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!  


  1. All that hard work by you... and your wife was getting a massage as you finished!? Sheesh, she's a slacker! ;-) Awesome job this weekend! :-)