold up or if I would be able to keep moving for the duration of the 60k. Prior to the 60k my longest run was a 50k so I was going to test limits at this race.

I toed the starting line with a bunch of strangers. I felt a bit out of my element, and had no idea what lied ahead.  As the gun went off I found myself jogging with the front group of 8 or so runners. The first segment of the race was a gradual uphill climb. It was a mix of single track and non single track trail. There were rocks through most of the first segment and that would not change for the duration of the race. The first three miles made me think, and honestly made me worry about the night time portion of the run.

I had a hard time finding my footing as I constantly had to step on, over or avoid rocks. The rocks were not always in sight either. There were sections where the grass was laid over the rocks that made it next to impossible to plan your next step. A couple guys in the lead pack had a couple of toe grabbers. I was surprised that I made it to the first aid station without one. I knew I would have several before the race was done.

As the race progressed over the next several miles the pace was a bit quicker than I had anticipated. My legs felt really good and I was enjoying the run. Around mile 9 I was still hanging with the lead pack. We were on a flat non single track section running two wide. Casual conversation was going on in the between a couple runners. They were discussing 100 mile events they had done and were going to do. I looked down at my Garmin, and found we were running the section at a 6 minute pace. At that point I knew I was in the company of some very strong athletes. They were pushing/carrying me through this segment of the run.

I could tell that my trail running skills were nowhere close to the three other guys I was running with. They made running over the rocks and technical terrain look very smooth and easy. I truly was in awe to see them float over the treacherous terrain. Just like all other runners the experience guys also had had their missteps. On one section last year’s winner went down in front of me and rolled. He picked himself up and I grabbed his water bottle that went in the opposite direction. I asked if he was okay and he said he was fine.

At about mile 15 one of the runners in the lead group decided to start pushing pace on a very rocky downhill section.  It was the huarache runner, only he wasn’t wearing huaraches. He decided to go with a very minimums New Balance shoe. Last year’s winner also decided to push a bit. At about this time it started to get dark. I pulled my headlamp out of a pack I wore around my waist and put it on my head.

Up until this point I had maybe one to two small toe grabbers which did not cause me to go down, just trip up a bit. As the dark rolled in and the head light came on my race quickly changed. I notice my run naturally slowed down. At this point of the race it wasn’t because I was fatigued, but more so because of my body’s natural tendency to be cautious.

The only way I can explain this is to imagine walking into the front door of your house. You flip the lights on and you walk through the room without any hesitation. You’ve done this many times over.  You know exactly where furniture and other items are in the room.  Now if you walked through your front door with your room light off, even with knowing the exact placement of everything in your room, your mind naturally slows your body down as a precaution. These guys did not have that fear as they ran through the night.

As I completed the first loop I was sitting in 3rd place, and was 15 minutes ahead of my goal pace. I was having a great time, and was looking forward to the 2nd loop. The two guys in front of me were maybe ½ mile ahead. I knew my pace would slow down on the second lap, but I figured that would be the case of everyone else in the race.

Making my way through the second loop I was passed by two runners. They went by me looking smooth as silk. They glided over the rocky terrain throwing caution to the wind, running like it was day time. As awesome as they looked running past me, at the same time it made me sick to my stomach as it frustrated me. I knew they were on a whole other level of trail running and that skill would take some time to learn.

The second loop for me was a beat down. I had countless toe grabbers, and with maybe 5 miles left in the race I finally went down for the first time. Thankfully it wasn’t bad. I was able to brush off and pick up where I left off. The toe grabbers were taking their toll on my legs and feet. I could feel the blisters on my toes, and my hamstrings were fatigued.

I made my way through the last aid station. I knew it was all downhill from there. I was sitting in 5th place, and I had a solid chance of holding on if I could keep the toe grabbing count down. I made sure I took a few extra moments to drench my head with water, and top off my hand held for the final haul. I was moving and feeling good, I was ready to cross that finish line. As my luck would have it I had one more toe grabber, and that one did my left hamstring in.

I ended up cramping, and that forced me to stop and stretch my hamstring. After cramping once the chances of cramping again for me increase. At this point there wasn’t much I could do. I was taking in fluids, and extra salt wasn’t going to help. The cramp wasn’t caused by dehydration. It more so the combination of muscle fatigue caused by the sudden jolts of stomping my feet on rocks. With less than a couple miles to go I was just going to have to suck it up, and finish.

The last mile seemed like 5 miles. I was mentally ready to get to that last flat ¼ mile stretch of road. I made my way through the thick of the night and as I ran out of fluids I finally reached the last ¼ mile segment. It was a dirt road with no elevation change. I was still sitting in 5th place and at this point had every intention of holding onto it. It was on me to keep the position. I made a final push and thought if anyone caught me and passed me now they deserved the placing.

In the end I reached the finish line in 6 hours and 9 minutes. I successfully completed my first 60k trail run, and held onto 5th place. Overall I was satisfied with how the race played out. I felt I walked away more experienced and better prepared for my next trail run adventure.

I have to give props to the race director and his crew. I was impressed with the organization and support of the event. The aid stations and the aid of the park rangers were outstanding. They were stationed at every road crossing to make sure the runners were safe for the duration of the race.

Thank you for reading this blog entry. As always feel free to email me any questions or comments you may have.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

XTERRA Cameron Park Weekend

This write up is from an event I did at the end of June. I contemplated publishing it, after re reading it I felt it had some good information for those who have not experienced an off road triathlon or trail run. Here’s my Xterra weekend experience.

As the second half of the season starts to unfold I found myself headed to Waco for a trail run and off road triathlon. XTERRA hosts a trail run and off road tri series that travels around to several Texas locations. I had my eye on a few of the events earlier in the year, but due to my IRONMAN training, they did not fit my schedule.

The purpose of the XTERRA weekend was twofold. First, I wanted to get a long training run done in a different location, and second I wanted to get race like experience with on my mountain bike. I was signed up for a 21k trail run on Saturday, and I was signed up for a “Sport”, equivalent to a “Sprint” non off road triathlon on Sunday. I will admit the trial run was going to be a bit more meaningful to me in respect to effort over the off road triathlon I was going to do the following day. My only goal for the off road triathlon was simply not to hurt myself on the mountain bike course.

On Saturday morning, the day of the race, I found myself waking up at 4 a.m. to drive to Waco from the DFW area. Taking less than an hour and a half, the drive wasn’t bad at all. I was afraid of sitting for an extended period of time before a race, but that ended up being a non factor. Race time was set for 8:10 a.m., and I was there with maybe 50 minutes to spare. I knew very little about the course. I had seen it on a map, but maps do not show roots, holes, rocks, etc. I knew we had about a 400 meter open area start before we got to the infamous Jacob’s Ladder.
As I warmed up for the race I noted the two younger Welsch  sisters were lined up for the 21k. For those who are not familiar with these two girls, ages 13 and 11, they made national news last year for their running accomplishments. The older sister was the female overall winner in last year’s 21k XTERRA Cameron Park trail race. They also compete in multi sport events. I was glad to see them out there and wanted to see how they would handle the course.

The race director called all runners to the starting line and we were off. The two young girls took off like something was chasing them. They were easily running a low 5 minute pace until reaching the Jacob’s ladder. Jacob’s ladder is a cement stair case that goes pretty much straight up, for what feels like forever. It’s defiantly a quad killer, and the steps are not normal steps they are a good 6 inches taller than normal steps. They do not favor the shorter athletes.

I was the 4th or 5th person to the stairs. I tried running up the stairs grabbing onto the handrail. That run quickly turned into a fast power walk up the stairs. I made it to the top of the steps and onto the road which lead us to the trail. My recovery time wasn’t too bad. I was able to get into a stride fairly quickly. I grabbed a cup of water at the first aid station and poured it over my head before darting onto the trail.
The trail itself had a mix of everything. There were some nice steep climbs and descends along with your roots, rocks and holes. I wasn’t expecting  the trail to be as technical as it was, but I was okay with it. The 21k was made up of two 6.5 mile loops. Part of the 21k trail would overlap the Sunday’s off road bike course. I enjoyed running the segment because it gave me a bit of an insight on what I should expect for the mountain bike portion of the off road triathlon.

I was able to get through the 21k course finishing 3rd overall. I ended up adding on another 10k before the morning was over completing a 31k for the day. My goal for Saturday was to get a long run in. I was more than happy with the trail and the run work I was able to get in. After all was said and done I ended up doing Jacob’s Ladder 4 times on Saturday, and ended up running it two more times on Sunday
The Sunday’s off road triathlon consisted of a 750 meter swim, 8 mile mountain bike, and 5k trail run. I got a good feel for the trail Saturday and I knew Sunday’s bike was going to be a bit of a challenge. A friend of mine told me to stay within myself on the course and that’s exactly what I was going to do.

Sunday morning came, and I set my gear up in their transition small modest area. Unlike the regular triathlons these XTERRA events have a much smaller turn out. Surprisingly there were more people signed up for the longer distance course than the shorter distance course. That didn’t bother me one bit, because it meant there would be less traffic on the bike trail.

This was an open water swim, with a single wave start in the Brazos’ river.  I took a look at the buoys and felt the course looked long. I ended up coming out of the water and making my way into transition in 22 minutes. I wasn’t happy with the swim time, and chalked it off to a long swim course. As I approached the transition area all I could think about was surviving the bike leg.   

When I signed up for this event I was certain they would take it easy on the beginner, the shorter distance event. Well, I ended up being completely off. We ended up riding the exact same bike course as the longer distance race. As I hopped on my bike I kept telling myself not to do anything out of my comfort zone.  I took it real easy and unclipped fairly frequently.  I walked and pushed my bike up and down several climbs I also unclipped for a few turns. I even went down one section with one leg clipped and one unclipped. As challenging as it was, in a weird twist, it was also plenty of fun. I’m sure that not falling off my bike had something to do with it.

The last mile and a half of the mountain bike course was pretty flat. I could feel my quads were fairly trashed from both the previous day’s trail running event, and the mountain bike ride I just endured. As I approached T2 I was relived and ecstatic about completing the bike ride without injury. There are times in your life when you get that care free, shot of adrenaline feeling. I somehow had that feeling in T2. I think it was the mental thought of getting off the bike and onto the trail run. My body was excited to get back to something it was comfortable with.
The last leg was a 5K trail run. Aside from pushing up Jacob’s Ladder the rest of the trail was a walk in the park. I felt like I was flying through the course as I passed several athletes along the way. Running the course the day before was a huge help. I did have one hiccup on the run. I took my eyes off the trail for a second to wipe some sweat off my forehead, and clipped my foot on a rock/root, who knows what it was. I all I know was that I bit it, and went down face first. I was fortunate to catch myself with my hands, and was able to quickly get back up to speed with no physical injuries. I will admit I was annoyed at myself for know better than to wipe my sweat before checking the trail up a head. I went the whole bike ride without falling and ended up falling on the run course, ha!

I ended up with the fastest 5k run of the dayl. I was 2 minutes faster than the next fastest time. At the end of the day I was glad I got the XTERRA off road experience under my belt. I walked away feeling better prepared for HHH Triple Threat race coming up at the end of August.
For those interested in doing an off road Triathlon for the first time, my advice is to scout the course ahead of time before you sign up. There are much easier ones out there. Get some rides in to know where your comfort level is. The more you ride the more comfortable you’ll become on the trail. Just like everything else, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Thank you for reading this blog entry. As always feel free to email me any questions or comments you may have.