Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Xterra Double Header - Lory and Pagosa Springs

A bit late with the race reports because we stayed in Pagosa/Durango for the week after the race and now it's all a blur.


I left the house at around 4:45 and decided to take a highway further from the foothills to avoid hitting wildlife in the dark. And just as I was applauding myself for that decision I turned onto a road in my neighborhood and was faced with a pair of bucks who were completely unconcerned about the giant metal beast of death hurtling towards them. Thankfully I had slowed for the turn and I saw them in time. Then a few minutes after that I had an impatient jeep on my ass and soon a line of traffic behind me and I couldn't figure out where all these uptight, impatient people were going at 4:45 in the morning in my quiet neighborhood. Until I passed the road to the Rez and remembered the Half Ironman going on in Boulder. And as crazy as my double header sounded I was very grateful not to be heading to that starting line with all those wound up people.  Love the relatively chill atmosphere of the typical Xterra/off-road transition zone.

Xterra Lory went well except for my exceptionally slow time. I took it easy, tried my best to keep my heart rate in Zone 3 for the bike and run and didn't go crazy on the short swim. At times the bike felt like I was out for a casual ride in the park, other times I had to push in Zone 4 because of having to pass someone and stay ahead to avoid leap frogging on the single track. Overall an uneventful race. No cramps on the run which was good and for once I had some gas in the tank for the final mile which pushed my heart rate into Zone 5 but I really wanted to be done and was sick of farting around in Zone 3. And there was a woman running right behind me for the last couple few miles who insisted she didn't want to pass me and somehow I didn't want her sprinting by me at the finish because that happens to me all the time. In the end I put a bit of distance on her in the last 1/4 mile or so.

The bike course was awesome, mostly hero dirt where usually it's a dust bowl. There was one huge mud bog that I had to walk through but otherwise you couldn't ask for better conditions. Water was nice as well, supposedly 70 degrees though it felt a bit colder than that. Still, nice water temp. and a warm sunny morning. It was hot for the run but not as bad as I was anticipating. I threw some ice in my hat and down my sports bra and that did the trick. Carried a water bottle but didn't really need it, the ice was enough and I regretted having to carry it. Only problem was that T2 was WAY too long with farting around with the ice. Got to be a better way to work it but ice is way better than carrying a bottle.

The only serious mishap I had was on the run.  There's a steep, cliffy, rocky part just before the top of the big climb and some idiot woman came up behind and insisted very loudly, aggressively and repeatedly that she needed to pass me on the cliffy part.  I waited until I thought it was safe-ish but she still ended up running me off the cliff and I nearly fell down the side of the hill but managed to catch myself.  Just.  To add insult to injury she was a DNF due to a technical on the bike and was doing the run just because.  I managed to twist my back and shoulders pretty good but thankfully by Sunday I had forgotten about it.  I realize now that this is partly why Mile 2 was 3 1/2 minutes slower than last year.  I easily lost  a minute or two.

On an interesting note I finished Xterra Lory in 3:02:36 and Xterra Pagosa Springs in 3:02:59.  Weird that the finish times would be so close given the big differences in distance, elevation gain and terrain.

I was tired for the drive back to Boulder, not entirely sure how I made it. Took the back roads to avoid the half Ironman in Boulder and it took about the same amount of time, maybe even a couple of minutes quicker, than the highway I took on the way there, just under an hour 20 minutes. Which is only significant because then we had a 6 hour or so drive to Pagosa Springs. It's normally supposed to be 5 1/2 hours but lucky us, the highway was shut in Fairplay due to flooding so we had a detour. And even more drama because I wasn't sure there was a detour when I first saw the sign about the closure on the highway about an hour or so from the shut road. Had to pull off, call the hotel, have a panic attack, etc. until the front desk guy assured me there was a way. Thankfully Jonny drove the whole way but I was unable to sleep in the car as I thought I would. Pulled into Pagosa Springs at around 8:50 to find that the town shuts down at 9:00. Most places wouldn't let us in but we finally found a mexican food place with very mediocre food but hey, it was food and at least it didn't make me sick.

XTERRA Pagosa Springs

The Pagosa race didn't start until 10:00 a.m. so I was able to sleep in but found myself awake before 6:00 anyway. I'm learning to sleep better in hotels, I can mostly sleep through the night but still find myself waking up too early. Though I do this at home in the summer too. Should probably get a Fitbit or similar gizmo to monitor my sleep better. Hate to buy more Stuff though and the Garmin gizmo was a big enough expense.

The transition area was flooded in places, people ended up racking their bikes in the bushes or on the ground. I talked to some women who had pre-ridden the course and they said it was muddy in places, huge puddles that sometime you make it through, sometimes you don't. I so wish I could have pre-ridden the course, this was my one regret about the back to back races and did figure into my results.

The swim went well, water was 65 degrees and another sunny warm morning. I clicked the wrong button on my Garmin and never started it for the swim so I have no data and the race didn't provide splits in the results. Best I can work out is 24 minutes for swim, T1 and a bit of bike before I realized the Garmin wasn't on. The swim started in deep water but I hung onto the pier until the starting horn so as not to waste energy treading water. I'm not sure this put me in a great position but the first buoy was so far away and the course was a bit confusing so I followed the crowd and didn't worry about it. I did an open water swim race a week later with a deep water start and it turns out its no problem treading water if you have a wetsuit, you practically float in that thing so next time I'll put myself in a better position and not worry about treading water. Swim was short and sweet (750 m/820 yards) and went down without a hitch, I even had some feet to follow. The only problem was that it somehow took 2 guys to haul my carcass out of the water and back onto the pier. You would think my parkour skills would have kicked in but no I just flailed stupidly until the second guy came to the rescue. In retrospect I probably could have gotten out on my own more easily using both arms and no help from the guys.

I forgot my Camelbak in T1 and had to run back for it wasting some time.

The bike course was beautiful. Wonderful flowy singletrack through the woods, loads of wildflowers. I think the only spots I had to walk were some of the mud bogs. And there were lots and lots of mud bogs. Apparently the rainpocalypse was not restricted to the Front Range. The course was a big loop and unfortunately the directional signs at the start of the loop were confusing and there was no volunteer directing people. Many people went off course including me. I can't remember if I followed the line of people off course or if I misinterpreted the signs for the turn but either way I had about a half mile of climbing before some guys came back down the trail saying we were going the wrong way. And at that point I had the dilemma of 'do I trust those guys?' I went with my gut and trusted them and was glad I did. Lost just over 9 minutes and went an extra 1.15 miles but at least I ended up going the right way and unlike agility, an off course in Xterra is not an elimination as long as you fix it. One poor woman ended up seriously lost for a couple of hours and several people came down the course the opposite way. Not sure what they did about those folks completing the loop in the wrong direction in the results.

T2 was quick. The transition area was not neutral, meaning some spots gave you an advantage with the ins/outs and I had a great spot near the bike out/bike in/run out gate.

The run was ridiculous, not a run at all. My Garmin was giving grades of 30-40%. This was a hike, not a run. In addition it was an out and back on narrow single track so you had to stop and step out of the single track to let the person in the opposite direction go by or to pass. Which was super annoying. And once again the course markings led me astray and I missed a turn, going down a wrong trail that eventually got faint so I knew I was wrong. I looked up and saw people on the correct trail yelling down to me. This was the stupidest 'run' course I've ever done. At least it was short, 2.88 miles, which nonetheless took me over 46 minutes. Oh well, at least the bike was worth it.

Covered in mud.

Overall I did well juggling 2 races in 2 days. Don't think I'd ever intentionally do it again though I know if the situation came up again, ie a race gets postponed or something, that I can do it. I didn't try to keep to a heart rate for Pagosa, just went as fast as I could which was diminished of course but I don't think by a whole lot. I wasn't super stiff or sore Sunday morning for Pagosa and I felt o.k. on Monday. The key was to keep to a reasonable pace for Lory but still push myself. It's weird though and a little frustrating to hold back during a race but a good mental management lesson and I felt I did well with that part. But the whole weekend was a blur and it was hard to savor the races with them being so close together.  

Final Stats


Swim:  880 yards (I swam 869 yards), water temp. 70 degrees, 16:35 swimming (1:55/100 yards)/1:00 dash up the beach for official time 17:35

T1: 2:45  Wore gloves, slow T1 for some reason

Mountain Bike:  12.2 miles (12.54 by my Garmin, similar to last year), 794' elevation gain, 1:24:05/9.2 mph (13 mins./1.1 mph slower than last year)

T2:  2:15 (last year, 1:02)   Lost time messing around with the ice but shouldn't be that slow.

Trail Run:  4.8 miles (5.03 per Garmin), 623' elevation gain, 1:15:57/15:06 min./mile (per Garmin)

               Mile Splits:
               Mile 1:  15:07  (all uphill) (14:07 last year)
               Mile 2:  18:51  (all uphill) (15:13 last year)
               Mile 3:  16:27  (mix of uphill, flat and downhill) (13:11 last year)
               Mile 4:  12:49  (all downhill) (12:48 last year)
               Mile 4.8:  11:57  (mostly downhill, some slight uphill and flat-ish) (11:25 last year)

Total:  3:02:36  (last year, 2:39:20)

177/204 Overall
52/66 Women
3/5 Age Group

Swim:  2/5

T1:  1/5

Bike:  2/5

T2:  3/5

Run:  4/5 

(Placements include DNF's)



 Swim + T1 + a little biking:  750 meters/820 yards, 65 degrees, 24 minutes

Bike:  17.04 miles (was supposed to be 14.6), 945' elevation gain, 1:53:54/9.2 mph 

T2:  ?

Run:   2.88 miles, 479' elevation gain, 45:23/16:03 min./mile

Total:  3:02:59

Friday, June 12, 2015

They're Coming and I'm Ready

Xterra Lory is tomorrow.

And Xterra Pagosa Springs is on Sunday.

Now that most of the packing and logistics are worked out I'm excited for my first races of the season.  And I'm as ready as I'll ever be.   I've been measuring heart rate variability which is a measure of how trained/overtrained you are (among other things) for the past 2 months.  You want a high heart rate variability number and a low heart rate number.  Heart rate variability started off in the mid-70's and dropped to high 60's during training then shot up to the low 80's last week which was the end of my training block.  Heart rate started off in the mid-50's and slowly dropped to the high 40's.  A big drop in heart rate isn't good either but this was fairly gradual.  Today's numbers after 4 days of taper?  Heart rate variability hit 90 and heart rate is 46.  And more importantly I feel good.  It's a little weird that heart rate variability went up during my hardest training week but I'm taking it as a sign of conditioning, meaning the training taking effect.

I was sick with chest congestion (or had allergies) about a month ago, finally felt over it last week then Jonny came home sick on Thursday or so last week and I felt the congestion come back.  I stuffed in loads of vegetables and bone broth and finally feel like it's gone today.  Hopefully by tomorrow it'll be a distant memory.

One good thing about two races in a weekend is that it's hard to obsess over either one.  Water temp. was 60 degrees (brrrr) on Tuesday for Lory and 64 degrees for Pagosa.  Cold swims for both but at least they're both short - 880 yards for Lory, 820 for Pagosa.  17 minutes or so in the cold water, very do-able.  I keep thinking of Jack Kruse and his Cold Thermogensis Protocol.  45 minutes in an ice bath kept at 50-55 degrees.  These swims are a piece of cake by comparison.

So far weather looks good for both races, sunny and low/mid 60's for the start and highs in the low to mid 70's for the run.  Again it's hard to get too obsessive when you have to track 2 different towns.  Lory will be a little hot for the run, around 73 degrees and sunny with no shade, but it easily could have been in the 80's or 90's so I'll take it.  Pagosa weather looks similar.  Given the persistent rain and cold spring I'm feeling lucky for the forecasts.

Still unsure if I'll race with a heart rate monitor.  I don't usually and I find the strap to be binding and bothersome around my chest.  But it would be interesting to have the data.  And I'm supposed to keep my heart rate in a certain zone so that I can pull off both races so it would be good to have that feedback.  I'll make the call tomorrow.

In the meantime, Iron Cowboy has started his 50 ironmans in 50 days in 50 states adventure.  You can follow him here if you like.  Hard to get too wound up about my own double header when you think about this.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Embrace the Stress

Ah stress.  It can be debilitating for people who suffer with it, both for themselves and their dogs.  But the interesting thing about stress is that it's not the stress itself that's the problem but rather a person's belief about the stress.  A study found that people with a lot of stress in their lives and a belief that stress is harmful had a 43% increase in their risk of dying prematurely.  However those who had a lot of stress in their lives but didn't believe that stress is harmful had no more risk of dying and in fact had even less risk than those with light stress.  The mind is a powerful beast.

That's fascinating and all but how does this apply to agility?  Well what if we could turn stress around, make it an asset by changing our belief about our stress?  If you're currently struggling with ring nerves you're probably standing outside the ring with any number of physical symptoms - rapid heart beat, breathing fast, butterflies in the stomach, feeling shaky, gotta pee, sweating, nausea, anxiety, etc.  Maybe these symptoms start sooner than ringside - while you're driving to the trial or even the day before.  Most of us interpret these physical symptoms of stress as signs of trouble, that we're not coping well with the situation, that things will go badly.  But instead what if we interpreted these physical symptoms as our body preparing ourselves for the challenge we're about to face?

This is me at Xterra Nationals in 2013 (off road triathlon nationals).

This was the year of the devastating floods in Boulder (and surrounding areas) and I was unable to train for about 3 weeks before the race.  I didn't get my car back from the shop until 2 days before the race (a necessary part was delayed because of flooded roads) so I had to do the 7 1/2 hour drive the day before.  No time to pre-ride the course or swim in the reservoir.  I was stiff from the long car ride.  And honestly my mind was elsewhere.  On top of it all I'd had to put down my 15 year old dog the day the rains started and I'd lost my grandmother who raised me about 3 weeks before that.

Standing on that start line I was a bundle of nerves.  The swim is a mass start which means 350 people jump into the water at once and start thrashing around.  You can get kicked, smacked, goggles knocked off, etc.  None of the regular season Xterras have a start like this and though I tried to prepare by entering some open water swims the biggest start was maybe 90 people.  I hadn't been in the open water for 3 weeks or so and the water temp. was significantly warmer at that time so I wasn't acclimated to swimming in the colder water.  These were hardly ideal conditions.

But as I stood on that start line and felt the tingly shakiness, rapid heart beat, butterflies flitting I told myself that these things were an energy, they were making me stronger, preparing me for the long day ahead.  They were going to help me go faster, be stronger, be more mentally alert.  They were a gift, a strength, something to embrace.

And it worked.  I got through the swim no problem, no panicking, I felt strong, energized.  I got out of the water excited for the rest of the race.  I didn't have a fabulous race due to all the factors mentioned already but this was due to things I couldn't control (lack of training, long car ride, etc.), not because I was stressed.  And though it wasn't a great result I was very happy with my performance given the limiters.  I put in the best race I could with the conditions I had.

So it goes for agility.  What if that rapid heartbeat is going to help you move faster, have better reflexes, get that front cross in?  What if the shakiness is making you more mentally alert so that you can easily remember the course?  What if the butterflies in your stomach are energizing you, pushing you to rise to the challenge?

Another reason to embrace stress is that it serves as a pre-cursor to the flow state, ie that state of high performance where you're fully immersed in what you're doing.  Flow is a wonderful thing but in order to get to it you first have to experience stress.  The neurobiology of the flow state is fascinating but I don't want to send people to snozzling with the details.  The important thing to know is that the adrenaline rush that sends your heart to pounding is a good thing because you have to go through it to get to flow.  For more details on this I refer you to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his book, 'Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience'  and Steven Kotler and his book, 'The Rise of Superman'.  I plan to write more about flow in the future so stay tuned for that.  Anyway, the take home point here is that you can view the appearance of stress hormones as important and necessary cues for flow.  Get through the initial unpleasantness and you'll be handsomely rewarded.

Now certainly there's value in learning how to calm yourself down.  There are many techniques for this and I've written about them before in my Clean Run article and this blog.  But there are times when embracing the stress can be beneficial so why not play around with it?  Come up with your own re-frames and metaphors.  Be creative.  Use that nervous energy to your advantage.

Mr. Bundle of Nervous Energy himself

This post is part of Dog Agility Blog Event Day.  For more posts on 'Stress' click here.