Thursday, August 18, 2016

RACE REPORT: Ready for Fall 5K 2016 + RRCA National XC Championships

This year's 10th annual Ready for Fall 5K was extra special, because it doubled up as the Road Runner's Club of America's National XC Championships.  We were back at the Milliken Arboretum, with its excellent grassy course, and Brooks sponsoring with door prizes.  I recently moved to Charlotte, NC, but I was sure to come back to this great race, with its unique competition (lots of HS teams) and the opportunity to wear my XC spikes.

Training the week before:

Tuesday, July 9:
I did a 60 min bike session for 17.7 miles, which may be a record, at least in recent history, for me.  Watching Olympics swimming was really motivating, because most races are sprints, and everyone's cheering like crazy and pushing hard for the win.  My body felt recovered and fresh from the past weekend's Spartan Super Obstacle Course Race afterwards.

Wednesday, July 10:
70 minute strength session.  It had been a while since my last one (11 days, aside from the Spartan race), so my body was supercompensated and doing pretty well.
  • Ruck: 1 mile (20 lb of weights, plus other gear) round-trip to/from the gym.
  • Burpees: 65 at once (may be a record, vs. 50-ish)
  • Push-ups: 25+25 (not bad, given the burpees)
  • Squats: 115+100 (continuous is much harder than stopping for a second at the top)
  • Lunges: 75
  • Flutter Kicks: 50+40+55 (1-2-3-1 is 1)
  • Plank: 4+2.5+3 (4 may tie my record)
  • Sit-ups: 180+120+155 (doing well on this today)
I haven't been training for short distances (or training running in particular), so I didn't mind going hard on the strength session, potentially decreasing my performance in the XC race by a little.  My A-goal at this moment is to survive the upcoming Hurricane Heat 12 Hour Spartan event on August 20th, and strength is my biggest weakness (interesting statement).... I guess I should say lack of strength is my biggest weakness.

The Race:
Drove out to Spartanburg, got there early to get my preferred size shirt.  Relaxed in the car, solving a Geocaching puzzle.  Successful trip to the bathroom.  When time got close, I put on my spikes and did a warm-up.  I did not feel fresh during the warm-up... my body felt difficult to move, the way heat could make you feel... that, and muscles that aren't cooperating.  Could be a difficult run.  I had felt better the previous day.  Oh well.

 (the pain cave)

Since this was an XC Championship race, there were separate starts for the men and women, with women starting first at 8:30am.  Love XC starts, with the team spirit and excitement.  The race started, and off we went.  It starts on a wide field, with lots of room.  Once we get on the grassy trail, it does get somewhat crowded.  My pace from the start was good/usual for a 5K effort.  I settled in after the first mile and started to cruise.  By mile 1.5, I passed most of those who went out too fast.  Although, based on my splits of 7:14, 7:26, 7:39, and 0:37 for 0.1, I went out too fast, too.  But it was less crowded in the last 1.5 mi.  We had the small uphill towards the end, and that's when a young girl passed me.  I'm not good on hills, but I have a good kick.  In about 3 races, I was beat by youg'ins in the final sprint.  I saw that I had a chance, so I pushed really hard and redeemed myself this time.  Nothing wrong with getting beat by someone so young... it's more that the past times I've been beat, I felt like if I had pushed myself harder, I could've passed them, but I didn't push hard enough.  My time wasn't fast - 22:57 (7:24 ave), but I gave it what I had on the day, and had fun in the race, and had some redemption.  The girl did well, though, and is going to have a very bright future in running.  We pushed each other to do better.  The time was good for 2nd in my age group, which is cool, for a "National XC Championship" race, although I think I was one of two people in my age group, haha.

Afterwards, I got 2 geocaches in Spartanburg.  One was a multi on the Hub Love geotrail, which required quite a bit of driving.  The other was a regular sized one in the city, so I got to drop off two trackables and pick up one.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RACE REPORT: Asheville Spartan Super 2016 - Southeast Showdown

This was a memorable race, because of the progress I've made.  In road races, it's easy to identify PRs when you beat your best time at a certain distance.  In OCRs, each course is a completely different mixture of length, terrain, and obstacles.  You can't use time as a criteria, but finally beating some obstacles that have previously eluded you is probably the equivalent of a PR.

Training the Week Before:
I had intended to exercise more this week, but after work (my first week in a new city/office), I only managed to do it once.  Even though my legs would feel runnable after work, I would end up deciding to have dinner first.  By the time dinner was digested, my body wouldn't feel in the mood to run anymore.

The one time I did get out, it was great, and it made me wonder why I didn't exercise every day.  Part of the reason I felt great was probably that I had had 6 days of no exercise (aside from walking in London) prior to that, so I'd better be fresh.
7.0 in 58:38, 8:23 ave, at 2 degrees of incline = 8:02 effort.  I could've gone farther or faster, but I was doing the Super 2 days later.  Doing 7 2 days before is already more than I usually do before a tapered race.  I usually have 3 full rest days, and the last run would be more like 4, maybe 5 miles.

It was an early start, to drive out to Asheville, the day after I had already done quite a bit of driving for a drivable business trip.  But people travel great distances for these races often, so it's nothing remarkable.  I'll end up driving 7 hours one-way for my next Spartan event, and that drive will be as much of an endurance event as the 12-hour Hurricane Heat, perhaps.

I wasn't expecting a spectacular performance, because I haven't trained pull-ups at all in a long time.  I haven't done all that many push-ups or burpees, either, even though they're part of the Deez Nutz team WOD, because I've have lots of other WOD-required exercises to fit in, too, and I've tried to balance my efforts across them.

This Asheville Super was going to be bigger than usual, since it's part of the 5-race Spartan Championship Series and would be filmed for NBC.  I even considered delaying my start and going with a later wave, to avoid potential embarrassment in case there were any film crews still out there when I came across some of the obstacles that I've failed in the past.  I didn't end up doing that, but because the first two obstacles in the last two Spartans that I've done started with a jump-over-high-beam that I've miserably failed, I decided to take it easy during the run from the start, so that there wouldn't be so many people around when I failed that.

The men started at 7:30am, and the NBC race and championship series brought all the big names.  It was cool to finally see Bear, Hunter, and others, in person.  I've seen them on TV and social media, and I've heard them on podcasts.  Watching the start of these races is always eye candy... a bunch of the fittest, shirtless Spartans.

Before the race, I had a 1-oz piece of chocolate, and a mini Clif Builder's Bar, so maybe 150 calories, but I was fine with just that and hydration.  I had had a big dinner, including Indian food, the previous night.   I didn't have a ton of sleep... maybe 5 hours, after catching part of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

On the womens' side, there were some big names there, too, like Rose and Lindsay.

The Race:
We started off on a service road where we ran in the tire ruts, and it was pretty congested.  It was slow going and not easy to pass, but I didn't sweat it too much, because the race was supposed to be just under 10 miles, which is high for a Super, and because of my wall/jumping obstacle-related reservations.

The first obstacle was a set of shorter walls at about the 1-mi mark, which I went through OK.  These walls were the same size as the one you had to cross to get into the starting area, which I had muscled up with ease.  At the obstacle, I was able to get up the first of the two OK.  On the second, I struggled a bit more, but I found that I could at least hold myself up there with my forearms after the jump and pull, then kick a leg over to do the rest.

The next obstacle was my nemesis... the mid-air beam that you had to jump over as if there was an invisible wall, but without the benefit of a wall.  I expected to have to burpee it, like the last two times.  I went for it, and tried the forearm and leg technique, and it worked!  There was a second one, and I got over that, too!  I was elated.  I used to be the only one in the elite heat who couldn't do it.  I don't know if this was shorter than the previous ones, or if it's just the implementation of the technique, or if I have more strength now.  But I finally conquered it!

Next was a 6-foot wall.  Then a plate drag.  I accidentally chose a harder one, with a bit of an uphill pull on ground that hadn't previously been dragged before, so I had to pave my own uphill gravel trail.  It's ok, though... it's one of the easier obstacles.  Next might've been the Atlas carry - no issues there... a challenge, but doable.  At this point, I was so happy - the mandatory 5 Atlas Carry burpees were the only one I've had to do thus far in the race!  We hit barbed wire, with mud and hay stacks... I crawled through this one.  I prefer rolling, but this one was not designed for rolling.  It was more awkward and difficult for me than usual. 

The trails went through streams with very slippery hidden rocks.  There was a pretty even mixture of service roads, bushwacking, and single track.

Next, we came out of the trails and back into the festival area, where they concentrated some obstacles for better spectating.  There was a 7-foot wall, with a small ledge that the women could use.  This was another one that I tended to fail.  I don't know that I've ever done it before.  I tried a few times.  I would try to kick off the ledge, and would get my right hand on the top of the wall, but I never had the strength to grab it and establish both feet on the ledge.  I asked the course volunteer where the burpee area was, and he said that there was no burpee area because this was a mandatory obstacle.  I had never heard this before.  There have been mandatory obstacles in some other races, but I don't recall the wall ever being one of them.  I figured that this may be it... maybe I'd have to end up being marked as a DQ or DNF or something.  Since I was now in no rush, I decided to give it a few more tries.  There were lots of spectators around, which is normal for the festival area... people waiting for their family or friends to come through.  On maybe my 7th try, I got both hands up, which allowed me to get on the ledge, at last.  From there, a jump, and I got my forearms up on the ledge.  The spectators cheered, having seen me try and fail so many times before.  Now, I just had to get my leg over, and yes - I did it.  I sat on the top for a moment to thank the cheering spectators, and a big camera shot pictures.  I couldn't believe it.  I went back down and floated with elation  onwards.

Next was the z-wall, which I've only made it through once.  It's doable when I'm not muddy.  I failed and got my first set of burpees.  Next was the Dunk wall plus Rolling Mud (mud, mud-filled valley x 3).  Then, the rope climb.  In the last 2 or so Spartans that I've done, they've taken the rope climb out of the water and onto straw.  I don't know if it's because of safety issues, or if it's meant to increase completion rates a bit.  I got to the top last time, but the bell was too far for me to feel comfortable reaching out with one hand to hit, after having nearly maxed out my muscles already.  I was never able to get up the ones in the water, but on dry land, I can manage.  This time, the bells were closer, and I finally hit the bell on a Spartan rope climb!  Next was the spear throw.  Still no luck.  I have a spear to practice with, but I haven't figured it out yet.  Another 30 burpees.

We left the festival area and back into the trails.  There was an 8-foot wall, with 2 ledges for the women.  I followed the technique that other women were using, and got past that.  We went into a working rock quarry, which was cool and unique.  There were giant construction claws and tiered rock mining stripes.  It was a foggy day.  There was an A-frame cargo net, then the Bucket Brigade.  BB's always a challenge, but you can push through it.  I took lots of breaks.  The route was a reasonably short uphill then downhill, and then path was road-sized, so not narrow and not too rocky or uneven, which was good.  People could take breaks and navigate around each other more easily than in some other OCRs I've seen.

I failed the monkey bars, falling off the second bar.  30 more burpees.  There was a new "Devil's Ladder", where you had to first climb a slightly inclined wall, then do one of those standard giant a-frame ladders.   I got up, but at the cost of tweaking my right knee a bit. About mid-race, we started a long hike up the mountain... it was pretty steady and very long, and everyone walked up it.  Here, I was able to pass a good number of people, with a steady walk.  I guess my running endurance helped.  Lots of people were miserable and missed water, but it felt like a typical hike to me, and I can go for 10-15 mile runs without water.  The water stops were plentiful, in my view.  Then, on the downhills, it was just like when cars pass an accident site that had caused a bottleneck, and everyone starts running and celebrating again.  There was runnable downhill, and some where you had to kind of put on breaks when it was steep dirt.  Nothing was too technical, but I semi-ran cautiously.  We had a vertical cargo - transitioning at the top is always precarious, and it always makes me wonder how many people, if any, fall from the top, at any given race.

We have the sandbag carry, which goes down, then up some steep stuff.  The womens' one isn't too heavy, so I can do the route without breaks.  The men seem to struggle with the big pancakes that they have, though. 

At the end of the downhill, we go through another stream with hidden rocks.  My shins find them at power-walking speeds, which hurts a bunch.  We're back in the festival area.  More barbed wire - this time, it's roll-able.  The Slip Wall is fine, although slightly more challenging after rolling a bunch.  I didn't make it very far on the Tyrollean Traverse... maybe 1/5, if I was lucky.  30 burpees (running total of 120).  Like last time, the Herc Hoist was unmovable, even when I threw all my weight on pulling the rope down.  If I heard correctly, it was supposed to be 75 lb, but maybe there's extra water weight, or something?  Who knows - burpees.

We went over the entrance bridge.  Then, the multi-rig, which is fun, but I only make it 1/3 of the way, not able to fully transition onto the pipe after managing two knotted rope handles and two rings.  Burpees (180 at this point), then the fire and finish.

I finished in 3:20:10, for 9.8-ish miles with about 1,500 feet of the main elevation gain.  I feel like it's been my best race yet, after beating the walls, the mid-air beam, and the rope for the first time.  I still have work to do in the monkey bars, rig, Tyrollean Traverse, and spear.  I enjoyed the "hike", and the uniqueness of the quarry. 

After the race, I re-hydrated, re-fueled, watched the awards ceremony, and watched people on obstacles.  I'm tired and consider  nap before my volunteer shift starts, but my energy level isn't too bad, so I watch peoples' techniques on the obstacles.  Inspiring moment of the day: a wounded warrior who lost an arm conquers the course with his friends.  On the rope climb, he courageously tackles it one-handed, with his friends helping him belay.

I volunteer at bag checking, which I enjoy.  It's like I Love Lucy chocolate assembly line plus easter egg hunt to find peoples' bags and give good customer service.  We were in a shaded tent, but it was still hot work.  I helped out at the merch tent, counting inventory, afterwards, until 11:30pm, followed by a long drive home.  A stellar day.


Hunter, Rose, Lindsay

Friday, August 5, 2016

Looping back to London

My last visit to London was a little over 4 years ago, a few months before they hosted their own Olympic games.  I loved how easy it was to get around the city on the Tube.  I loved how there was history and cool places to visit and discover everywhere, in such a concentrated area.  I also loved how diverse the population was.  It was a clean city (vs. New York, for example), and an exciting place to be.

The voyage to London ended up being kinda crazy.  I arrived at my destination a day later than planned.  Spent the night in IAD, and when I finally did get into Heathrow, it was pretty late, so I stayed in a hotel before being fortunate enough to tag along on another random employee's ride to the town where our office was.  On the bright side, the set of chairs where I chose to sleep in IAD was right at two Pokestops, so I collected quite a few Pokeballs.

It was a good thing that I had eaten a large, great BBQ meal for lunch (brisket, pulled pork, greens, hush puppies, and sweet potato fries), because it was a looong time before the two flight maintenance issues finally grounded us for the night. 

For our meetings that week, we stayed in a hotel in Buckden, which is an old coaching stop.  It has buildings dating back to the 1400s, which is crazy to think about.  The hotel was quaint, too, with uneven floors and antique furnishings.

The whole town felt like it was from a time long ago.

There are lots of inns and pubs, with traditional British beer.  I had lots of Belgians in Japan.  British beer is good - solid, flavorful, not too bitter, drinkable, substantial.

Two mornings in a row, I did 9 milers along the Ouse Valley Way, a public trail that runs along the Ouse river.  It was beautiful, with birds, rabbits, moored boats, mist, flowers, cows, and gates.

 The first morning, I had to do a bit of figuring out the right ways to go.  I might've taken 1:22:23, 9:09 average.  I had meant to get out at 4:XX, but I didn't leave until 5:30am because I couldn't figure out how to unlock the doors of the hotel.  The English countryside was so beautiful.  The sun was coming out, so mist rose from the river.

The second morning, it sprinkled then rained then let up.  I had debated whether to run again this day due to the looming weather and my legs, but my legs were fine.  "All Creatures of Our God and King" played through my head the whole time.  Enjoyment and appreciation.  

Got to swing through Cambridge one evening.  It's a very special city.  Princeton's great, but Cambridge is so much older and grander, with its streets laden with history and tradition.

Vote Remain!

Unfortunately, my phone died after about 5 minutes of use, so I missed a lot of great photo ops.

Over the weekend, no running, but got in some good walking, exploring London.

Visited the Tower of London and explored its exhibits and towers:

Went from Hyde Park down to Buckingham Palace and the Churchill War Rooms, then Parliament, Tate Modern, Millenium Bridge/St. Paul's, and Blackfriar:

After WWII ended, they pretty much left and locked up the war rooms from which Churchill coordinated the war effort.  This place made me really appreciate all of those who had worked tirelessly and courageously during those times.  It's also cool to see that someone who had faced failures and trials in his life eventually went on to become such a pivotal figure in Western civilization.

Most significantly, Paddington Bear came home at last.  I had bought him on my way out of London in 2012, at the airport.  He finally gets to see his home.

 (In case you've ever wondered what's in PB's suitcase)

 And I couldn't leave the country without going for some geocaches:

(This one is only accessible a few hours per day, during low tide!)

(The letterbox I attempted had no stamps, but I did get a webcam cache, plus an event - at Abbey Road!)