Thursday, October 27, 2011

Puttin' myself out there - Coaching

I've been thinking about this for over a year now and Jen has been really encouraging me also.  I've helped out with a number of skills clinics the last couple years and I have really enjoyed it and I've received great feedback from the "students" regarding my instruction.  I love sharing my passion for cycling and fitness with others who are motivated to improve and willing to get dirty so opening myself up to more people and opportunities to coach is the next step.

Seems like I've been asked quite a bit lately for training and racing advise and if I'd be interested in coaching.  Well I certainly am so here it goes.... finally taking the plunge!

Please check out my coaching page on the site here if you're interested or know someone who might be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Survival Training - Sierra Nevada Trail Challenge

A month or so ago I started running again so I could change the training up a bit for the coming off season (training for the off season? Did I really just say that?) and I was looking toward the Sierra Trial Half Marathon as some motivation to keep it up.  Well the running didn't happen quite as regularly as intended and I hadn't been riding very much either since most of my time has been spent painting the new house so we can move.  But, either out of stupidity or naivety, after spending Saturday coaching the TBF MTB Skills Clinic and Sunday helping at the Trojans High School MTB Team practice I felt rejuvenated and ready for a challenge.  On Tuesday I felt good on a 4 mile run and on Wednesday I was a little sore but still busted out a 5.3 mile run in 40 minutes.  I thought, "I'll just see how well I recover from that and then I'll decide if I can/should race a half marathon on Saturday."  Even though I knew I was just kidding myself and would probably give it a shot anyway!  Thursday I did an upper body workout in the gym.  First one in a while, which was stupid because it made my back sore and tight.  A 1 mile run Friday seemed to work some of that out but I was not at all "fresh" come Saturday morning.  Quads and calves were a little sore but the back wasn't tight which was the main thing.  I only know how to warm up one way... so I set up the trainer for a 20 minute spin to get going nice and easy.

It's been a while since I tried something totally new (1st Triathlon last year) and I was a little bit scared of going into "the unknown."  I had never run more than about 6 miles in my life, and that 5.3 I did last Wednesday was the farthest I'd run all year.  The gun went off and I began shuffling along with 100+ others who signed up for, if nothing else, an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day out on the trail.  

I got into a good rhythm and thankfully had fellow Mad Cat Patrick Morin to run with.  He's a very experienced runner, having completed the Western States 100 and several other ultra trail runs.  So I paced with him and learned a lot about trail running technique while keeping up.  He really attacked and "ran" the downhills which was fun, fast, and actually easier on the joints than just coasting down.  I also learned the importance of shoe covers while trail running as I got sand in my shoes and that wasn't very fun later on.  We wound through the undulating singletrack of Granite Bay and kept a good manageable pace.  We got to the climb up to the bench hill at about mile 6 and I was feeling decent so I went on ahead.  But after that the second half of the course flattened out which to most would seem easier but not for me.  Running the climbs is more of a cycling motion that I'm used to but the flats stretch out the legs a bit more which is still foreign to my hips and they started to tighten up.  Also, that sand in my shoes started to wear on the soles of my feet and the heat generated from socks that were too thick made it feel like there were massive blisters forming.  So from about mile 8 on I was struggling.  I kept running though, and I only walked just 3 times while getting water and one other climb which I'm really happy about.  I survived and finished up the 13.1 miles and about 2k ft of climbing in 2:00:36 and was ecstatic to have actually done it.  I began the recovery and rehydration process and hopped back on the bike trainer to see if I could make my legs forget what I had just done to them because I was going to tackle the TBF 50 Miler XC race the next day.  There was a special category for those crazy enough to do both (The Sierra Nevada Trail Challenge) and a $500 Trek cruiser bike to the top guy and gal with the fastest combined time from both days.  After spinning on the trainer and walking around I headed home to a 25 minute ice bath and then went back to work painting the house.  At about 8pm my body was done and I passed out face down on the floor in the living room while Jen finished up some "painting."  :-)

After a painful and restless nights sleep on an air mattress the alarm went off at 5am... Jen got up... I lay there not wanting to move.  My hips were in so much pain.  I was only half serious with my response of "If I can get up in the morning" when asked if I was doing the MTB race after the run.  After a few more minutes contemplating movement I rolled, literally, out of bed onto the floor, pushed up to the knees then up to the feet.  I staggered the first few painful steps and Jen commented that I walked like she did with her broken foot!  The hip flexors didn't want to work and the bone/connective tissue pain in the hips was crazy!  As I stayed up about about though I seemed to move a little more freely and got the bike and gear loaded up.  At the venue one of the staff members had some Tylenol (thank you Stephanie!!).  Some coffee and my last delicious Cashew Coconut Chocolate Chip Hammer Bar started to pick me up.  I walked around for about 10 minutes and things started to feel better as I contemplated the start 3+ hour MTB race which was only a half hour away.  Then something unexpected happened, with 15 minutes to go before the start, I swung a leg over the Highball, immediately felt right at home on the familiar WTB Silverado saddle and the hip pain was gone.  Turns out I could still ride a bike!  Game on!

The fun began as I sprinted to the front for the 200 yard start stretch and zero'd in on the singletrack straight ahead.  Which would have been fine if that was where the course went too!  As I started to go straight for it the course went right and Dean Bailey (SS winner) yelled "RIGHT TURN!!" I had run the same course the day before but was still in a daze apparently.  I went around a cone into the weeds, ducked under a branch and was back on course in about 6th.  "Sorry guys!" I yelled, embarrassed of my bonehead move.  As we continued on course no thanks to me, the pace seemed to be unreasonably fast for the start of such a long race.  

We hit the first water crossing, up a grassy slope and to the first bit of deep sand on course where Dean fumbled a bit and let out a frustrating yell.  As I went by I reminded him "long race Dean" trying to calm him down a bit.  He acknowledged with a deep breath and a "Yeah..." as we continued on.  

We finally got into the good singletrack and I was in 3rd with our group already with quite a gap.  Jared Kessler was in 2nd and another guy I didn't know in 1st.  On a few of the climbs I noticed my left knee was giving me some pain right over the top of the Patella when I was push hard.  I was a bit concerned because I'd had this pain before and it had kept me off the bike in the past.  But I continued on and we stayed together until the second half of the lap where Jared and I broke away on some more technical riding.  On the fire road back I was leading and took the right turn down off the bank for the short fun single track section that was on the run course the day before.  Would have been nice if that was actually the bike course too!  Doh!  Which I discovered on the 2nd lap after actually looking at the signs which pointed straight instead of right.  

Lap 2 was pretty fun just riding with Jared.  It was nice to BS and chat while still riding fast.  He's a very skilled rider, one of those guys who seems like he spends more time in the air in a tricky section than he does on the ground.  I sat in behind him through the few techy sections as he showed me some fun lines up and over rocks that keep the flow going and the fun factor up.  With the second half of the course being flatter we worked together to keep the pace up and engines burning with gels and liquids.  I started to think I didn't drink enough water the first lap as my legs started to cringe some on the last little bit of lap 2 climbing.  I made sure to finish off one bottle of HEED and grab one of the spares I'd set out in the team area as I began lap 3.  We kept the pace up and were still having a good time until about mile 4 or 5 and I was having to work a little more to keep up, and we weren't talking as much.  Up the climb to the bench hill I said to Jared, "This is getting hard now."  "Yeah..." he responded, thankfully out of breath too.  My left knee pain, after getting worse for lap 2 seemed to have subsided a bit but I lost touch with Jared on the second half of the course as I faded going up the water tower climb.  Because of the knee pain I couldn't really stand up and power over the climbs.  

I kept fueling with Perpetuem Solids which were nice to chew on after the 2hr mark and made sure I finished lap 3 empty of water.  I grabbed my last spare bottle starting lap 4 and headed off... kind of in survival mode.  I just didn't have the energy to keep pushing.  I was caught by a 2 person relay team rider at about mile 4 on the course and he was pretty fresh.  I grabbed his wheel and paced with him for the next few miles until we hit the flats again where I squeezed out my last bit of water and put down as much power as I could.  Things started to cramp up a bit.  The normal place for me was the inner thigh but my shins and the outsides of my calves would cramp too which was new.  Probably a result of the previous days little run.  I gave Jared an "atta boy!" cheer as we passed each other on the two-way section of course with only about 2 miles left.  After I hit the turn around and rolled the fire road back I took a deep sigh after grunting up the last climb since that was the last bit of pain before the finish.  

I pushed it as fast as I could for the last mile wondering if I had put enough time on my running competitors.  I came around the last corner and the race announcer shouted out that he thought I had won the two day trail challenge.  I rolled across the line with a smile at 3:29:30, three minutes back from Jared.  

I knew there were still some pretty decent riders to come who had put some serious time gaps on me the previous day so I was not too confident of my victory.  One of my toughest competitors, teammate Joey Figone, had dnf'd with a crash but there were still a couple guys to keep track of.  Since I was no longer sweating and I would feel queezy as I continued to drink fluids, I hung out in the medic tent while waiting for more finishers.  Three water bottles later I was good to go but I couldn't walk, the hip pain was still there.  I could ride around though so I put the bike in the granny and cruised around until I found Jen getting a Thai massage (which I would later get too... awesome!).  I got my congratulatory kiss and hug (always good motivation to finish fast and hurry back to!) then it was over to the awesome BBQ and some well earned beer!

As it turns out I ended up 2nd overall for the two day Sierra Trail Challenge to Jon Hyatt with only a 2 minute gap after 5 1/2 hours of racing.  He was 10 minutes faster on the run and I was only 8 faster on the bike.  Congrats to Jon for an awesome job over two days and to Jared too for a strong performance for 50 miles!  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a packed bag of awesome schwag for my 2nd place finish too!  Thanks TBF!

I'm so stoked on how I did this weekend.  1. That I was able to do it and 2. That I podium'd!  I have some lessens to learn for running in the future (socks, shoe covers, chaffage...) and I'm really happy with how comfortable my Highball was for a 50 mile race.  I didn't get fatigued at all from continued jarring you would expect from a hardtail and it is just so fun, fast and easy to ride.

Now I'm ready for November... lots of pumpkin pie, turkey, and a trip to Thailand!  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sierra Cup Series Finals / Sawtooth Ridge Challenge Race Report

I discovered this year it's pretty hard to make a race season last from March to October and stay in top form the whole time.  I was struggling with motivation to train, maintain a "performance based" diet, and push myself in races.  October 2nd was the final race in the Sierra Cup Series and I had committed myself to racing the whole series and I wanted to finish it out strong to put a good cap on my 2011 season.  It would effectively be my last race this year.  The 41st race.  I may still do a race here or there (maybe one while we're in Thailand!) and maybe of a different sport (running or triathlon) just for fun.

Turns out though, when you have a well laid out course on awesome trails, a "matters" race can be fun too!  This was definitely the case with the Sawtooth Ridge Challenge held at Northstar.  This race capped off a seven race northern CA and NV series where I had found myself in 2nd place overall to Gregg Stone in 1st.  I found some motivation in the couple weeks prior to the race to stay on the bike and not lose too much fitness so I was feeling pretty decent when the start gun went off at 6,300 ft.  I took the lead right away heading up a fire road climb for about 1/8 mile and I turned into the first singletrack with a little gap.  The course would be 4 laps long for me on a 6.5 mile loop comprised mainly of one big 1000 ft or so climb of varying trail type (smooth and rough singletrack, and fire road) before turning down a winding trail of gradual descent.  Before the race I was thinking about my strategy and if I would just ride with Gregg until the last lap and see what I could do or if I should just peg it from the start.  I decided on the latter, and to just race my race.  I knew that I would (should... hopefully) be stronger on the climb and Gregg would likely be faster on the descent.  So I needed to play to my strengths, especially since this is Gregg's backyard.

I pushed it up the climb at a strong steady pace and put a serious time gap on the rest of the field and couldn't see anyone behind me on the longest open stretch.  As I hammer down a fire road after what feels like the crest of the climb I see a left turn arrow and then bam there's the trail to my left... as I jam the brakes and skid about 15 feet past the turn!  Doh!  Turns out I would do the same thing on all but my last lap!  That's what climbing fatigue does to you, turning you into a reactionary rider if you're not careful. 

The downhill trail was just awesome with berms, jumps, little table top jumps, hip jumps, and a couple drops. The upper portion was pretty smooth and had a ton of flow and it got more rocky and technical as the elevation dropped.  After being spoiled for 5 minutes by fun downhill there was a sucker punch of a fire road climb though of a distance right in between that go all out sprint pace or the usual diesel chug.  Because you could see the top once you started, but you still had maybe 500 yards at a decent incline to go.  When I got to the top each lap though I would look back and still couldn't see Gregg, just wasn't enough open space.  As I mentioned the lower half was more rocky and technical and my first lap I was still learning the trail so I didn't feel too terrible when I turned for lap 2 at the bottom and saw Gregg only about 15 seconds back.  I set out to get all that time back on the 2nd lap climb.  The 2nd lap was much like the first as I put time back on the climb and missed that same turn.  But I felt a lot better on the downhill and knew I was faster.  But so was Gregg apparently because when I turned for lap 3 I saw him go over the table top jump at almost the exact same spot as when I started lap 2.  Dang it!

Lap 3... I love my Tallboy!!  It was working flawlessly and was so efficient on the rocky climbing, soaking up everything and keeping the power down.  Then when I opened up the travel on the fork it was just hammering the downhill.  I was having a ton of fun!  Yet still working pretty damn hard.  Drifting into the loose, banked turns and finding the flow and speed in the trail.  But at the bottom Gregg was even closer!  Ahhh!  As I turned into the first singletrack for the last lap climb I yelled back at Gregg, "Gregg would you slow down!?"  Trying to keep the racing light-hearted... I didn't get a response.  I was actually a bit frustrated and I guess that was the motivation I needed and I gave it everything I had on that last lap.  I gassed it everywhere I could on the climb and when I hit the downhill... stoked at not missing that turn again (the small victories) I was still hammering.  Standing up and pedaling out of the turns and letting the Tallboy fly I was ripping the downhill and "racing scared" because even though I couldn't see him when I would look back, I swore that Gregg was going to catch me on the last downhill.  I reached the bottom and crossed the finish line alone... and spent.  Six and a half minutes later Gregg rolled in and later told me "Man you crushed my soul on that last lap climb..." and he watched me ride away as his legs cramped up.  I have to admit that was a bit satisfying to hear :-)

I ended up 2nd overall for the series since there was just too much points spread to make up between us.  Congrats to Gregg.  Next year I really hope they do this series again and I will make it more of my racing focus.  The race courses are just awesome, very well run, and I really want a regional champion jersey!