Saturday, August 7, 2010

Race Report: Squaw Mountain Run

        How many years have I been trying to do this run? For some reason I could never find it to get registered until this year. Either it never showed up on the calendars that I checked, or web sites, or I would just miss it by a day or a week. I suppose that it is fitting that this year when I have raced so consistently that I would finally get set up to do it. So I finally got myself up to the Squaw Valley parking lot on the first Saturday in August to race up the mountain.
        Great turnout! 540 runners! As a fund raiser for the Auburn ski club, they must be stoked to rake in that cash. I was reminded constantly by the reflection in Born to Run that running is a deep set human activity, almost primal, as evidenced by the huge numbers who will gather to run together. We start complete strangers, who no longer feel quite so strange after sweating and suffering together. Especially for a “race” where only a select few are truly racing. The rest of us just run. Why? Why don’t we stay at home and sleep in on a weekend morning? Do some sensible exercise, like walk the dog? Especially for a race like this one where we all knew that it would hurt. No one shows up for a mountain run expecting to escape the suffering. And yet, 540 souls lined up to test themselves.
        And what a test it was! I knew the course only as a winter ski run. It’s long for a ski run, over three miles, because it gradually winds and switchbacks its way down the mountain. It’s primary function is to be graded ascent for maintenance vehicles, both summer and winter. So while I knew it would be a relentless climb, I didn’t think that it would be that steep. Holy cow, was I wrong about that! As I joked with a couple on the tram ride down, I’ve never walked so much of a trail race. It took a while, but eventually I found something approaching a rhythm of walking and running that kept me moving forward. It wasn’t like a usual trail race where the terrain constantly changes, sometimes necessitating walking. Here, walking wasn’t faster, just unavoidable when my legs ran out of power. I had the most peculiar sensation when switching from a walk to a run, I couldn’t feel my legs! It was like they went numb! I would glance down to check that they were still there and still functioning!
        The other peculiar sensation reflects my fitness profile, and instructs me in how I need to modify my training. At the beginning, my heart rate was pinned, but I am used to that feeling, so I carefully gauge my effort to keep from blowing up. But as the race went on, I gradually lost power in my legs. I wasn’t breathing all that hard, but I couldn’t go any faster. I noticed this in the recent XTERRA races as well, but I figured that it was a result of deadening my legs with a 2 hour mountain bike ride first. In this case, I wasn’t out that long before my strength faded. So, I need to modify my training to include a lot more strength work. I have done a little of this, now I know that I need to be a lot more consistent. This result reflects my usual training routes, which are fairly flat, and the lack of gym workouts. I recall now that the last gym workouts I did that my legs were not nearly as strong as they used to be. SInce I have had this experience a couple times now, I need to change my training to focus on strength and muscular endurance until the end of the season. Hills! I must run them! And weights! I must lift them! And this off season? Time to become a gym rat!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Potato Salads

What’s more summer than potato salad? OK, for most people that would be BBQ, but for us plant powered people, summer means potato salad, fresh corn, and watermelon. If you remove the greasy, fatty, artery clogging dressings that are traditional, what you’re left with is the perfect canvas for nutrient rich plant power. Spuds of all kinds are ideal since they are a whole food in its natural state, minimally processed by cooking, retaining gobs of nutrients. In fact, a rather wacky experiment in the 1930’s showed that people can live on nothing but potatoes in perfect health. What’s even more, the test subjects did not grow tired of their regimen! That’s probably because potatoes have a very high satiety score. They do indeed satisfy. Here are two interesting variations of a summer classic for endurance athletes.

Tahoe Potato Salad

A favorite in our family to accompany veggie burgers. Also makes a delicious lunch on top of crisp greens. The dill is very important, so taste and adjust carefully. The crab boil adds a nice layer of flavor to the potatoes, don’t leave it out!

10 Small Red or yukon gold potatoes
1 Package Zatarain's Crab Boil Seasoning
1 Box Firm Silken Tofu
2 tablespoons each Horseradish and Mustard
1/4 C Fresh Dill, chopped
2 Stalk Celery, chopped
1 Cucumber, peeled and sliced or chopped (optional)
1/2 C Red or green onion (or shallots), chopped

1. Cook potatoes in water to cover with crab boil
2. While potatoes cook: mix together tofu, horseradish and mustard in a food processor or blender until well blended.
3. Add celery, cucumber, dill, relish and onion Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. When potatoes are done and cool enough to handle, chop or slice and add to dressing.
5. Mix well, taste and adjust seasoning.

Variations: Change up the vegetables: red or green bell pepper, grated carrot or beet

Southwest Salsa Potato Salad

Change up the usual potato salad dressing with this spicy version. Use fresh or jarred salsa of the desired heat.

2 C cooked black or pinto beans
1 lb cooked, chunked waxy potatoes
1/2 C diced red onion
1 bell pepper, chopped, any color
1 C salsa of choice (fresh is best, but jarred works well)
juice of one lime
chopped cilantro to tast
hot sauce to taste

Mix all ingredients, check seasonings and adjust as necessary. Chill for an hour to blend flavors, and serve cold or at room temperature.

Variations: Cook your beans yourself from dry for the best flavor and to save money.
Cook the potatoes while prepping the other ingredients, and combine while the potatoes are still warm to better absorb the flavors. Add chopped hot chiles.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

XTERRA Countdown

After a tough XTERRA race in Tahoe City in June, it is now time for specific preparation for XTERRA Incline. This means more open water swims in the lake, which appears to be warming up somewhat, course practice on the Flume trail, and maintenance of trail running fitness. My first lake swims immediately after the last race were painful due to the cold water. I couldn't find a comfortable breathing rhythm at all. But recent swims have shown thatthe water has warmed, and breathing is no longer a problem. So the next action is a swim, and this afternoon I will run some hills for strength. I also need new MTB tires, and tire selection is always a challenge, so off to the bike shop I go!

Monday, August 2, 2010

TBF Friday Night MTB Racing Series

Will the Real Sandbagger Please Stand up?

I have read that there is a special place in hell for sandbaggers. Of course, I worry a little that in the novice category I might be considered a sandbagger! But I quickly assuage my guilt by reminding myself that outside of a couple of XTERRA triathlons, this series is only the second time I have ever raced a bike. That truly defines a novice, no? So why do I care about sandbagging? Because I won the first race for my novice category, and there was That Other Guy. You know Him. The Real sandbagger. The guy with shaved legs, full team kit from a local shop, and a carbon 29er hardtail. In the novice category? Seriously? Except for week one, he just rode away from the field. I rode away from most of the field as well, but I didn’t know what to expect. Next year I will go get my ass kicked in Sport Category where I belong.

Anyway, here is how the race series broke down.

Week 1: 7/16/2010

Filthy heat! Forecast 102 degrees!
I think I drank four liters of water that day trying to stay hydrated. While I love the course at Granite Beach, it’s funny that I have never yet just ridden the trails for fun, only under race conditions. There is just one problem. That Rock. It’s huge, it’s a boulder. It’s actually rideable, but it sure doesn’t look that way! The first time I raced the course, I didn’t know what to expect, so when I came around the bend and saw The Rock, I just powered over it with pure adrenalin. Then in XTERRA, I choked on it. Tonight I choked again. Total mental block, so I had to dismount. Otherwise I rode well, considering the heat. I placed fourth overall, but the three guys who passed me later on were actually in the 40-49 age group, so I won my category! BUT: I was passed by The Fat Guy. Since he was not actually in my category, but one that started a minute back, he was WAY faster. Not cool, I do not like being passed by The Fat Guy, who must have much better technical skills.

Week 2:

Much better weather for this one, only about 90 or so. Still hot, but I must have finally acclimated a little, since I wasn’t busy worrying about the heat, only the racing. Made the drive from the Bay Area to Folsom after summer school without difficulty, and lined up for the start after a brief warmup. I want that rock! I want to own it! I also want to beat That Fat Guy. This time that sandbagger pro-look guy rode away from me and I never caught him. Another guy rode away from me like I was on a trainer, but fortunately he was not in my category, but men 20-29. Damn youngun’s. My regrets were three: one, I didn’t push it hard enough on the paved road section, two, I got passed at the very end by a guy who couldn’t really drop me, and three That Rock owned me again! The paved section exists because of higher than normal water levels this year, and it was a lot longer than I remembered from week one. I wanted to use it for recovery, but I recovered too long, I could have made some time here and prevented that pass. I got a little complacent while riding out there on my own, and let off the gas which got me passed by a guy who wasn’t really, faster, but definitely hungrier. Next week, hammer the road. The route was slightly different as well, with a singletrack section not looking the same at all. The Fat Guy didn’t pass me, but he still rode the course 20 seconds or so faster than me. Damn.

Week 3:

Last one! After finishing fourth overall twice, but first one week and third the next week, I sit in second place for the series in my category. So this week I want to smash it! Unfortunately, it smashed me! This race was harder than the triple digit suffer fest. I arrived late because I drove from Tahoe, miscalculated the time, and encountered more traffic going down the hill than I had anticipated. I had plenty of time to get to the start, but not enough time for a warmup. The previous races I got maybe 10 minutes warmup, not a lot, but enough to get the blood flowing. For a short, intense race like this one, I think that’s crucial. So I lined up near the front and dropped the hammer, trying to keep up with Sandbagger Racer Boy, which I did for awhile. Good news, I cleaned The Rock! I own it now. But then, the lights went out. I hurt. I struggled. I was deep in the Pain Cave without a flashlight. I punched my ticket on the Pain Train and rode that sucker through the middle section. And lo and behold, they changed the course again, the paved section was dramatically shortened. Does this make the course shorter? Longer? Faster? Slower? How do I compare this week’s time to before? I was passed by a few riders including The Fat Guy, who owned me again. I passed a couple guys toward the finish, having no idea what category they were in, but by then I had recovered. Tough race, but a lot of fun all around.


Lessons learned:

  1. Arrive early. I had no problems with registration, but for short races, a warmup is critical. Now I know.
  2. Gauge effort carefully, I tend to fade in the middle of the race, after going out hard. But then I recover a bit before the finish.
  3. Let go of the brakes!
  4. Get new tires.
  5. Train hard, and smart.
Including the LT climbing intervals once a week definitely made a difference, as well as spending more time on the MTB in general. Now I face a problem, I am fast for a Novice, but really slow for Sport. I don’t want to be That Sandbagger, so, for next year I must train really hard so I can upgrade to sport and not be too far off the back. I need more strength, muscular endurance, and more practice on technical skills so I can find some “free” speed.

Onward and upward!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tahoe Trail Run: Run to the Beach 10K Race Report

        With no clear information ahead of time, this race was even more of a mystery than most. If I knew the area, as some may have, I would have known what to expect. I expected a fairly flat and fast course, since the only description was a mix of trail and road. Also, since the 5K and 10K courses shared a common route for part of the race, I figured that it would be flat. Nope. There was some significant singletrack climbing on the 10K only loop, but since the website had no course profile I didn’t know what to expect. It was a great course, a fair amount of singletrack, one good climb that required a walk at the top, and lots of rocks! I didn’t feel particularly fast, since I was back in the pack, unable to really pass anyone. I ended up running with the same group for most of the race, trading the lead occasionally. I was definitely out of gas at the end, and while I held off some of the people I passed, I got passed by a couple of people who came from nowhere. Unfortunately, I ran off course twice for a few meters (nothing major). Once was THEIR fault, two different arrows, different colors, different directions. The second time was my fault, I was following another runner on a descent and she missed a turn and I didn’t notice. The race had a tough finish that I did not expect, which was on sand! Apparently it was not just a race TO the beach but also ON the beach! Ouch, that hurt.
        Overall, I ran under 54 minutes, which is significantly faster than Burton Creek, making me wonder if the courses were both really 10K. I also wore my new heart rate monitor to see what intensity I was racing at. I uploaded the data into the computer to graph heart rate and found an average of 175, which is a hair under my usual LT of 180. I can feel the difference though, between 175 BPM, where I can recover, to 180 BPM where I feel pinned, and the few times I was up to 182-184 BPM, I was hurting. And so wraps up my first racing/training vacation of the summer: three races on three consecutive beautiful weekends in fantastic Lake Tahoe! Now it’s time to go back to work, make some money to keep up this habit, and tweak the training a bit to get faster.

Next Up for Racing:
Three consecutive Friday night beginner class mountain bike races to improve handling skills.
Find an Olympic distance road triathlon to try a different sort of race

Next Up for Training:
LT intervals!

Next Up for Tahoe Vacation:
Gotta check the calendars for that...