Sunday, September 30, 2012

USDAA Nationals Days 3 and 4

Strum and I had a great few days at Nationals.  And I ended up having a lot more fun in general than I thought I would.  Both the site and the layout are so much nicer than Westworld in Scottsdale.  The crating is way closer to the rings, the parking is way closer to the site, the grass is lush and green, nothing like the dry slippery stuff in Scottsdale.  And the artificial turf is great.  Other than the late evening/overnight rain the weather has been perfect.  A little warm the past 2 days but high 60's, low 70's is so much nicer than 85-95 degrees.  If they had set all the rings up on the turf then they wouldn't have had scheduling issues due to rain saturating the grass fields but I guess they wanted to try to please everybody so had a mixture of grass and turf.  Still not happy about the 22" weave poles and Strum (and other dogs) struggled with them this weekend but oh well.

Lush green fields

Fresh snow on the mountains in the background.  They look a little hazy, maybe there's still lingering smoke from the wildfires in Idaho.

 Didn't take many photos, somehow not much seemed interesting enough.  Or maybe was burnt out from all the picture taking in Utah.  Forgot to get shots of the turf rings.

Day 4 was Team Gamblers and Team Jumpers, both events that I was looking forward too.  We usually do well in Gamblers as long as it's not a distance challenge and luckily this time it wasn't.  And I love Jumpers, my favorite class.

This course didn't give you a lot of options for the gamble though.  The opening was 25 seconds (for 22" dogs) of point gathering then when the horn went you had to go over the Gateway jump then take 1-3-5 point obstacles, any order, and only those 3 obstacles then cross the finish jump in 15 seconds (22" dogs).  Since the teeter was the only 5 point obstacle near the finish you were pretty much stuck with that.  I didn't see anyone attempt any other contact.  Also the jump before the teeter was pretty much the only jump that made sense so the only choice you had was which tunnel to take.  I took the tunnel by the Gateway jump then jump then teeter then out.  Lots of people chose this option and many had dogs take the off course tunnel on the way out.  The other popular option was jump-teeter-tunnel to the right of the teeter and out.  Pretty much the only other variation I saw was jump-teeter-tire and out the long way around.  And the handler only did that because her dog went racing off the teeter and took the tire before she could stop it.  Kind of a boring gamble for Nationals if you ask me but I shouldn't complain because I got it.  I chose a boring course for the opening to avoid the dogwalk and weave poles.  If it wasn't Team and Nationals I would have chosen a more challenging course but instead I went for maximum points given Strummer's strengths.  We even ended up with 3 more points than I had planned for.

Team Gamblers

Ran Gamblers at around 11:20 then didn't run Jumpers until 5:00 or so.  Jonny and I went out for lunch then I sat around forever beating my brains out over the Jumpers course.  It was a very technical, international style course and I was probably one of the few people who thought it looked fun and was excited to run it.

I made it through with refusals between 1 and 2 and of course a missed weave pole entry.  Such an easy entry too.  I walked the course with a front cross between 10 and 11 and then again between 11 and 12.  Seemed like no problem when I walked it.  Then I saw practically no one run it that way.  Most people did rear crosses.  Most people also had wide turns with those rear crosses and refusals, run bys, back jumps at jump #11.  I also debated back and forth about which way to turn Strummer over jump #9.  I was leaning towards turning him to his right because it gave a much better line to the broad jump which he'd sliced in Steeplechase quarterfinals due to jumping wide and me not bringing him in enough.  But a friend pointed out that if I was going to do the fronts, wrapping him to the right would put me too far behind.  In the end I turned him to his left and waited every so briefly until he came into me and still easily got my fronts in and nice tight turns through that serp. (at least relative to most other folks who did rears).

The pull through the gap after the #17 tunnel was also a challenge.  My initial plan was to do a blind cross after the tunnel and finish 18 and 19 with Strum on my left but in the end I chickened out, pulled him through on my right and did get the anticipated turn towards the broad jump but at least it wasn't an off course.  I hate taking the safe way but Team at Nationals is not the place to take chances.  I was so happy to get through with only 2 refusals and the wasted time.  Lots of really good handlers had E's.

So pleased with the run, what a good boy Strummer was and with a dog running in the next ring as well.  Once again, was beaming all the way home.

Team Jumpers

Day 4 was only Team Standard and thankfully we ran just after noon so I didn't have to sit around until the end of the day.  This was another technical course and again I was excited to run it though we've never done anything close to such a complicated course in a trial situation.

The only handling blip was after the #9 jump.  I didn't support the #10 jump enough, turned my shoulders too soon because I wanted a tight turn to the weaves.  Some people didn't cue the turn soon enough and got the #3 off course jump or an impossible line to the weaves.  For once he got his weave entry then mysteriously popped out far into the poles.  The only thing I can think is that he was struggling to hold on with the spacing.  Then we got called on the dogwalk but it was a very solid obvious hit with 3 paws in the yellow so I don't know what the judge was thinking.  I even pulled a photo off of the video.  You can't see it from that angle but he had his back feet hit on the yellow as well so it's not as close as it looks.  The judge was at such a bad viewing angle too, probably from having to judge the stupid up contact.  Oh well.  Until they get some sort of contact zone sensor pads for National events we just have to live with the calls we get.

Nonetheless, I was thrilled to get through that course with only a couple of blips.  Strum was such a good boy, so pleased with him.  Again, lots of E's on that course.

Team Standard

My awesome teammates didn't E on Jumpers or Standard either, just some minor faults here and there and Team Here for the Party ended up in 50th place out of 170 teams.  They take the top 30 teams for relay finals so we didn't quite make that but still I'm plenty happy with our result.  Was so glad to be on such a great, low pressure team.

In all I had a great time at Nationals despite all the down time.  Strummer did so well, so calm and focused.  He did start to lose it before his Gamblers run when a loudspeaker kept feeding back right next to the ring.  This caused him to start freaking out at the Gamble horn and loudspeaker but I managed to work him through it and he had a great Gamblers run.  He was also getting a bit wound up before his Jumpers run probably because it was so late and he was overtired/overstimulated.  But I worked his focus like crazy before his run, having him heel at my side which is something that he likes to do and calms him down.  Again, he was great once he got into the ring.

I also got to meet Steve, the one and only Agility Nerd.  He was in our rotation and I got to see some of his awesome runs with his Border Collie Meeker.  Such a wonderful, smooth team to watch.

Was happy that they weren't calling fault limits and whistling people out of the ring for E's.  At least they weren't in my ring or any of the rings I watched.  That was my biggest complaint with that Nationals I went to at Scottsdale.  I did get more of a feeling that USDAA was trying to accommodate people and cater more to the competitor this time.  They even gave us really nice t-shirts and schwag this time.  The picture frame is so nice, can't wait to get the photos I ordered.

I hope they'll bring Nationals back here.  The facility was so nice for agility and for a Nationals type event.  Don't know why they aren't doing it 2 years in a row like they did in Kentucky but I guess I should be thankful enough for having had at least the one opportunity.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

USDAA Nationals 2012, Days 1 and 2

I barely caught my breath from Xterra Nationals before it was time to head out to Commerce City for USDAA Nationals.  So far I have absolutely no pictures or video.  Hopefully I'll get some tomorrow.

I'm afraid I don't have any grand results to report.  In fact on paper our results don't look so great.  But in reality Strummer is doing so well.  He's been calm and focused, listening perfectly, collecting nicely, running so smoothly.  Quiet and calm in his crate.  Freaky.  When he tagged along at USDAA Nationals 6 years ago, I couldn't even walk him on the grounds, he was so completely off his head.  A year later I was able to walk him on the berms above the rings at 5:00 when everything was winding down but that was about it.  He's come so very far.

Wednesday started off with the practice run which was the Grand Prix Finals from last year.  Strum missed his dogwalk and ran past a jump that was my fault so I didn't go back to correct it so no score there.  Then Steeplechase Quarterfinals was turning out to be such a beautiful run.  A bar down (#10) but everything else fast, nice turns, 2 fast running A-frames.  Then I rushed things at the third to last obstacle.  He jumped wider than I anticipated at Jump #16 and I didn't hold up long enough to pull him in for the #17 broad jump.  He either ran past it or took it sideways and my motion carried him over #18 before I could bring him around to fix it.  And even if I could have, we never would have made semis with 2 errors and all that wasted time.  Plenty of dogs made it through with one bar and we probably would have as well but oh well.  Was one of those smooth, wonderful, connected runs up until the end.  To have a run like that at nationals is special enough in itself.  Maybe sounds crazy but I drove home beaming about it.

Today all we had was Team Snooker.  The course was sort of a worst case scenario for Strummer because of all the weaves in the #7 obstacle and also because I couldn't see a good way to avoid the #7 altogether.  I did 5-7-7-3 then the closing and he popped both sets of weaves on the second 7.  You have to go back and fix them or you get whistled off and all the wasted time only allowed us to make it through 4 in the closing.  But at least we made it through to the closing, no off courses.  It wasn't a great score but it wasn't a horrible score either and we did the best we could with the course we were handed.

The site layout is great, so much better than at Scottsdale.  Crating is near the rings and even the self-serve bring your own canopy crating is fairly close.  Parking is relatively close too, easy to crate in the car if you want.

The weather has been perfect during the day - cool, partly cloudy, the sun coming through just enough to keep you warm but not hot.  It's my idea of perfect agility weather.  But it's been raining at night and the facility won't let USDAA use the grass rings if they're too wet so yesterday was some kind of chaos.  My Steeplechase ring ran at 4:00 and was supposed to run at 2:00.  And I was lucky to be in the first rotation and ran by 4:15 or so.  People were still running at 8:30 and it did start to thunderstorm at some point during the evening.  Today was better, only one ring was down and my Snooker ring ran on schedule.  I was home by 3:50 p.m. and by 5:00 had a shower and a nice meal.  Having Nationals 45 minutes from your house is pretty awesome.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Xterra Nationals 2012


Swim course distance: 1,500-meters (0.93 miles) Combines two 750-meter laps (no run in-between)
Elevation at Port Ramp Marina for swim start:  4,900-feet
Water temperature: Probably around 67 degrees
Mountain bike course distance: 28-kilometers (17.7 miles)
Total climbing on bike: 3,400-feet
Elevation at highest point: 7,300-feet (where Sardine Peak Trail meets the ridgeline)
Elevation at T2/Snowbasin Resort Lodge: 6,400-feet
Trail Run course distance: 10-kilometers (6.2 miles)
Total climbing on run: 700-feet
Total climbing on course: 4,100-feet

So happy I decided to go.  This was easily the bestest, most beautiful race course I've ever been on, mostly because of the time of year and the changing leaves.  Utah has those dramatic stands of red that we don't get get in Colorado and that I miss from my days living in the midwest.  This was also probably the hardest race I've ever done, certainly the longest.  I had a rough time goal of 4:40 based on my finishing time at Mountain Champs.  Looking at last year's results of both races most people that had done both took an extra 10-20 minutes for Xterra Champs so I added 20 minutes to my time and came up with 4:40.    In the end I finished in 5 hours, 19 minutes, the longest it's ever taken me to finish a race and the worst I've ever underestimated a finishing time.  The run was longer this year and on more singletrack so other people were in the same boat as me with finishing times longer than last year.  But no matter, I finished and had a great time and that was the real goal.  And I wasn't last in my age group as I thought I would be.

Here are some video highlights of the race.  Do you see me there at the swim start?  I'm the one in the green cap.

Pre-Race Set-Up

The race is a point to point which means 2 transition areas which means a fussy morning of setting things up.  First you go to the marina and set up T1 then you drive up to Snowbasin and set up T2 then take a shuttle back to the marina for the start.  I arrive at the marina at about 6:20 a.m. and it's pitch black.  Note to self and anybody else contemplating this race - take a headlamp for this part.  Transition is supposed to open at 6:30 but there are already plenty of cars and people there.  We're forewarned that there are lots of foxtails in the parking lot so we should carry our bikes so we don't get a flat.  I can't even see the transition area so I'm stumbling through a pitch black parking lot carrying my bike, huge backpack of stuff and camelbak which keeps slipping off my shoulder.  I don't know where I'm going but somehow I end up at transition eventually.  I get a good spot near the bike exit, set up my other stuff and head back to the car.  By now it's light but I realize I can't find the car because I have no idea where I parked in the dark.  I wander around for a bit wasting precious time then I finally find it.

I realize I don't know exactly how to get to Snowbasin and though you'd think there would be lots of signs directing you this turns out not to be the case.  I figure I'll follow the crowd.  Except when I exit the parking area, a man points the car in front of me the opposite way that I came in.  I follow the car and we're driving and driving and driving and it seems we're getting farther and farther away from Snowbasin.  Finally we reach an intersection and the person pulls over.  I stop as well and so does the guy behind me.  We seem to be the only 3 people who've been re-directed this way and we're all lost.  Thankfully there's a gas station and the guy gets directions.  More driving in a direction that doesn't seem right.  We go all the way around the huge reservoir and through little towns.  Finally we reach a road that lots of other people are turning onto from the other direction.  Phew.  Not sure why only we got re-directed but at least we're back on track.  But we've lost 30-40 minutes. 

I set up T2, another pretty good spot near bike in.  Then it's on to the shuttle bus to head back down the mountain.  I end up sitting next to the woman who was ahead of me of the crazy drive up.  Turns out she's the oldest female competitor there at 62 years old.  I'm duly impressed.  I so hope I'm doing races like this at that age.  She's come here all the way from Maryland.  I see her after the race and it turns out her shoulder dislocates during the swim with about 300 meters to go.  She goes on her back and manages eventually to sort of pop it back into place but she still can't move it properly, finishes the swim sort of one-armed back stroking it.  Then goes on to finish the rest of the race with her shoulder not quite right.  Can't even fathom how she managed the bike.  That's one tough lady.

I manage to get back to T1 with just enough time to make final arrangements to my gear and get a quick photo.  Not sure why my pants are falling down.

Somebody has arranged for skywriters to write a big 'X' in the sky over transition, very cool.

Can't ask for a much prettier transition area.  There's some lingering smoke from wildfires up in Idaho that puts a haze on the photo but still very wonderful.


I arrive at the water with just enough time for a short swim warm-up.  The water is warmer than I expect, maybe 66-67 degrees or so and when I get in I'm not greeted with that 'knock the wind out of you' cold feeling.  This is encouraging.  Despite all my preparation I had some concern about the swim in the days and weeks before the race because of the mass start and potentially cold water.  My swim warm-up goes fine though, not a moment of worry or nervousness and I know I'll be fine during the race.

I line up near the back of the pack and in line with the first buoy.  No point adding any yardage onto my day.  I'm excited at the start, not nervous but definitely feeling something, maybe anticipation.  The canon goes off and my long day starts.

Of course there's a lot of splashing and jostling and people swimming into me and general confusion.  But I'm fine with it.  I move out of the way best I can but I still have people running into me here and there.  It's actually worse as we approach the first buoy, everybody loses their mind for some reason and starts sprinting for the buoy.  I can't really get out of the way because I have to go around the buoy like everyone else.  My goggles get smacked but thankfully don't fill with water.  After that first turn things settle down a bit.  I'm able to catch a draft here and there but I swim most of the way without drafting other than whatever benefit I'm getting from being in a crowd.  During the second 750 meter lap I feel my body start to get cold.  I kick a little harder to keep warm and that helps a bit.

Even the swim course is beautiful.  You lift your head to take a breath and see the hills all lit up in red.  I realize this is my last open water swim for the year and savor it best as I can.

I'm out of the water in 39:10 (2:39/100 yards) which is not so great compared to my Stroke-n-Stride time of about 33 mins. (2:01/100 yards) from August.  I think the course must have been long, I've never swum a race even close to that pace, at least not in the past 4-5 years, and I swam pretty much on course.  I'm not sure I know how to swim that pace even trying to go slowly.


Some of the run up to transition is carpeted but some is not and the road is hurting my feet but doesn't seem to be bothering anybody else.  I'm reduced to walking and several people pass me before we hit the timing mat for the swim placements.  Not that swim placements matter for anything.

T1 takes forever somehow.  I put on a light fleece because supposedly it's cold in the canyon at the start and I'm already cold from the swim.  But absolutely no one else is wearing an extra top and one guy shakes his head and looks at me like I'm crazy so I take it off.  Also we have to pack all our gear into a bag to be taken up to T2 and somehow this takes me forever.  T1 takes me a whopping 4:30.  I can't remember ever having such a slow T1.  But I'm glad I took the time to take the top off.  I totally didn't need it.


I didn't pre-ride the first part of the course so I have no photos.  It's a long climb through a scenic slot canyon.  The sun is shining through the canyon walls though so I quickly warm up.  It's  a long, non-technical climb up this canyon and it's steeper than I expect it to be.  Lots of people pass me.  I try to go faster but somehow can't get my legs to go any quicker.  I decide that all I can do is ride my own race and I settle into a steady pace.  It's going to be a long day and I know what's waiting for me on the second half of the bike.  Never mind the run.

Once you get out of the canyon there's more climbing and you eventually move onto nice smooth singletrack.  I hear what sounds like a rider yelling but when I hear it again I realize it's some kind of animal, maybe a moose or elk.  I hear it a third time but I can't take my eyes off the trail to look for whatever it is.  It sounds far enough away so I don't worry about it.

The only downside to this race is that there are other races going on that leave after the regular Championship racers.  There's a non-qualifying long course and sprint course race and soon those racers, especially from the sprint race, catch up to me.  Most are locals who know the trails and they're flying, especially on the downhills.  I lose time and concentration to all these folks passing me.  The majority of them are polite (a couple not so much) but it's still nerve wracking and time consuming.

Finally at roughly the 10 mile mark the race splits off and the sprint course folks are out of my hair.  Now I have the fun climb up the single track at Sardine Peak.  I did pre-ride this part of the course so I have some photos.

This guy was also pre-riding the course.  He came all the way from DC.

View of Pineview Reservoir where I started with all these shenanigans.  You get an idea how high I've climbed.

It's a long climb up Sardine Peak, just a few miles but lots of elevation gain.  I have to walk up a switchback or two that are too steep and dry to ride and there's a short, rocky technical uphill bit that I have to walk but other than that it's all ride-able.  A few other rock gardens and a couple of drop offs but I manage them no problem.  I do manage to topple over trying to ride up a steep switchback and I did the same thing during the pre-ride.  As soon as I topple over I realize, 'Oh yeah, that part.  Doh.'  But I'm fine, not even a scratch.

The downhill portion of Sardine is a lot more fun during the race since I know what to expect.  Wheeee, fun downhill, weaving through the gorgeous fall colors.  Nonetheless, the trail is very dry and dusty as you can see from the video above.  So I don't go too crazy.

After Sardine there's a bit more climbing but it's not too bad.  I'm mentally prepared for it so it's not a big deal.  Someone is down in a little ditch and EMT's are tending to the person.  The course has to re-route around.  There's one more place that I have to get off for a step or two where a rock blocks the trail and of course that's where the photographer is.  I quickly get back on and he gets a photo of me on my bike so I save face a little.

One more fast little downhill into transition.  The bike takes me 2:59:30 by my watch.  I was hoping for 2:40-2:50 but I'm not surprised to see nearly 3 hours.  I'm just happy to be done and in one piece.


Finally something goes as planned.  I find my shoes no problem and this time no one has taken my spot on the rack like the last couple of races.  I rack my bike and I'm out of there in 1:40.  Sounds long for T2 but it's a big transition area.


The run starts out with a long, steep cruel hill.  Most age groupers walk it and I'm no exception.  Even though temps. are probably in the mid-60's the sun is intense at 7000' and it feels a bit warm.  I pour water over my head at every aid station.

I started having a cramp and some stomach issues on the bike which is unusual for me so I was only able to take in 300 calories.  Not nearly enough but shoving food down when your stomach is not going to hold it is asking for trouble.  The cramp gets worse when I start to run and I don't try to take in any more gel and only the bare minimum of water.  I relax, take nice deep breaths, think of other things and I'm able to forget about the cramp eventually but it does slow me down for the downhill at mile 2 that I could have otherwise taken advantage of.  But just as well because there's a lot more climbing until maybe 4.5 miles in then it's downhill to the finish.  I was expecting the downhill to start at the 3 mile mark because someone who had previously done the race told me it would.  But they changed the run course from last year to add in more single track and less roads so I have to wait a lot longer for my downhill.  The 3 hour bike and 3400' of climbing plus the big hill at the start of the run have taken their toll and it's all I can do to make it up the final few miles of climbing.  I'm reduced to power walking at lots of places.  At least the trail is pretty, more singletrack through the reds, oranges, yellows and greens of the woods.  So amazingly awesome, I can't help but smile despite being oh so tired.  And I manage to pass a few people here and there.

Finally I reach the top of the last climb and the volunteer directs me across a road to the next trail and says, 'Go get your downhill.'  Such lovely words.  I pass a few more people on the downhill though some if not all are probably from the other races.  I pick up the pace as the trail turns to a level of steepness that allows running and it feels so good to be on the final stretch.  I can see and hear the finish line.  I come off the trail, turn a corner and wham! there's one more enormous hill to climb.  I have to walk it as does everyone else around me.  Such a cruel joke.

But then it's a fun downhill sprint into the finish chute.  SO happy to be done.  I see a volunteer coming towards me with a nice surprise, a finisher's medal.  Xterra doesn't usually give these out at regular races, not even at Mountain Champs so it was a nice surprise.  Normally I'm not too bothered about finisher's medals but this one was hard earned and I'm happy for the souvenir.  I reach out to take it from the volunteer but she insists on hanging it around me neck, a nice touch.

I like how the medal says, 'Survivor' on the back rather than 'Finisher'.

Post race food was awesome for once.  Not one but two vegetarian options plus bagels and bananas at the finish line.  I opted for a Portobello mushroom salad.  Really nice greens and grilled vegetables.  The fancy pantsy restaurant at Snowbasin provided the food and it was so good to be able to sit and have a nice meal after a race.  I wasn't at all hungry but I was dizzy/bonky and it was good to be able to sit and relax and enjoy the awards presentation and get some nutrition in before the 2 hour drive to the hotel in WY.  It was funny, a random guy came and sat next to me at my table and it turned out he was from Boulder and also swims with masters.  Lots of people at this race from Boulder and from Colorado.  8 out of 10 people in my age group were from the Mountain Region and I think all were from Colorado.

I really want to come back next year but we'll see.  If so I want to be good enough to be more in the middle of the pack and fast enough to not get caught up by the racers behind.  But I've got a while before I need to start thinking about next year's goals.  For now it's on to USDAA Nationals.  Pulled all the piles of triathlon stuff out of the car and shoved the dog stuff right back in.  Here we go with Nationals Part Two.

Final Stats

Swim:  39:10 (2:39/100 yards)   307/330 overall, 96/107 women, 9/10 age group

T1 plus run up from beach:  6:37

Bike:  2:59:30   316/330 overall, 99/107 women, 8/10 age group

T2:  1:40

Run:  1:31:39    308/330 overall, 96/107 women, 8/10 age group

    Run Splits:

    Mile 1:  17:47
    Mile 2:  12:05
    Mile 3:  18:15
    Mile 4:  13:50
    Mile 5:  13:45
    Mile 6.2:  16:03

Final Time:  5:18:43,     311/330 overall,  96/107 women, 8/10 age group (includes one DNF

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's Coming


It's still a couple of weeks before the leaves hit their peak in the high country but I caught a few glimpses of color up at Caribou Ranch yesterday.

This is what the same area looks like during its peak, 2 weeks from now.

And the other thing that's coming is Xterra Nationals!  So excited for my race next week.

How amazing does this bike course look?

I'm going to Utah a couple of days early under the guise of pre-riding that part of the bike course for the race but really I want another shot at riding it while I'm relaxed and not racing and can stop to take pictures and savor it.  It's the main part of the course that attracted me to this race.

And the run course looks beautiful as well.

So excited to be able to race on such an awesome course.

Then the third thing that's coming is USDAA Nationals.

I'm feeling less excited about this but I think once I'm through with Xterra Nat's. I'll start building more enthusiasm for it.  Actually at the moment I have a big list of gripes that range from trivial to reasonable but I know there are many people out there just as excited about this as I am about Xterra so I'll keep my trap shut and won't rain on your parade.  Actually if USDAA would just release the times that the groups are running their events I'd be not so cranky about all the other minor things.  If I'm going to be done at noon on a certain day I'd like to know so I can possibly schedule clients for the afternoon.  And Jonny wants to take time off work to come watch us but he needs to get the time approved in advance so I'd like to know what time slots to tell him.  I don't think it's unreasonable to expect to have this info. a week and a half before the event.  The premium doesn't even state what time walk-thrus start or the time the first runs of the day start.

The other thing that comes along with the final end of the season goals is taper madness.  In triathlon this takes the form of obsessing about just about everything related to your race and doing incredibly stupid, unthinkable things that you would never do during the regular training season.  Like going back to fitness boot camp after a 3 1/2 month hiatus just 10 days before your race.  Then waking up the next day barely able to move and going back to boot camp again.  I know, I know.  I also started to panic that Lance Armstrong may decide to do Xterra Nat's. again last minute because USAT came out and said they would allow him in their races as long as the individual race was o.k. with it.  Thankfully though I found an article where the Vice President of Xterra said he wasn't completely for sure but he thought it was likely that the powers that be at Xterra would not allow him in.  I know.  Of all the stupid, dumbass things to worry about.

But if you think I'm crazy, go over to the USDAA yahoogroup and see the Crazy that's going on over there.  I ventured over there hoping to get some news about when we would get our group time slot information and I have to say the agility folks may not suffer the physiological effects of tapering but they still know how to do taper madness.  And I'm not judging, I'm just saying.

So everybody take a nice deep breath and face those taper demons.  Heck, say it out loud.

1.  Lance Armstrong is not going to appear at Xterra Nationals.

2.  The City of Denver is not going to jump out of the bushes and whisk your Boston Terrier away to the gas chamber.  At least not without every news outlet in town peeing their pants in excitement over the ensuing media frenzy.

3.  I'm not going to get eaten by a bear, trampled by a moose or disemboweled by a mountain lion when I pre-ride the Sardine Peak trail.  Ditto for race day.

4.  USDAA will tell me what time I need to be there to walk my courses at least 24 hours before I need to be there to walk my courses.  I hope.

5.  I'm not going to die of starvation in Utah for lack of healthy vegetarian food.

6.  Neither Strummer nor any of your dogs is going to become injured, ill, or inexplicably mentally deranged the day before Nationals.  Unless like Strummer they are already mentally deranged.  Can't help you there.

7.  The water temp. at Pineview Reservoir is not going to suddenly drop from its current temp. of 66 degrees to the 50's in the following week.  And no, I'm not going to get kicked in the head, elbowed in the face, have my goggles fill with water or get swum over during the swim.

8.  It's not going to rain, snow, sleet, hail, or rain Oobleck during either Nationals.

9.  You are not going to keel over from altitude sickness at 5164'.  Nor is your dog.

10.  There are not going to be any bedbugs in any of my hotels.  Or yours.

And in the interest of stating what we do want rather than what we don't want:

1.  Xterra Nationals is going to be full of friendly people who are good sports and thrilled just to be riding their bikes and running on such awesomely beautiful traills.

2.  Everybody is going to enjoy their time with their dogs in Denver/Commerce City.

3.  I'm going to have a great time riding and running those trails and maybe I'll see a bear or moose or mountain lion from a safe distance.  Though I'm not letting another moose distract me from my start.

4.  USDAA will tell me what time I need to be there to walk my courses tomorrow.  I hope.

5.  Thanks to the magic of the internet I've mapped out several restaurants right near my hotel that have plenty of healthy vegetarian choices.  

6.  Strummer is looking fit and feisty right now and is going to stay that way.  Still mentally deranged though, not much I can do about that.

7.  The water temp. at Pineview Rez is likely going to be around 64-65 degrees, just what I expected.  And my swim is going to go great.  I've spent the summer practicing and racing in the open water and I couldn't be more prepared both physically and mentally.

8.  The weather has been picture perfect for weeks in both Ogden and Denver and the forecast for next week calls for more of the same.

9.  Altitude sickness doesn't typically start to occur until over 6000'.  And that's only when it starts to occur, you don't really start to see it until 7000'-8000'. 

10.  My hotels are going to be sparkly clean and quiet.  And so are yours.

Phew.  I think we can all put the taper crazies to bed and get a good nights sleep now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Switzerland Trail/Gold Hill/Four Mile Fire Photos

This ride last Sunday will probably be my last long ride before Nationals.  Took the long way up to Gold Hill, going up Four Mile Canyon to the Switzerland Trail which is an old railroad bed.  The grade is gentle the entire way up the Switzerland Trail and it's not technical but it is bumpy/rocky in places and from the videos I've seen it looks very similar to the trail that goes up Wheeler Canyon at the start of the Xterra Nationals bike course.  I rode uphill for 20 miles and roughly 3500' of elevation gain with only 2 small downhills of less than a minute each, maybe even less than 30 seconds.  Took me about 3 1/2 hours or so.  I didn't stop for photos until I reached the top of the Switzerland Trail and finally thought I deserved a quick break for a photo.

A few more miles from there was the top of the climb and then a few miles of descent into the mountain town of Gold Hill where I stopped at the General Store to re-fuel.  Was so sick of energy gel at that point that I bought a homemade muffin and picked my way through half of it.  I often lose my appetite on long rides and I don't like energy bars/gels but it's important to stay fueled on long rides so I force the stuff down.

The store is for sale for $465,000.

I opted to go down Sunshine Canyon to get home which meant a steep, 7 minute or so climb then all downhill back to town save a couple very short climbs.  Since the bulk of the work was done I decided to finally take some pictures of the fire damage on Sunshine Canyon.

That mailbox and address marker stone used to be in front of a house.

Probably the most shocking thing about this view is that there is a view at all.  You never were able to see those mountains before from this location because they were blocked by trees and houses.

There used to be houses all down this hillside, now just piles of rubble and stumps.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not pining for the return of the gaudy, huge McMansions that used to line this hillside but I do feel bad for the people who had to endure this experience.  It must have been a terrifying ordeal.

A house reduced to rubble on the right side of the road and another left standing just across the street.
Wildfires have no rhyme or reason.

There were a lot more views that were shocking to me but I didn't stop for photos.  It was hard enough to take these.

In the end the ride was 35.35 miles and took 4 hours, 43 minutes.  Felt much better than I did the last time I went up Gold Hill but that was May 7 so I should hope it felt better.  This route was longer but less steep but I don't think I'll be seeing any super steep trails at Nat's. like the grade you get going up to Gold Hill the shorter ways so I didn't see any point in torturing my knee.  Which was already complaining after the steep, 1 hour 40 minute trail run up the Hogback the day before.  I feel tired now but this past weekend was a good confidence booster for Nat's. in 2 weeks.  I don't feel like I've gotten any faster over the summer but I do feel stronger which will help me on the longer course at Nat's.  Now if only I could stop obsessing over videos of the bike course.  How soon 'til I can start obsessing about the weather?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hitting the Hills

I'm behind on my postings, too busy out playing I guess.

Jonny and I went to Hall Ranch last Monday for an easy day of hiking.  Which turned out to be not so much.  We decided to do a loop, up the hiker only trail, down the multi-use trail for a grand total of about 9.4 miles, 3 hours 50 minutes (maybe 3 hours, 35-40 without the stops).  We saw plenty of critters starting with a bull snake right away.

Couldn't get my camera out in enough time to get his head, he went straight down the nearest hole when he spotted us.

Bull Snakes aren't venomous or aggressive and they kill rattlesnakes so I'm all for them.  Jonny insisted this one was 6' long but I say more like 3'-4'.

Then there was this little guy.

Sporting his camo look.

One of these days I'll get a good picture of an Abert Squirrel.  They're shy of people and always take off before I can get my camera turned on.  Sadly in over 20 years of living here this is the best I've got.

Plenty of nice views.

Not exactly an easy rest day but once we got going it was hard to turn around.

Next day it was off to Golden for the Centennial Cone trail.  We accessed it via the new-ish Mayhem Gulch trail which added on another 4.6 miles to the 12.1 mile Centennial Cone trail.

With a name like Mayhem Gulch it has to be good.

The bike course for Nationals is 17.7 miles with 3400' of climbing and this ride was nearly 17 miles according to my cyclometer but only 16.4 according to this guy.  That link shows an elevation map and claims 1621' of climbing.  Perusing the internet gives lot of different elevation claims - 2600', over 5000' - so it's hard to know which one is accurate.  I'd like to believe 2600' but maybe the 1621' is the right one.  So many gizmos out there these days for measuring routes/elevation, hard to know which ones are the most accurate.  Oddly enough it took me the exact same amount of time to complete the trail as it did the guy in the link, 3 hours 50 minutes.

Edited to add:

There's a cool feature on that website linked above that follows a 3-D satellite view of the route.  So cool, especially to see the crazy switchbacks and exposure on Mayhem.  It shows the measured path and it doesn't exactly follow the trail, cuts off quite a few corners so that would explain why my cyclometer measured .6 extra mile.  Also gives me hope that there was a bit more elevation gain than measured.

Despite the name, the Mayhem Gulch trail was not all that difficult.  Nice smooth singletrack at mostly reasonable grades.  There's a lot of exposure though and steep drop-offs so it's not for folks who are scared of heights.  I was surprised by the amount of exposure, steep drop-offs and tight switchbacks on the Centennial Cone trail as well.  Been years since I've done it and I don't remember so much exposure.  Neither trail is technical, just a couple of places I have to walk on Centennial and even Jonny has to walk down those.

Lots of Centennial is really beautiful though, I'd forgotten what a nice trail it is once you get off the exposed stuff.  I was on a mission though, only stopped for one photo op despite all the fabulous scenery and perfect blue skies.

Looks cloudy in the photo but the skies overhead were sunny and blue.

Did this ride on tired legs from the long hike the day before and some general fatigue left over from the hot day at the agility trial the day before.  Felt good about this ride though and getting excited for Nationals.

Friday, September 07, 2012

FRAT USDAA Labor Day trial

Strum and I ventured over to Lakewood, a 48 minute drive, to try to finish up our Starters title last weekend.  I've been neglecting the titling classes partly to practice for Nationals and partly because Starters is so boring to me at this point.  As it is I only entered one day, 3 runs, hoping to pick up the remaining Standard and Jumpers legs needed for our AD.

The facility was a nice indoor soccer arena with rubbery, artificial turf.  I’ve never run on this stuff before and it was so nice, easily now my favorite surface to run on.  Strum looked so good on it, no bars down and steady on all his turns.  The only trouble was the place was so hot and stuffy.  It was in the mid-80’s outside and so much nicer outdoors, so would have preferred to be outside where at least you could maybe catch a breeze.  The lack of air circulation was even worse than the heat and poor Strummer started panting after his first run and never stopped the rest of the day.  I tried cooling him down in the wading pools, had him stand in front of the swamp coolers, walked  him down outside and nothing helped.  It’s the first time I’ve ever worried about him overheating.  Normally I'll cool him down with a hose after his run but there were no hoses hooked up, just the wading pools and splashing him with water didn't do much.  Probably should have made the effort to see if I could hook up the hose somewhere but everybody seemed to busy.

Strum had a great day, his only mistake a missed dogwalk contact but alas that meant no Starters title.  Such a nice run otherwise.  Nice Snooker and Jumpers runs too and Q's in both.  And somehow the stars and moon and whatnot aligned for us and the second ring was idle for all 3 of our runs.  The 2 rings were only 10' or so apart and no fencing or barrier of any kind between them.  I did see a dog in the Advanced ring get distracted by the dog in the other ring but the handler was able to get him back on track.  Still, it cost them some time.  I only entered the one day, 3 runs because I was concerned about the rings and it was a good decision.  

Next trial is USDAA Nationals.  Hopefully some cooler weather is on the way so we can get some practice in.

Trial Stats

Starters Snooker:  Q, 2nd place

Starters Jumpers:  Q, 1st place, 6.29 yps

Starters Standard:  No Q, 1st place (missed dogwalk contact)

Dogwalks:  0/1 (0%) 

A-frames:  4/4 (100%)

Weave entries:  1/1 (100%)   didn't pop out at all

Knocked bars:  None

Teeters:  1/1 (100%)

Table: 1/1 (100%) fast, perfect table

Off courses: None

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Teacher's Pet

This post is about what makes a good teacher/coach and is part of Dog Agility Blog Day.  Go here to read more posts on this topic.

Lots of skills involved in being a good teacher or coach but I think the most important one is the teacher/coach's ability and willingness to guide the student towards their goals and to help them with their goal setting.    If there's no clear objective, even if that objective is as simple as coming to class and enjoying time with their dog, the learning process becomes frustrating and a waste of time.  If someone shows up to an intermediate level handling class and states that their goal is making the world team then a good instructor will encourage some smaller, more realistic goals for that particular 6 weeks of class.  This did happen in one of my classes and 8 years later that handler has not made any significant progress towards making the world team.  Nothing wrong with aiming high but unless you're naturally talented and/or have an amazing dog that will compensate for you then you've got a journey ahead of you and a good instructor will guide you towards breaking it down if they know how to get there.

For me another important skill for an instructor teaching a class or seminar that I'm attending is time management.  Nobody likes paying a lot of money and driving a long distance to a class or seminar then getting very little ring time because the instructor is paying a disproportionate amount of attention to a few people.  It's o.k. if someone is struggling with a concept and they get more time on a particular exercise but then their next turn in the ring should be short to make up for it.  Not everyone comes to a class or seminar with perfectly equal skills but a savvy instructor will know where to pick her battles and when to tell a student to move on and work on something at home.

A good instructor will have experience with lots of sizes and types of dogs.  Breed is not important, dogs of all breeds display the same ranges of behavior and I think some people get too tangled up in the importance of that, but experience and success with dealing with high drive, low drive, easily distracted, easily stressed, easily overstimulated, etc. is important in a class type situation.  However this type of instructor is admittedly going to be difficult to find.

Good communications skills are essential as well.  I don't mind a long winded explanation for a concept if it's justified but I think these days some instructors over-complicate things in order to look clever and sell us on their training/handling methods.  I was at a seminar last fall and loved the simplicity with which the instructor explained things.  This year I was at another seminar and ready to bash my head in over the 15 minute explanation for the same concept that the other instructor had explained in one sentence.

Beyond these basic skills I think we all have individual preferences for what we want to see in a teacher based on our situation.  I want an instructor that's had some success on a national level, has an excellent eye and can help me with my timing with my super fast dog. I like an instructor who pushes me outside my comfort zone and comes up with handling puzzles that make me think.  I like trying new things and experimenting so I like a teacher who is creative and thinks outside the box.  I can deal with my dog's various behavioral issues myself so I don't care so much about having someone with those skills.  I don't care for raging egos or people who use aversive training methods or people who want to force a training method on me that I'm not comfortable with because I feel it will harm my dog's motivation or enthusiasm.

Obviously other folks will have different needs and wants for an instructor.  Luckily there are so many instructors and options for learning with online classes and all the books and videos available these days.  It may take some time and trial and error but eventually we find that perfect or close enough learning situation and it’s a wonderful thing.  I love going to lessons and seminars as much as I love trialing.  Learning new things and improving skills is such a rush for me.  A huge thanks to all the wonderful instructors, both local and out of town, who've helped me over the years.  Thanks to all of you, I've truly enjoyed my journey and look forward to more.

Give yourselves all a nice big juicy bone.