The Xterra Crystal Cove Trail Run

A couple of weeks after Ironman Arizona, I decided to get out on the mountain bike again for a long ride. My wife and I decided to do a good chunk of the route from The Traverse,  an upcoming mountain bike race we will be participating in this spring, so she could see what the course was like. Within the first 8 miles of the 30 mile ride, I started to feel some strange knee pain that I have never felt before. I pushed through the pain, not so much concerned about how it would effect me in the moment, but rather I was concerned that more permanent damage could be caused by my continuing to pedal.

We finished the ride but when I returned home, I quickly turned to the internet to self-diagnose. I had concluded that it was patellafemoral syndrome or chondromalacia. Unsure of how to treat it and unsure of how reliable my webMD diagnosis was, I made an appointment to see a physical therapist so I could get back to training as soon as possible.

I made an appointment with Rausch Physical Therapy in Laguna Niguel, CA. They came highly recommended from a friend and I have seen them at several race expos and knew they had experience with endurance sports athletes and even offered bio-mechanical bike fitting. The visit with them was great and through a series of motion tests, Kevin Rausch concluded that I did in fact have Chondromalacia. He gave me a series of exercises I needed to do daily and I scheduled weekly appointments to come back for treatment.

I also told Kevin that I had one more race this coming weekend that it was paid for and on the schedule, the Xterra Trail Race Series, Crystal Cove 17k run. He said that racing was up to me but that it would slow my recovery by a couple of weeks. Respecting his expertise, I decided that I would not race in the coming weekend. Instead, I would go to the race to take pictures and support Elise in her race.

Sunday came and we were there early and Elise was ready to race. Being the race addicted dummy that I am, I brought my trail running gear just in case. We checked in, got our things and even saw a few friends, including Tran Nguyen and Minh. The more I talked about the race and the closer it drew to start time, the more I was convincing myself that I should race. By the time the race director was on the microphone telling people to line up at the start line, I was suited, booted, and stretching for the race. I’m a dummy, I know.

Photo credit: Minh Nguyen

The Xterra Crystal Cove trail race is a 17k (10.56 mile) trail race that loops through the hills of the El Moro area of Crystal Cove State Park and has an elevation gain of approximately 1,740 feet. While the race seems like a quick one at just 10½ miles, it really makes you work for it with some steep grades and some organ jostling descents.

The gun blasted and we were on our way. About ¼ mile into the race, I could see all of the racers in front of me and counted back from the front, figuring that I was in 19th place. I figured I would just pace myself and slowly pick people off and hopefully make my way into the top ten or fifteen runners by the end of the race. Over the course of the next 2 ½ miles, I reeled in 8 competitors putting me into 11th place. Not many of those racers that I reeled in ever passed me back, instead, there was a whole new set of competitors who were even more patient and fit than I was because after 3 miles, I went from being the hunter to being the hunted. I kept count of those who passed me and soon enough I was in 25th place, then 26th, then 27th, then 28th. When I hit 31st place, I stopped keeping track and just went into survival mode.

I couldn’t believe how tight my legs were getting but I began to realize that while my legs weren’t still sore from Ironman, they certainly weren’t recovered and they were getting tight easily and started to feel pretty heavy.

I continued to run and cruised as fast as I possibly could down the descents back to the start line. Another thing I was starting to notice was how my feet and ankles were feeling on the descents. The feet were getting hot and my left ankle was telling me to stop it. I attribute this to my New Balance MT 100’s. The MT’s are a great shoe but I think for the way that I run and the injuries I have sustained over the years, they are just too minimal of a shoe for me on longer and more intense trail runs and I might have to get into a trail shoe with a little more support.

Photo Credit: Minh Nguyen

I kept a good pace into the finish line and ended up with a time of 1:30:02, earning me a 7th place finish in my new “welcome to your 30’s” age group. Elise came across the line with a time of 1:42:36, earning her 4th place in her age group. Elise also raced in the 30-34 year old age group for the first time and wasn’t happy about it, and not just because it made her feel old, but because if she had stayed in the previous age group, she would have been in first place by several minutes. We are getting older… oh well, time to step it up.

Our friend Tran also raced and managed a 6th place finish in her age group as well.

All in all, it was a great day. My knees held up, although I am sure it will slow my rehab/recovery a little bit, but I like to think it was worth it. My physical therapist will be happy to know that I am not signed for any races until the HB Surf City half marathon so I will listen to doctor’s orders from now on… promise.

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2010 Ironman Arizona: A long post for an even longer race

On the morning of November 23, 2009 I nervously entered my personal information through the Ironman.com website to sign up for the 2010 Ironman Arizona. I have been racing triathlons for five years and up to that point, had not been as nervous on race day as I felt at this exact moment just signing up for a race that would be a year away. I mustered up the courage, pushed submit, and committed myself to train like I had never trained before.

My 2010 race schedule was packed with events to help me along the way. The Huntington Beach Marathon, California Ironman 70.3, The Traverse (an endurance mountain bike race), the Boise Ironman 70.3, The Harding Hustle 30k trail race, the Over The Hump mountain bike series, the OC International Tri, the Malibu International Tri, a few 5k’s, 24 Hours of Adrenalin (8 hour solo mountain bike race), and I’m sure I am missing a couple. I kept busy with training as usual for the first part of the year with the exception of the swim. For the first time in my triathlon career, I needed to take the swim seriously, get more efficient, and develop the endurance necessary to get through 2.4 miles in a respectable time and with energy to spare. In January 2010, I joined the USMS Nova Masters swim team in Irvine and my swim began the transformation.

With four months left to go until the big day, I began to ramp up my training. Bike rides turned from 120 minutes to as much as eight hours long, double-digit mile runs were at least a weekly occurrence, and 2 hour swim sessions with as much as 6,500 yards a pop were happening every week. These sessions continued to increase in volume until the end of October when I had my final training weekend in the isolation of the Nevada desert. From there the volume began to taper down for three weeks for the purpose of leaving me recovered, well-rested, and recharged to go as fast as possible on the big day.

Race week came, I picked up my freshly tuned bike from Tim at Switchback Cyclery, packed my bags, and Elise and I headed out in the Suby to Arizona. Between race fees, equipment, travel, nutrition, and everything else that racks up the cost of triathlon, we were lucky enough to have a dear friend named Jaime who lives near the race venue to host us and save us the money of a hotel while we were in town. Thank you, Jaime!

The two or three days leading up to Ironman are really cool for a first time Ironman. Check-in, the Ironman store, the carbs, the massages, the banquet, the “mandatory” athlete meeting, the Saturday practice swim, they are all things that you don’t want to miss. I’m sure they probably lose their savor and you could forego a few of these things after you have raced a few, but they were definitely good experiences for me. ­

Brandon, Skyler, and Donny at the “mandatory” pre-race meeting

I managed to get a solid six hours of sleep the night before the race (which is unheard of for me) and still managed to wake up ten minutes before my alarm went off at 4 a.m. I ate my pre-planned breakfast and it went down easy.

We drove out to the race venue where Elise dropped me off and kissed me goodbye before she headed to the volunteer check-in on the other side of the lake. To help occupy her time and be of support to the racers, Elise as well as our friend Jaci elected to work on the support crew in kayaks during the swim portion to keep swimmers on course, prevent cheating, and help swimmers if they got hurt, panicked, or otherwise into trouble.

I arrived at transition, double checked my transition bags and memorized their locations and my running route through the transition corral. From there I got body marked, double checked everything on my bike, met up with my friends Brandon, Donny, and Scotty to see how their morning was going thus far. Everyone’s stress level was relatively low and no major catastrophes had taken place.

With 15 minutes to start time, I took a 100 calorie GU and finished the Powerbar Perform sports drink I had been sipping all morning. At this point I had lost Brandon but found Donny again. We jumped in the chilly 60 degree water and swam our way under the Mill Ave bridges to the start line. Being a mid-pack swimmer, I positioned myself near the wall and about 25 feet from the start line. Looking back, I realized I was still very close to the start line considering there were over 2,000 people treading water behind me. Black Sabbath’s Ironman came on over the P.A. and I started to get stoked.

A couple of more minutes went by, the cannon blasted and the water started churning. 2,700 athletes all swimming in the same direction reminded me of my daily commute on the North 405 freeway. The main difference being that on the 405, nobody is kicking and punching me in the face as I try to navigate the congestion.

Of my two close friends that were competing in IMAZ, I consider myself the slowest swimmer of us three. So about 500 yards into the swim, I was breathing to my right and noticed that swimming just three feet away from me was my friend Donny. I knew my swim was going well if I was still next to him. I sighted him a few more times over the next 60 seconds and then never saw him again. I rounded the first buoy with minimal contact to anyone else, swam to the next buoy, turned left again and was headed back to the start with about one mile left. I was tempted to check my watch to see how I was doing but I decided against it and just told myself that no matter what speed I was going, it was time to pick up the pace. After another 300 yards or so, I managed to see Elise’s kayak as I was breathing to the left. On my next breath I let out a holler and got her attention. Later on she told me that at the exact same moment, she saw Donny swimming ten feet behind me. Donny was behind me still? Today was going great. As the swim neared the finish, it started to get very chaotic as swimmers began to increase their turnover and pick the best line to the last turn buoy. I came out of the water in 1:15:56 and Donny came out just 4 seconds behind me. For the first time in my triathlon career, I beat Donny out of the water. My guess is that he won’t want to let that happen again.

Donny at the Saturday practice SwimHere is Donny at the Saturday practice swim

The good news about the swim was not that I beat Donny, it was that the hard work and technique training I put in this season actually paid off and I came out of the water feeling great and like I could have easily swam another 2.4 miles and still felt great getting onto the bike.

Transition was a little longer than it should have been but was otherwise uneventful and since I went a few minutes faster than planned in the water, I had a little bit of a time cushion.

I got out onto the bike course and was feeling good. The course in Arizona consists of three loops on the bike that extend out a gradual climb known as the Beeline Highway. At the turn around on the far end of the first lap is when I realized that the wind would play a significant factor on the day and that each lap would have plenty of time riding into a headwind or a crosswind. As the day progressed, the wind got stronger which was great going up the Beeline but each time I made the turnaround, it was in my face. By the third lap, reports said that winds were up to 40 mph on the beeline. My first lap went exactly according to plan, taking a conservative hour and 54 minutes. I would slightly increase my effort on each of the three laps and hopefully churn out a bike split of about 5:40.

Well, things don’t always go according to plan and during lap two at about the 50 mile mark, I got a flat tire. As one would expect, my tube change took twice as long as it normally would have. I eventually got the flat fixed and was back on my way and trying very hard not to get upset about the flat and try to compensate by pushing too hard. About 20 minutes after the flat is when I encountered my first brief rain storm of the day. At this point, I just laughed about it and pressed on.

By the third lap, the wind was howling out on the beeline and though I was putting out more power, my third lap was slightly slower than my first.

My bike split ended up being 6:01 and I just needed to look on the bright side; perhaps a slower than desired bike split will have saved my legs to go a little faster in the run.

I made it through transition, ran through the wall of sunscreen applicator volunteers, and was off. As expected my legs felt a little wobbly from changing positions but otherwise felt very strong and began feeling light and in good form in just a few minutes. What nobody told me is that the sunscreen people seriously attacked my body with sunscreen. I had a big white handprint on my face, several on my thighs, and my shoulders were bright white. This isn’t a big deal and may have been the thing that preserves me from skin cancer some day, but I am not a tan guy in the first place so I looked pretty silly… at least nobody told me.

I quickly got into a rhythm and was running 8:40 to 8:55 miles for the first 12 miles or so. Within the first mile I met a fellow athlete named Amy who had a similar goal for the run so we decided to stick together and pace off of each other, even taking turns pulling when we were running into a strong head wind. At about mile 10, I began to feel a little sick to my stomach. I finished mile 12 by an hour and 43 minutes, perfectly on pace to run a 3:50 marathon.

Unfortunately, my new running buddy slowly slipped away from me and at mile 13 my stomach pains went from bad to worse and I could barely walk. All I wanted to do was throw up but could not. The most frustrating part was that my legs still felt great, but my stomach didn’t agree. Mile 13 alone ended up being 23 minutes long and mile 14 wasn’t much better at 18 minutes long.

Looking back now, I believe that my bloated stomach can be attributed to me forcing myself to finish my last bottle on the bike. I didn’t give myself enough time to digest before my heart rate went up and my stomach started to move a little more from running, causing me to bloat rather than digest.

Somewhere in the middle of mile 14, a woman named Gina ran by and asked if I was ok. I said no and that my stomach was hurting and she reached into her Fuel Belt and pulled out what looked like a Listerine strip. It ended up being a Gas-X dissolvable strip. She told me to take it and I would be feeling better in ten minutes. I thanked her, continued to shiver in the wind as the sun was beginning to set, and told myself I would begin running once I reached the top of a hill about 1/3 of a mile away. I reached the top of that hill, picked up the pace, and began running. Gina was right! I was feeling much better and as I continued to run, my legs warmed up and I got faster each mile until the finish. My last 6 miles were all back down around 8:40 again and I was feeling great.

As I neared the finish, I skipped the last aid station, picked up the pace more, and managed to see my swim coach, Mike cheering from the sideline near the Mill Ave bridge. I am glad that my coach was able to see me in good form instead of looking like the dejected, shivering sad sack that I was at mile 13.

I continued to race to the finish, heard the words “Skyler Wallace, you are an Ironman,” and was relieved to come across and end triumphantly, a day that had been such a rollercoaster ride. Elise caught me on the other side of the line, escorted me to the photo wall and then to the massage tent, where I had the most epic post race massage from an excellent physical therapist.

The time lost from the stomach issues took its toll and ended up giving me a marathon time of 4:41 and my final result from the day was a 12:08:28. Not near my goal time, but who can really set a goal time for their first Ironman? I learned a lot, loved the experience, and look forward to going faster in the next one, and yes, there will be a next one.

After a few photos with friends, we gathered a few things and headed to P.F. Chang’s to mow hard on tons of spiciness, fat, salt, and sugar. It was delicious.

I owe a huge thanks to my wife for supporting me and putting up with me both in the race and all through the training, to my family, friends, to my number one training partner Pumpkin (our Viszla), swim coaches at NOVA, to my understanding bosses and coworkers at Saatchi LA and at my previous ad agency. And to the great state of California for being such an awesome place to live and train all year long.

If I had to select a few key takeaways from this whole experience I would say first, keep some Gas-X strips with you when you race Ironman. Second, marry an understanding person who supports your passions and shares some of your lunacy. Third, whatever happens during race day, fix the problem, put it behind you, embrace the pain, and reset your brain to be positive.

Sufferfest 2010: 24 Hours of Adrenalin, 8 Hour Solo

Last Fall my friend Jeff and I participated in an 8 Hour Duo race at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin at Hurkey Creek near Idyllwild, CA. In that race, Jeff and I took turns making laps around the 9.75 mile course before the 8 hour time limit ran out. Between the two of us, we made 8 laps on the 1,320′ gain course and came in 9th place.

Well this year, as I am in preparation for Ironman Arizona, I have been looking for fun ways to mix up my long distance training, because lets be honest… sometimes it can get boring, so I decided to head back up to Hurkey Creek for this year’s race but decided to do the 8 hour solo instead.

This year, myself, and two teammates, Jeff and Travis from Team Poseidon all decided to do the 8 Hour solo race, assisted by our canine mascot, Pumpkin, and crew chief and wife, Elise Wallace. The race started at Noon and then we would proceed to race the 9.75 mile loop as fast as we could until the eight hour time limit ran out. Technically the time limit is at 8:30, allowing you to start your last lap any time before 8:00 p.m. but you must be able to finish before 8:30.

The night before the race, I prepared my gear, my lights, and my nutrition. Check out this spread… and that doesn’t even include the real food, consisting of a two PB&Js, a turkey sandwich, salt & vinegar potato chips, and mini Cokes.

At noon on the dot, the race started with a LeMans-style start with all racers on foot. The run course did a 600 meter loop through the campground and then ended back through the timing tent where we mounted our bikes. Last year, I did the Lemans start for my two man team with Jeff, and had the not-so-bright idea to run it barefoot. I thought to myself, “I’m a triathlete, I can run barefoot into transition, and crush all of these cyclists.” I did have a lightning fast run, but it was longer than I thought, ran partly on rough asphalt and gave me the gnarliest blisters on my feet for the next couple of weeks that were so bad I could barely walk… lesson learned, I wore shoes this year. I made quick work of this year’s run and got onto my bike.

The course winds through campgrounds for a quarter mile before hitting single track and then quickly getting into a two mile long climb. This climb is toughest on the first lap because there are so many racers all starting at the same time. Getting stuck in a long line of climbers doesn’t help. Once through the first climb, I was able to pick up the pace. I was trying to be conservative on the first few laps to make sure I left enough in the tank to handle the 8 hour long race, but still managed to put down a 56 minute first lap.

Laps one through three were all pretty similar, and I was making great time. About half way through the third lap is when my teammate, Travis caught up with me. He was looking strong and slowly pedaled away from me as I was starting to have some breathing trouble and was fading a bit. I made it through lap three and stopped briefly at my pit where crew chief Elise hooked me up with necessary hydration and food. She told me then that I was looking a little shaky and maybe needed to rest for a bit, but I didn’t listen and headed back out onto the course.

By the end of lap 4, I wasn’t breathing well, and took her advice to take a rest. I decided to rest as long as necessary for the ibuprofen to kick in for my lungs and for my stomach to settle. About ten minutes after I sat down, my teammate Jeff came into the pit. He said he was having some cramping issues and was planning on chillin’ for a little while… fine with me.

We hung out for another 30 minutes or so and then decided to head out and do our fifth lap together. We rode it together and kept an easy to moderate pace. Jeff was having some trouble with the small ring on his crankset, forcing him to spend more time in the middle ring, further aggravating his cramps so he never fully looked as strong as we knew he could be. Towards the end of the fifth lap, his cramping came back and I left him to work out his cramps. I came through my pit without stopping, just slowing down enough to trade a bottle and grab a gel and a Clif bar.

At this point I was really starting to feel my second wind coming on.  I got it in my head that if I rode hard and consistent enough, I could probably get two more laps in and salvage some of the time lost during the long break after lap 4. I was feeling great, motoring over all of the tough technical climbs and making pretty good work of the descents.

When I came through my pit after lap 6, I yelled to Elise to grab a me a bottle and a Livewire caffeinated energy chew and meet me on the other side of the timing tent. If I was going to make a 7th lap before the time cutoff, I couldn’t afford to waste any time. By this point it was totally dark out so I was grateful I had taken the time to throw on my light before I started lap 5 and didn’t have to worry about it now.

I went as hard as was necessary for lap 7, made all of the tough climbs, descended well in

the dark, and then with about 2.5 miles to go, I was taking a sandy corner as hard as I could and washed out into the sand. Luckily the fall wasn’t bad and it only wasted a few seconds but it was enough to worry me just a tad. I didn’t want to trust my watch so I just assumed I had to go fast as hell from there on out to complete my seventh lap before the time cut off.

I ended up coming across the line with 5 minutes to spare to an awaiting wife/crew chief, dog, and a couple of great teammates. It was a great day. If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t have changed a thing… except for maybe how long I took during my break after lap four. But even still, that rest was pretty beneficial.

My final result was a 6th place finish, completing seven laps in 8 hours and 25 minutes. That made for 68 miles and 9,240 feet of pretty technical climbing.

My official splits were:

Skyler Wallace

Lap 1   :56

Lap 2   1:01

Lap 3   1:05

Lap 4   1:57   (this lap includes the 40 minute rest)

Lap 5   1:10

Lap 6   1:06

Lap 7   1:08

I had a blast at this race and look forward to doing it again. My team, Team Poseidon had a great showing in the 8 hour solo category as well. Travis Clater was on the podium in third place with 7 laps in 7:27, and Jeff Lewis made the top ten with 6 laps in 7:29. I’ll definitely be back next year to improve my time or maybe even try my legs at the 24 hour solo division. I’m inspired now after watching the movie 24 Solo fifteen times and by fellow Orange County man and Troupe Racing team member, Mykyta Yurtyn who took first place with 16 laps at this year’s race.

I wasn’t the only one worn out from the race:

Hollywood’s Tri: The 2010 Malibu International Triathlon

The Nautica Malibu Triathlon is considered to be THE L.A. race to attend. Each year, dozens of celebrities come out to show their athletic prowess and commitment to fitness by racing the short course, sprint distance race on Sunday. David Duchovny, Terri Hatcher, J-Lo, Matthew Mcconaughey and countless others have been seen at the event over the years. So many celebrities come out in fact, that the organizers have established a celebrity-specific division.

Because of its popularity and offering both sprint and olympic distance races, then event takes place over an entire weekend, Saturday being the Olympic distance and Sunday being the sprint. This year was my first time attending the Malibu Nautica Triathlon and I opted to participate in the Olympic distance race on Saturday. An Olympic consists of a 1.5k swim, a 40k bike ride, and a 10k run. My goal going into this race was to get a new personal best at that distance and finish with a total time of around 2 hours and 22 minutes.

The day started off with a Lemans-style start from the sand, sprinting into the water, then turning North around a buoy a couple hundred yards out, and then swimming nearly a mile along the coastline before rounding the last buoy and heading to shore. I got a solid start as well as a good line to the first buoy. After that, I quickly found a rhythm that worked for me. I stayed on a pretty straight line and never strayed too far from the buoys (a problem I have lost time from in the past). I came out of the water in just under 30 minutes, not an amazing time by any stretch but I wasn’t terribly disappointed.

From there, I made quick work of the transition area. If there is one thing I have gotten pretty good at in triathlon over the last 5 years, it has been transitioning. This is a skill I have been trying to pass on to my wife as well but it is not going as well. This is ok though because whatever she lacked in transition speed this last weekend, she more than made up for with a lightning fast run.

The bike course turns out of the Zuma Beach parking lot and heads North on PCH. The undulating hills are just mellow enough to allow one to keep a good pace, and just steep enough to make sure your legs still sting a bit. About 9 miles into the ride, Jeff, a good friend and teammate of mine came speeding up from behind so I picked up my pace and we paced each other for 5 or 6 miles before I watched him slowly drift ahead. After he got a short lead out in front of me, I came up on another rider named Sean. Sean is a guy I continue to see every time I race in Southern California. He is a phenomenal swimmer but I seem to be a stronger cyclist, so I am always catching him at about half way through the bike on every race. While there are thousands of triathletes in Southern California, the community of racers is still pretty tight, so these kinds of run ins and development of friendly rivals are not uncommon.

I came in off of the bike, made quick work of T2, and then got out onto the run in hopes of chasing down, passing, and putting timebetween my friend Jeff and I before the finish. The run course is very flat and with the exception of one or two 10 to 20 foot climbs, it should have been a course I could have really laid down the hammer. The first mile did not feel good. I was hoping to consistently run 6:35 minutes/mile but just couldn’t get my heavy feeling legs to turn over that kind of pace. I followed Jeff’s grey and orange Team Poseidon tri kit as long as I could, but he was on fire and no matter how much I tried to tell my legs to make chase, they just didn’t want to do it.

At around mile four, my legs started to feel a little better and I felt like I could have kept getting faster and kept running for another ten miles. I guess that is just my body getting more conditioned for Ironman Arizona than it is for shorter distance races right now. As with any race that I don’t meet my goals, I constantly analyze why things happened and how I could have made a difference, and the days following Malibu have been no different.

I crossed the finish line with a final time of 2:31:18. This wasn’t near my goal time but I was still happy with the performance on the day given where I am at with my Ironman training. My wife, Elise had a good day as well and in spite of having a small mechanical incident on the bike, she managed to PR at the olympic distance by 30 seconds, get 7th in her age group, and had her fastest 10k split ever, averaging 7:20/minute miles.

I would definitely recommend the Malibu Nautica Triathlon for either the sprint or the Olympic distance. The event was well organized, the course was well equipped and stocked at aid stations, the schwag bag was well stocked, the course is pretty fast, and there was a good community of racers in attendance.

Lake Stevens 70.3

The story of this race started last year as I crossed the finish line of the 2009 Vineman 70.3 in triple digit temperatures.  Never again did I want to run a Half Marathon in that kind of strength sapping speed killing heat.  So when it came to planning my race season for 2010 I flipped open “The Road to Clearwater” guide to the 70.3 series and started scanning for a late season, West Coast based temperate race.  Ah ha!! There it was, Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3, in Everett, north of Seattle Washington, where highs average in the low 70’s.  This would be perfect, with a fast run I could be done by one o’clock, long before it heated up to even a cool mid 70.

Of course nothing in life actually goes to plan.  I arrive the Friday before the race in temps in the high 80’s, and forecast to climb steadily to a peak on race day.  Rats!!  Bike drop off at the transition area the afternoon before the race…92 degrees.  More Rats!!!!  Oh well nothing can be done about the weather, its just one more variable and it’s the same temperature for all of us, so drink up, stay hydrated, put your head down and go.

Race Morning. Up at 4:00, eat some breakfast, load the car and head to the race.  There by 5.30, transition set up by 6:15 and off to watch the Pro’s start at 6:30.  The lake is beautiful, picturesque and warm.  72.6 degrees which means no wetsuits for the pros but age-groupers are good.  That’s a relief, not that I am a bad swimmer, but when your’re swimming 1.2 miles the extra buoyancy and warmth of the suit sure helps.  The swim was great, plenty of room in the lake for each wave to start and swim in clean water, and thanks to the local rowing club it is the first time ever I have swam open water with lane lines!!  The buoys they use to mark the course are attached to bright white cables you can see running in arrow straight lines along the bottom of the lake.

Out of the water, a short run through the parking lot and onto the bike. I had driven the course the day before and I knew it would be hilly, but oh boy! Seemed like I was either climbing or descending the whole time, always changing gears.  The tough going was at least made enjoyable by the beautiful surroundings and some great aid stations handing out icy cold water.  Still it was a hard ride, two loops of constant hills, never really able to relax into a steady rhythm.  And oh, did I mention the heat?  It’s something you don’t really feel when riding unless its super hot, and for the last half hour of the ride I got the distinct sense that things were warming up.

Off the bike and quickly onto the run.  No shade.  More hills.  Darn hot.  Oh boy not again.  The run was also a two loop course and I soon found a steady pace, and with an aid station at every mile I could dump two full cups of icy water on my head to stay cool, and gulp down two to stay hydrated.  That kinda worked for the first 6 miles but with temperatures’ climbing into the 90’s even that wasn’t enough to keep me cooled down.  So here I am again running a half marathon in brutal heat with no shade, and so on the second loop my run splits got progressively slower and slower.

Finally I crossed the finish line, sat my butt in the first aid tent where they dumped yet more water on me and put a grocery bag full of ice on my neck and shoulders.  That did the trick and 10 mins later I was up and about reflecting on the race.  So, I could be disappointed in the time.  It wasn’t my fastest, not by a long way. And I was overheated and hurting.   I am however a great believer in the saying that there is no such thing as a bad race.  The ride was really hard…but it was the kind of riding that would make me stronger for my next race.  The run was brutal, hot and tiring for sure, but it also made me mentally tougher and a tad less intimidated by high temperatures next time around.  It was also a beautiful part of the world, a great course, and a really well organized race with great volunteers and well stocked aid stations and I still smiled the whole way.  Will I be back for more?  Maybe, maybe not.  Would I recommend it to anyone wanting to have fun on doing a 70.3?  Absolutely!!!

The Toughest Race in the Most Beautiful Place

My first Tri of 2010, usually by July I have got a good couple of races under my belt but this year is different.  Completing Ironman Arizona last year in late November followed by a training break thru the Holidays gave me a late start to training for the 2010 season.  Then earlier in the year I spent more time than normal Mountain Bike Racing, so hello transition area, hello wetsuit….it’s been a while.

I chose the June Lake triathlon for a change of pace.  For the last two years I have done the Vineman 70.3 up in Sonoma in mid July, so this year I fancied something different, and with June Lake I got it!  Billed as “the toughest race in the most beautiful place”.  Crystal clear lake water, surrounded by pine trees, with snow capped mountains and cascading waterfalls as a backdrop…this was going to be fun.

Race morning, got to the transition area with just over an hour to spare.  The vibe was very mellow and easy going, plenty of room for set up, not too crowded and everyone just hanging listening to music or chatting to each other.  None of the focused intensity and seriousness of the big Ironman races.

After a quick warm up in the water, (a lake fed by snow melt at elevation is a little cooler than the local lap pool!), the gun goes off and in one wave all the men for the Olympic distance go off together.  With about 200 participants there was plenty of room with none of the washing machine turbulence of bigger races, I quickly find clean water and settle in.  I had expected some breathing problems with the altitude so started a little slower, but with no apparent distress started slowly building my pace.  Loved the swim, it felt quick, the water was sparkling clear and fresh, and I was out, up the beach and quickly onto my bike.

The bike route was the June Lake loop, which was awesome, a little hilly and a little twisty but nothing too difficult.  The biggest challenge was staying focused on my effort and pushing hard.  I often caught myself looking around at the Lakes, the Mountains, the general scenery and getting distracted. Stop it.  Keep pushing, keep pedaling.  Well yea…but I did enjoy the views too.

The Run!  Hahahaha!  We had been warned.  I had been told about it.  It was duly noted on the course profile on the website.  A steep climb at about mile 2.5, with a steep descent at about mile 4, how bad can it be?  Get to the hill, head down and attack it for half a mile then flat and downhill all the way to the finish. Piece of cake.

So what the course profile doesn’t show.

Beach deep sand and major hands on knees rock steps going up, not to mention the elevation. Attack the hill!  No way.  Beg it for forgiveness.  Promise it you will never cheat on another hill repeat workout if you could just get to the top.  That’s more like it.

Anyway, I get to the top to be rewarded with 1.5 miles of awesome single track, slightly rolling hills trail running. Distant figures ahead of and behind me but feels like I have the whole place to myself.  Loving it.  Then I come to the sign.  A cartoon graphic of a person falling off a cliff and a kindly volunteer warning me of a steep descent.  Really?  Surely the sign is an exaggeration.  Something to keep the insurance company happy.  That is until I start the controlled fall that is the descent.  Jumping off rocks, scrambling through loose rock and generally right on the edge of my pace exceeding my leg turnover.  So so much fun!!!  Over too soon.  Onto the flat trails, couple of miles to the finish line and a really cool hand crafted finishers medal.

Overall, my fastest swim split for an Olympic distance Tri, second fastest bike split and a 10K so slow I think it was closer to my half marathon PR than my 10k PR.  Loved it.  Highly recommend it.  “Toughest race in the most beautiful place?”  Absolutely.

Plotting a return next year with some like minded crazies for maybe a couple of days of heavy duty training in Mammoth topped off by the race and another very slow 10k run split.  You in?

Race Report: Harding Hustle 30k Trail Run

After listening to an ultra marathon podcast on a flight to Dallas for focus groups, I decided to look online when I got to my hotel for some trail races to try out to see if doing a 50 miler or 100 miler some day might be something I could tolerate or even enjoy.

To my surprise, when I began looking for races on Trailrunnermag.com’s race calendar I found the inaugural Harding Hustle 30 kilometer (18.5 mile) trail race taking place just 20 minutes from my house in the Santa Ana Mountains of the Cleveland National Forest. The only problem with this race was that the day I was looking at the computer, it was Wednesday, July 7th and the race was taking place in just three days on Saturday, July 10th! Not much time to prepare… mentally or physically.

After having done a decent amount of trail running in the 7 to 10 mile range the week prior in Kauai, 18.5 miles didn’t seem like too big of a deal although if the distance didn’t kill me, the nearly 4,000 feet of climbing might. So I decided that when I returned home from Dallas, I would prepare myself to run the race on Saturday morning.

Saturday came and I woke up at 5 a.m. to drive out to the Oakley headquarters in Foothill Ranch, CA where a shuttle picked me and a bus load of ultra runners up to take us to the race start at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon. The first thing I noticed was that these were no ordinary runners, they were trail runners, ultra marathoners, the true hippies of the endurance sports world and I loved the vibe I got from them. Most of them trained for longer distances so the Harding Hustle would be more of a training race for them, to test their fitness as they prepare for bigger events.

I registered, got my race number, and paid the $60 entry fee. Yes, I paid 60 bucks to suffer up and down a big ass mountain for 30 kilometers. After paying up I was lined up at the start line and then the race began. The race was an out-and-back (or up-and-down) course meaning that you run 9.25 miles up and then turn around and run 9.25 miles down, so in theory, the way down should be much faster than the way up.

When the course climbed over 500 feet in elevation within the very first mile it became clear that this was not going to be an easy day. On the way up I just tried to keep an easy pace and never stop running. There were two small descents on the way to the top but they were hardly noticeable at the time. I made the turn around at the top of Four Corners on Main Divide at 1 hour and 43 minutes. Happy with my time to the top, I began my descent but couldn’t go nearly as fast as I had planned. It turns out it is hard to descend at my desired 6:30/mile pace after I had just ran uphill for 9 miles.

Happy to be running downhill, I just tried to maintain good form, lean forward, and not strike with my heels. It was still exhausting and my knees, hips, and internal organs were nagging me to take it easier on the descent. Hands down, the toughest part of the day was climbing up two short climbs that came on the way down. I had hardly noticed them as a benefit on the way up but sure didn’t have any problems noticing them on the way down as they drastically slowed my pace and put the hurt on me when I had to climb them.

With two miles to go, I noticed there was a chance I could break the 3 hour mark so I decided to step on it a little harder. I didn’t quite make that new goal and crossed the finish line in 3 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds. The good news about this time was that it was much faster than I had anticipated going, the bad news was that since I was ahead of schedule, I finished before my wife ever got there to see me finish. Oh well, I was glad to be done.

The post race massage was provided by a local massage therapy school and was seriously the best one I have had, and the post race food and snacks were pretty good too. All in all, Dirty Feet Productions put on a great race.

My results were a final finishing time of 3:01:39 putting me in 4th place in my age group, the 27th male, 32nd overall, and I made a bunch of great new friends. It was a great day and I definitely plan to do more trail races and maybe even consider an ultra someday.