Granite Beach, CA
March 30, 2013
My Race Season Starts:
I like this race. Since it is the first race of any kind for me, it is always a rude shock to the system. After months of low aerobic intensity Maffetone training, it feels good to open up the throttle. It also hurts. A lot. Cruising around at 140 BPM is definitely not the same as charging up a muddy climb at 175 BPM. I always worry at the start of a season that I have forgotten everything that matters. Like how to pedal my bike over rocks. Or swim in open water. Or change out of my wetsuit. Even packing my transition bag gets its fair share of worry. It was nice to see that I can still do all of those things. Just not very quickly.
Much better than in years past. The last weekend in March can be dicey. Usually the water is very cold, feeling like it was snow maybe twenty minutes prior to race start. Five minutes into the race I was very comfortable. It’s been a fairly dry winter this year in California, so the trails were smooth, fast, and fun. There were only a couple of mud puddles compared to the usual bogs, yet judging by my bike it seems that I brought it all home with me. Temperatures were mild as well, though a bit humid thanks to the clouds and nearby lake.
I haven’t been in the water in months due to the usual excuses. Thanks to Coach Rutherford, I can get by on muscle memory. For a half mile swim, I can probably float in my wetsuit. So I picked one thing to work on during the swim and succeeded. I focused on breathing. Many people, myself included, make the mistake of holding the breath underwater. This makes for gasping, and hurts technique. The goal is to breathe as naturally as possible by exhaling continuously while your face is in the water. I concentrated on this one thing and it worked! My stroke was much smoother, and I felt very relaxed and comfortable. When I forgot, I immediately began to tense up and slow down. So despite not training my swim at all, I was only a little bit slower than usual.
I like this bike course since it’s a bit technical. It’s real mountain biking. There are no real sustained climbs, but you are always actively doing something: Climbing, descending, clearing rocks and boulders, swooping on singletrack. The first lap felt great even though I haven’t done much mountain biking lately. I smoothly cleaned the technical sections that often trip me up. The second lap was harder. Fatigue set in, and those technical sections tripped me up.
My legs felt like concrete, but I made them run anyway. Knowing the course, I knew where to hike to conserve energy, and my overall time was typical for me.
Spot on. The effect of increasing fat burning by Maffetone training helped me race without needing as much fuel. I ate a small breakfast three hours prior, and used liquid fuels during the race. More on this later, since it worked so perfectly.
I also didn’t feel as drained afterwards. My legs often feel wrecked after a race, and my brain is often in quite a fog for a few hours. My recovery the rest of the day went well. After a recovery drink, I had a real lunch. I wasn’t terribly hungry until a regular dinner. Unfortunately, I slept TERRIBLY, and my recovery fell completely off the rails. I blame the altitude that always affects my sleep, and the stiffness and soreness that set in making a comfortable sleeping position impossible to find. A nap the next day made things much better.
Concentrated curcumin extract as an anti-inflammatory and proteolytic enzymes to help break down broken tissue to speed healing.
Overall, a great day and a solid start to the season. Much work to be done before XTERRA Tahoe City!
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.
Third weekend in a row with a big race. It started by getting Hammered by the Hammerstein at Laguna Seca, continued with high altitude racing at the Lake Tahoe 8hr Mountain Bike Race, and culiminated with an off-road triathlon the XTERRA Tahoe City on Saturday.
Chop off 15 minutes from last year’s best time.
The bike course will be slightly longer this year since there iss no snow in the way. Advantage: Race.
However, that lack of snow will make the run course faster. Advantage: Me.
I haven’t been swimming much, but I’m a little faster. But the water is 50 degrees. Advantage: Push
Recovery: I feel stronger each day, so I’m hoping the training effect of the last two races will carry over into faster times this year. Advantage: Me
Dave: I want to beat Dave again this year. He had pneumonia and lost fitness. So did I. Advantage: ??
More fun and games in Tahoe City, thanks to the race promoter. For a different kind of recovery after XTERRA and for non-racers, thirty California wineries our pouring at the Tahoe CIty Winewalk. Killian Jornet running with regular folk and doing a Q&A at Alpenglow Sports. And the premier of Unbreakable, a movie about the Western States 100 trail race also held this weekend over at Squaw Valley. Lotsa good reasons to hang out in Tahoe. As if any reason was really needed.
So after nearly eight months of no racing, Maffetone training that never had my heart rate over 140 bpm, influenza, pneumonia, and a slow march through base training, I finally got to uncork one!
And I went… slowly.
It was disappointing to go slower than two years ago, which was close to this year in course conditions. The swim was slow, thanks to freezing conditions that forced more breast stroke than I like. The bike was a little slower as well due to mud and some mechanical problems with my brakes. I knew my brakes were mushy going in, but I thought they would hold for two laps. They held for a lap and then the rear brake began to fade dramatically. Not as bad as last year though, when they failed completely, destroyed a rim, and left me walking the downhills. I shouldn’t be disappointed considereing my lack of training or racing at high intensity. After all, this was the first race of the season. But I am disappointed considering the improvement in my MAF tests compared to last year. I thought I would be going a lot better.
What was puzzling was that I felt great while racing. Even the swim, which I haven’t trained much at all, felt comfortable after I got used to the ice cold water. The bike was a challenge because it’s been months since I rode the mountain bike on anything remotely technical. While challenging, it was fun to ride those Granite Beach trails. The bike course is real mountain biking: lots of single track, and you’re always actively doing something, climbing, descending, negotiating rocks, turning through tight and twisty singletrack. You have to concentrate. The run felt pretty good as well. My stride and cadence were what I wanted them, I didn’t have GI issues, but my time shows the truth: I didn’t go fast.
I wore my Garmin hrm so I could graph my heart rate for the bike and run sections and see what happened. I found that I averaged 170 bpm, and cruised a lot around 175 bpm. I noticed that around 180 bpm the door to the hurt locker slammed shut, and I had to back off, usually at the top of a climb. So, since I have done all of my exercise under 140 bpm, but race from 165-175 bpm, it appears that I need to do more anaerobic, race pace training to get used to going fast. Also, the fact that I “felt good” might be a red flag. After all, isn’t racing supposed to hurt? At least a little? I think I held back a little too much, perhaps due to being out of practice.
So going forward?
More mountain biking. Spring is here, the trails are drying out, my bike is tuned.
Readjust my MAF training range up from Maffetone’s formula of 140 to Mark Allen’s version, which is 145, especially on the run.
More volume. I felt that I faded in the second half of each event. Probably due to lack of truly long rides and runs.
What about anaerobic effort?
I will hold off anerobic training for another month and just use racing for that training effect. I need to continue to build my aerobic base because it still lags behind. I may readjust my range upward again to follow what some coaches recommend by basing my MAF off of lactate threshold instead of the 180 formula. For the moment, I will keep it low since I am still getting benefits.
After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
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?
Wow, what a tough but fun race. What went right? Only that it was a lot of fun, especially the bike course. The bike course went through all kinds of singletrack through Sierra meadows, windy, twisty and fun. There some climbs, but nothing too major or demanding, except for the altitude, not like Del Valle with its long granny gear fire roads. What was difficult about this course was the false flats, where it didn’t look like you were climbing, but it sure felt like you were. As one guy in transition remarked, it felt like your were going backwards. So that was the fun part, and since in an XTERRA most of your time is spent on the bike, it helps to have a fun bike course. Everything else was very tough.
Where did the tough begin? At registration, when they gave me a swim cap, but no race numbers. Tahoe City being rather cramped, it was confusing to locate transition, registration and the start finish, since they were all in different locations. Usually there all in the same place to simplify matters. So hiked around a lot, parking, registering, setting up transition etc. Despite being one of the first on the scene, I still was just in time for the start, along with the other late guy, Ricardo. From there, it just got harder. The swim was a disaster. I felt confident since the swim at Del Valle went so well. I thought that even though I hadn’t been swimming much that I would be fine. No. The combination of cold water and high altitude put the zap on my breathing and I really struggled. I couldn’t establish a comfortable breathing rhythm until the end of the first 750M lap. I watched despondently as the whole field just swam away from me. I finally gave up on swimming and decided to completely ignore what my arms and legs were doing and concentrate only on breathing which helped a lot. But I was slow. Even Ricardo had a tough swim, although he did better than I did, even though we swam together at Del Valle.
It was a long jog on pavement to transition where I set out on the long bike ride. It started with a long climb on the road that helped to spread people out before heading into the state park for the trails. I definitely could feel the altitude, not that I was suffering more, just that I was so slow. I was working hard, enjoying the ride and the course, but just not moving fast. So much for spending a couple of weeks at altitude to grow some more red blood cells!
March 28, 2010
Granite Bay, Folsom Lake
So, my first ever XTERRA off road triathlon is done. The summary, fun, but hard. Worried about driving time, I got up too early, around 4:30. Thinking it would be about a 2 hour drive, I didn’t realize that going down the hill the whole time made it closer to 1 1/2 hour drive. I didn’t know how big an event it would be, so I wanted to get to registration early to make sure I had plenty of time to register and set up my transition area. There were fewer than 200 racers, so registration was easy, since I was there 15 min. before registration opened, and over two hours before the race start! I filled in the time going over my transition, the start, and finish for all three legs of the race.
I was most worried about the swim since my last race the swim was very difficult. I had only put in a few workouts in the pool, but I solved my ear problems, and I felt smooth and comfortable in the pool. How would that translate to a mass start race in 55 degree water? Quite well, actually. I swam smoothly, didn’t use too much energy, only swam off course a little, and didn’t get run over or kicked by other racers. Mission accomplished!
This race was almost a quadrathlon, since there was a long jog up the beach to transition. I lagged in transition, so I need to streamline my technique. Having raced essentially the same course as a stand alone MTB race in October, I though I would be a lot faster than I was. Since I have not ridden my MTB in months, I suppose I should have been prepared for feeling a little off. Then I went out so hard, that I stumbled on technical sections I should have cleaned. My lap times were almost the same, even though I felt like I was going much harder the first lap, but I rode smoother on the second lap. I kept thinking that I would make up time on the run, since I usually run well off the bike.
Very, very hard! After 90 min. of mountain biking, my legs were dead! I was forced to go much slower than usual. It was also a difficult course, with a few sections that required a walk, both uphill and down. By the time it was over, I was cooked!
13 min for a 1/2 mile swim
1h30 for 16 mi. MTB
38 min for a 3.5 mi. run
10 min. for transitions
During: 1 bottle HEED, one Hammer gel
After: Another bottle HEED, gel and one packet SE
Recovered well with that and a Chipotle burrito.
But: didn’t continue recovery long enough considering poor sleep, so I either picked up a cold, or an allergy attack. or both. Bummer. Lesson learned, pay more attention to recovery of the immune system.