I’ve done this race three years now, and I’ve raced three different courses! It makes comparing one year to the next a bit difficult, but that is also the beauty of off-road racing. Unlike track and road runners who obsess over time splits and pacing, or cyclists that obsess over their power meters, the ever-changing nature of trails means that you never really race the same course twice. Even if it appears to be the same course, no doubt something will be different. Case in point: XTERRA Tahoe City.
2010: Dry course, warm conditions. Full course raced: 1500M Swim, 22M MTB, 6M run.
2011: Muddy, and plenty of snow. Bike course shortened due to snow. Run impeded by snow.
2012: Unseasonably cold, windy. Lake very choppy and with plenty of swell. Swim course shortened to 1000M. No snow, full bike course raced.
How can I compare my results from one year to the next?
Quantitatively, it’s difficult, but with my split times, I can compare my performance in individual sports and transitions.
The swim has been really slow and difficult every year. The combination of cold water and altitude really puts the zap on me. I improved by several minutes from ’10 to ’11. But this year, even with the shortened course, my swim performance declined. This is disappointing, since I swam well in the pool and at a Splash n Dash aquathon. Clearly I need to train my swim more, including much more open water practice before racing again here in Tahoe, at XTERRA Incline.
I went 7 minutes faster than the last time I raced the full course. Yay! All the extra racing I’ve done on that course and elsewhere has paid off. Even better is that my bike split is almost as fast as some rivals. I’m catching up!
Last year was slowed done by snow, but I went 4 minutes faster than my previous best. And that was with a very sore left knee that slowed me way down on the downhills. I think the rough nature of the course hammered my knee, and that I need to spend more time running on trails instead of the road.
So despite the nasty weather, the race was a success. I am more motivated to continue with the Maffetone Method for training. But I do need to do a lot more swimming, especially up here in this cold lake. I haven’t raced Incline before, but from what I have heard, the swim is often very rough.
Long, LONG rides to prepare for the Tahoe Trail 100 at Northstar. I should also find a sprint triathlon on the road, just to keep myself honest on the swim. And a flat road 10K. I’d like to know what my actual speed is right now. Then XTERRA Incline. No excuses about the beginning of the school year, I need to race to see improvement.
This run is a beast. 2000 vertical feet of climbing in 3.6 miles. It is relentless. You start climbing immediately on the long ski run that links the base area and High Camp, and it never flattens. Even the finish is uphill. Even after the finish it still goes uphill while you are gasping and trying to get out of the way of the other racers. Last year I fink ally figured when this long running race is held, the first Saturday in August, and so now I know I can test myself on it every summer. Last year I managed a painful 54 min. that included a lot walking, numb legs, and being passed by dogs and small children. This year I passed all the dogs and children. I would a be damned if that Tibetan mastiff would pass me, and only the teenagers passed me. I’m OK with that.
So I really wanted to improve over my time from last year. Last year I really struggled, which surprised me since I usually climb well in trail races. But this course was ALL uphill, and while the gradient eased slightly a couple of times, it never really went flat. I feel fit this year, so I had that going for me. But I’ve done no anaerobic training and no specific climbing workouts. What would all this low intensity Maffetone training mean when I was going to redline my heart rate and not let up? And this was a short race, making it very intense and anaerobic, not like the longer efforts I’ve done this summer where the aerobic training would clearly pay off. To race for four or seven hours means almost all your energy is aerobic. But a super intense uphill effort for less than an hour will significantly challenge my anaerobic fitness as well. Since I do no anaerobic workouts and just use racing for my intensity, do I even have any such fitness? The only other short race I’ve done this summer was the Burton Creek 10K, and I definitely struggled there. I want to believe that was solely due to the previous day’s MTB race, but I still doubt myself. Also going against me, especially climbing uphill against gravity, is that I am far from my racing weight. This summer was supposed to get me close to racing weight for this race and especially XTERRA Incline. Too much livin’ large in the Tahoe summer. Rich food and drink make for a slow racer.
So the results were very favorable. And while I had to drag my heavy body uphill against gravity, I did so at a run for almost the whole race. For the first two miles I never walked except in the traffic jam at the start. While other racers kept alternating from a walk to a jog, I just kept chugging along like a diesel going up Donner Summit. I seriously thought that I might be able to run every step. But just before the single track section I walked a switchback which was really steep, thinking a recharge would help. It didn’t. The single track was steeper and narrower than I remembered, and very congested with people. I walked a lot of it to conserve energy. In retrospect this was the right thing to do, but it was demoralizing at the time. When the single track ended, there was only a half mile to go, and it eased a bit before the final finishing straight. This is where I really came unglued last year. I was hurting, got passed by a dog and then a young girl. This year, I felt much better and pressed on, even managing a finishing kick and lunge that put me past a guy that I had been sparring with. And I chopped minutes off of my time.
Even more good news about the low heart rate aerobic training. In a much shorter and more intense race, I could feel that more of my energy was aerobic, and I recovered from the race within a few minutes. Last year I sat on the lawn with a thousand yard stare and struggled to get my metabolism back to normal. In addition to the low heart rate training, I am experimenting with hydration. Since listening to this podcast interview with Dr. Timothy Noakes, author of the massive tome The Lore of Running, I have followed his advice to drink only water, and only to thirst. Apparently, electrolytes and dehydration are greatly exaggerated, possibly by the sports drink industry. More on this later as the experiment evolves. I felt no thirst during the race, but afterwards I drank a big glass of water out of habit from my commemorative pub glass, then a glass of the free beer. You can’t pass up free beer.
Nearly four minutes faster than last year
Attached video is Tim Van Orden, another plant based athlete, describing how hard this race is.
Well, I didn’t know if I was going to able to survive 100K at high altitude, but I did. And I wasn’t completely wrecked either. Almost, but not quite. Since I am a true novice at racing, my goals for any mountain bike race are modest:
1. Finish (no DNF, unless it’s a GREAT story)
In this race I added another goal:finish within the time cutoffs so that I could theoretically qualify for the Leadville Trail 100 if I won the lottery.
I succeeded on all four counts. I did not stay around to try to win the qualifying lottery, since Leadville is out of the question this year.
The race had a 6:30AM start, and I was staying an hour and a half away, which meant getting up at 4AM, a truly ungodly hour. But I correctly reasoned that I wouldn’t sleep well anyway so it didn’t really matter. I was so nervous that when I did get up (before the alarm even)I think that my heart rate was already well into my aerobic training range. Since my heart rate monitor died on me, I never did know what my heart went through as I was reduced to RPE all day. Probably better that way. In any case, I made it to the venue with enough time to get ready, even though I had to stop for gas that I forgot the previous day. I saw lots of very fit, shaved legs at the start, and lots of $5000 bikes. I looked at my hairy legs and ancient bike still using V-brakes, and knew I was outgunned. Good thing I am only here for my own sense of accomplishment.
After a neutral roll out through the convoluted Northstar base area, the route hit gravel and dirt, and I dropped my chain. With my chain firmly wedged against my chainstay, I watched the field roll on by. Now I know I’m really slow, so I positioned myself in the back anyway, but I did not like the future that this omen indicated. I yanked the chain back into position and set off on the first of several climbs. I caught and passed a few people, especially during the Burton Creek section where I was already familiar with the trails, but mostly I rode on my own. Even the dust kicked up by the main field gradually faded away. I hit the first aid station at the halfway point feeling great and full of confidence. That was because I did not know what was coming next. All the hard stuff was in the second half of the lap. Lots of climbing, especially right at the end, some tricky sections, a fast downhill that had uphill car traffic, and lots of little leg sapping, chain throwing climbs. I finished the lap with a half hour to spare for the cutoff.
At this point I was pedaling into uncharted territory. I had never raced this long, nor had I ever ridden my mountain bike longer than what I did lap 1. I may have ridden my road bike a little longer, but very soon I was riding longer than I ever have. And it was a race! Lap 2 started out with a lot more climbing than I remembered from lap 1. Did they sneak in an extra climb? I’m sure they did. While I pushed the first lap hard because of the time cutoff, I eased up for the second lap. I knew what I was in for at the end, and I anxiously did not know if I had it in me. I felt pretty certain that I could do it if I just stayed hydrated and kept the calories coming in. The “easy” first half was not nearly as easy this time around. The friendly aid station volunteers cheerfully pointed that I had “only” 25K to go. Yeah, I replied, the HARDER 25K! I definitely slowed down the second lap. I never had to walk, like a few others I saw, but I did stop a few times to recharge. The last climb dragged on and on, while it sucked my soul right out of me. But when it finally went downhill to the finish and I heard the DJ spinning my favorite U2 song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”, I knew that is was a good day. And I didn’t even have to use my AK.
What I Learned:
I can ride my bike for 7/12 hours, climb 7000 vertical feet, and live to tell about it. Ken Chlouber is right: You ARE tougher than you think you are, and you CAN do more than you think you can.
Things that worked well:
Build a big aerobic base, and these events are possible. I used the Maffetone Method.
Hammer fuels kept my carbohydrate stores high enough to keep burning fat. I never felt close to bonking, which I have always felt before in super long efforts. I used Hammer Gel, Perpetuem, and Sustained Energy. I carried single serving pouches in my pack and mixed new bottles at the aid stations.
Mental training pays off. Meditation and visualization kept me focused and positive even as I went much further than I ever have before.
Thanks Maffetone, Hammer, and meditation!
You don’t need a $5000 bike to do something truly amazing. You just need motivation and some base training. I still want one though. Hey Cannondale, want to sponsor me a new Scalpel as I quest for Leadville?
Race Report: Lake Tahoe Trail 100 Dave Wiens
Dave Wiens is the nicest pro mountain bike racer you are likely to come across anywhere. He came all the way out from Colorado to help direct the Tahoe qualifying race. He interrupted his own training to help us qualify for Leadville. And he lubed my chain for me. When is the last time a pro lubed your chain? That’s right, six time Leadville champion and Tour de France champion destroyer wrenched for me.
Actually, he was helping everyone out, and when you are as far at the back of the pack as I was, there was plenty of time to help slowpokes like me. But still, it was a nice gesture. Beyond his generous aid station help, Dave Wiens helped set the course, and he ran the pre-race meeting, giving us detailed knowledge of what to expect on the course. And everything he said was true and accurate. I was amazed at how as various sections of the course were revealed to me (I did not pre-ride the course) that it was exactly as he described. He even went on to say that were a lot of fun sections that made it even better than Leadville. What a guy.
Now, if only I could have borrowed his legs for that final climb. Or maybe borrowed some of his high altitude, high hematocrit blood. Hey Dave, what blood type are you?
Lake Tahoe Trail 100K
I’ve raced for four hours on a couple of occasions, so in my oxygen deprived brain that means I am ready for an marathon distance mountain bike race. Right? After racing for four hours solo in Tahoe and surviving enough to race a trail 10K the following day to conclude with a long course XTERRA triathlon the following weekend. So… Countdown to the Lake Tahoe Trail 100K. I think that it is comparable to a road century of 100 miles, which of course I have not yet accomplished. I plan to do that in October at Levi’s Gran Fondo. So what am I in for over 100K on a mountain bike? All I really hope to accomplish is to finish, and finish within the cutoff times. The race start is 6:30 AM, and you must start the second lap before 10:30 AM. That four hour lap time represents an average speed on eight miles an hour. My usual average on the mountain bike? Eight miles an hour. So, if I have a good day, I should finish within the cutoff times. But if something goes wrong, physically, mentally, or mechanically, it might be all she wrote. What’s at stake? Entry into the famous Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race. There are fifty spots available for top finishers in the various age groups, and another fifty spots available by lottery to those who finish before 3:30 PM. So far, there do not appear to be many racers registered, so there are good chances to qualify. That is probably because this is the first year there is a chance to qualify at all, rather than take your chances in the lottery. The catch? If you qualify, by either method, you must pony up your $275 Leadville entry fee on the spot, and race this year. You can’t put it off until next year. So what do I do if I qualify by accident?
That was my goal for this race. I knew I would be in the back of the pack, but I had a shot at beating the much more experienced Dave. I looked at race splits awhile back and realized that of my experienced XTERRA racing friends, Dave and I were fairly close on final times. When I looked closer, I realized that all four of us, Dave, Meiling, Ricardo and I would finish the swim close together. They all three destroy me on the bike like I’m riding a kid’s big wheel, but on the run I’m always faster than Dave. So, if I could limit my losses to him on the bike, there was a chance I could run him down. That’s exactly what happened. Unfortunately, he admitted to being swamped at work and unable to train appropriately, so it was kind of a hollow victory. I need to beat him again when he is in shape so that I can feel good about it.
This went way better than last year, when I had the worst swim of my life. What I did differently was to swim in the lake each day leading up to the race to get used to the feel of the cold water. I realized that by just standing in the water and splashing it all over for about five minutes made it palatable. An easy breast stroke to warm up and get my face used to it, and then I was off for an easy 30 min. swim. I even used my sleeveless wetsuit, since the afternoons were warm. At the race venue, I used the same strategy. Rather than huddle together on the beach and whine about the cold water, I got in and forced myself to go through the agony of adjusting to the cold. It worked. I lopped off about seven minutes from last year. And while it wasn’t particularly fast, and I was definitely at the back of the pack, I felt mush better going into T1.
The snow that closed down Antone Meadows for last week’s races was still there, and so the course was changed. Fortunately, what a difference a week of sunny weather makes. Most of the snow was gone, and all of the snow drifts that were so difficult to ride through last week were now just muddy sections with snow on the side of the trail. I felt faster, and my bike split was definitely faster that last year, but that may be because the course was shortened due to the snow. I couldn’t find if it was, so I’ll go with my very subjective sensation of greater speed. Dave agreed. I trust Dave. What I couldn’t figure out was how when I entered T1 there were a zillion bikes, and when I entered T2, there a zillion bikes again. I wasn’t passed by a zillion people, were those all short course riders?
I hate this run course. It is a relentless climb, then a flat top section and a relentlessly steep descent, partly on pavement that really thrashes your quads. But this year I liked the course because it allowed me to pass Dave. I kept wondering if he was close up the road, and my Spidey-sense told me that the guy in the blue jersey ahead of me was Dave. I did not know what his jersey looked like, but I was right. I exchanged small talk as I passed him and turned on what leg speed I had left to the finish. He was impressed. I was impressed. Did I mention that I beat Dave?
I am really beginning to think that there is sometyhing to this Maffetone low heart rate training. I felt really quite good at the finish, Last year I was totally trashed. While I kept racing last year, it turned out to be my last triathlon. I was wrecked. This year I felt great. Dave looked wrecked. After rehydrating and partaking of the post race food and cleaning up transition, I felt great on the drive home. They stayed behind so that Meiling could collect more of her usual awards. So, at XTERRA Incline, I’ve got Dave in my sights again. If I can just limit my losses on the bike, can I run him down again?
This was the second year for this race, and the turnout was really good. But just like the previous day’s mountain bike race, there was the snow issue. For the marathon and half marathon loop the same Antone Meadows section was eliminated. And while the 5K/10K loop didn’t go as far up into the woods as the MTB race, did, we still had some snow to wade through. Last year I had a great race, finishing in the top five, thanks to a strong finishing kick on a tricky finishing stretch. I knew not to expect such a performance this year. since my off season training was lackluster and my switch to Maffetone’s low heart rate training would keep my pace a little slower. But the real reason I knew this race would be slower and harder was that racing a mountain bike for longer than I ever have before the day before would leave me with a lot of fatigue. Plus, the altitude was still putting the zap on my brain.
So this race had a different goal than last year. The general goal of go as fast as possible and see how fast that actually is remains the same. But the circumstances force me to accept a slower result. Instead this race was more about piling on more fatigue, similar to a triathlon, but over two days. So I had a night to recover from the MTB race, but not enough to really recover. I had some soreness, but mostly the feeling of dead legs. So I would go into the run with significant fatigue, just like a triathlon, so it’s good experience to run on dead legs. And my legs were dead for sure. Each lap started with a gradual climb, which felt Himalayan. I couldn’t believe how high my heart rate was, yet my pace was so slow. Well, reality can bite, so I did all I could, practice finding the sweet spot of pacing. Well, the “sweetest” spot I could find anyway. I survived both laps, and while not fast, my purely aerobic training left me feeling like I still had some gas in the tank when it was all over. Even if I couldn’t have gone any faster. On a more amusing note, I always race in my Organic Athlete kit to promote the plant strong lifestyle, and sometimes draw a comment. Yesterday’s MTB race drew a cheer as I crossed the finish line, and today a couple asked as I they (unfortunately) passed me, “Are you really vegan?” Mostly, I replied. “Cool!” was the answer. That’s right kiddies, you too can eat only plants like me and struggle at the back of the pack!
16th place overall
All right, this was a big one. A big, new challenge. I’ve done very little mountain bike racing, and never at this distance or length. But it will be a good challenge, and it is within reach. I have raced long course XTERRA to about the four hour mark, and I know and love these trails from a race last summer. It was a challenge, but I was confident That I could do it. I picked the race and was excited about it because most of the long marathon like races are 8, 12, or 24 hour races. This four hour length is a perfect stepping stone to those longer races. It would also be a great test of aerobic fitness and the Maffetone Method that I have been experimenting with this spring. And I want to use it check put the bike course in advance of next week’s XTERRA, which uses a lot of the same trails.
Well, the endless winter left endless snow, and part of the course had to be cut because it was truly buried. And there was still a lot of snow! There were many patches to either try to ride through, or hike a bike. And mud. Lots of mud. Mud and snow, but otherwise a perfect Tahoe summer day. The race website estimated fast lap times at forty minutes. Even with the shortened course, few people were able to bring in a lap time under an hour. I managed 1:15.
The real success is that I just kept pedaling. I never bonked, even though I got tired. I believe the Maffetone training protocol is paying off. It appears that my fat burning is more efficient than ever before, thereby increasing my endurance. I kept charging along at 165+ BPM without dropping in pace much, or getting hungry. All three laps were at a similar speed. I kept fueling with Hammer Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel in the range of 150-200 calories an hour like I do in training, and it worked great. When it was all over, I felt pretty good. Despite recently arriving at altitude and not getting quality sleep.
Since I survived four hours, is the next step an eight hour race? It is tempting, and I think with some more training, it is entirely possible. I’ve got my interested piqued by the Leadville Qualifier at Northstar at Tahoe later this summer. If I can find some course information, that might be a good next challenge.
How many years have I been trying to do this run? For some reason I could never find it to get registered until this year. Either it never showed up on the calendars that I checked, or web sites, or I would just miss it by a day or a week. I suppose that it is fitting that this year when I have raced so consistently that I would finally get set up to do it. So I finally got myself up to the Squaw Valley parking lot on the first Saturday in August to race up the mountain.
Great turnout! 540 runners! As a fund raiser for the Auburn ski club, they must be stoked to rake in that cash. I was reminded constantly by the reflection in Born to Run that running is a deep set human activity, almost primal, as evidenced by the huge numbers who will gather to run together. We start complete strangers, who no longer feel quite so strange after sweating and suffering together. Especially for a “race” where only a select few are truly racing. The rest of us just run. Why? Why don’t we stay at home and sleep in on a weekend morning? Do some sensible exercise, like walk the dog? Especially for a race like this one where we all knew that it would hurt. No one shows up for a mountain run expecting to escape the suffering. And yet, 540 souls lined up to test themselves.
And what a test it was! I knew the course only as a winter ski run. It’s long for a ski run, over three miles, because it gradually winds and switchbacks its way down the mountain. It’s primary function is to be graded ascent for maintenance vehicles, both summer and winter. So while I knew it would be a relentless climb, I didn’t think that it would be that steep. Holy cow, was I wrong about that! As I joked with a couple on the tram ride down, I’ve never walked so much of a trail race. It took a while, but eventually I found something approaching a rhythm of walking and running that kept me moving forward. It wasn’t like a usual trail race where the terrain constantly changes, sometimes necessitating walking. Here, walking wasn’t faster, just unavoidable when my legs ran out of power. I had the most peculiar sensation when switching from a walk to a run, I couldn’t feel my legs! It was like they went numb! I would glance down to check that they were still there and still functioning!
The other peculiar sensation reflects my fitness profile, and instructs me in how I need to modify my training. At the beginning, my heart rate was pinned, but I am used to that feeling, so I carefully gauge my effort to keep from blowing up. But as the race went on, I gradually lost power in my legs. I wasn’t breathing all that hard, but I couldn’t go any faster. I noticed this in the recent XTERRA races as well, but I figured that it was a result of deadening my legs with a 2 hour mountain bike ride first. In this case, I wasn’t out that long before my strength faded. So, I need to modify my training to include a lot more strength work. I have done a little of this, now I know that I need to be a lot more consistent. This result reflects my usual training routes, which are fairly flat, and the lack of gym workouts. I recall now that the last gym workouts I did that my legs were not nearly as strong as they used to be. SInce I have had this experience a couple times now, I need to change my training to focus on strength and muscular endurance until the end of the season. Hills! I must run them! And weights! I must lift them! And this off season? Time to become a gym rat!
With no clear information ahead of time, this race was even more of a mystery than most. If I knew the area, as some may have, I would have known what to expect. I expected a fairly flat and fast course, since the only description was a mix of trail and road. Also, since the 5K and 10K courses shared a common route for part of the race, I figured that it would be flat. Nope. There was some significant singletrack climbing on the 10K only loop, but since the website had no course profile I didn’t know what to expect. It was a great course, a fair amount of singletrack, one good climb that required a walk at the top, and lots of rocks! I didn’t feel particularly fast, since I was back in the pack, unable to really pass anyone. I ended up running with the same group for most of the race, trading the lead occasionally. I was definitely out of gas at the end, and while I held off some of the people I passed, I got passed by a couple of people who came from nowhere. Unfortunately, I ran off course twice for a few meters (nothing major). Once was THEIR fault, two different arrows, different colors, different directions. The second time was my fault, I was following another runner on a descent and she missed a turn and I didn’t notice. The race had a tough finish that I did not expect, which was on sand! Apparently it was not just a race TO the beach but also ON the beach! Ouch, that hurt.
Overall, I ran under 54 minutes, which is significantly faster than Burton Creek, making me wonder if the courses were both really 10K. I also wore my new heart rate monitor to see what intensity I was racing at. I uploaded the data into the computer to graph heart rate and found an average of 175, which is a hair under my usual LT of 180. I can feel the difference though, between 175 BPM, where I can recover, to 180 BPM where I feel pinned, and the few times I was up to 182-184 BPM, I was hurting. And so wraps up my first racing/training vacation of the summer: three races on three consecutive beautiful weekends in fantastic Lake Tahoe! Now it’s time to go back to work, make some money to keep up this habit, and tweak the training a bit to get faster.
Next Up for Racing:
Three consecutive Friday night beginner class mountain bike races to improve handling skills.
Find an Olympic distance road triathlon to try a different sort of race
Next Up for Training:
Next Up for Tahoe Vacation:
Gotta check the calendars for that…