A few days back, the Idaho spring rains subsided just long enough for some hill intervals and skill work. This is an uncut POV from the “recovery” back down. Enjoy!
Music: Racecar, D is the new C
A few days back, the Idaho spring rains subsided just long enough for some hill intervals and skill work. This is an uncut POV from the “recovery” back down. Enjoy!
Music: Racecar, D is the new C
It sure has been a WHILE since my last blog post. I can’t say that it’s been uneventful. Or that I didn’t have anything to write about. As you may have noticed from my Social Media feeds, quite the opposite is true really. I was crazy busy. Blogging slipped away, and for that I apologize.
Training to be a “high performance” endurance athlete is, well… hard. For me, getting in fighting shape is hard enough that once something else (anything else, basically) hits, it’s hard enough to stay the course and complete the training let alone nutrition, rest, equipment upkeep, travel, etc required to do your job properly. And during the 2016 season I had a lot on my plate.
Last winter, we decided to remodel our north end cottage. It was the kind of remodel where you wonder why you didn’t just knock the house down and start from scratch. The kind where you completely refinance (yikes!), build a new building next to your existing house, add a porch, pour patios, build a rental apartment, etc, etc. You get the drift. It was a six-month ordeal that hit right during race season. In fact, the project wrapped up in August. Just in time for the triathlon season to wind down. -Ha!
There was a lot on my plate in addition to training. Physically and mentally. I used to think I was invincible when I worked a bazillion hour work week and still raced at the top end of the amateur triathlon ranks. But as a professional I’ve realized that the faster I want (need) to go, the harder the training. For me, that doesn’t allow room for much else. And if I take on a new project, something else has got to give. During the 2016 season, it was web presence (among other things). I had to streamline to a nearly Instagram-only engagement format.
Well that was handy, since I managed to not completely embarrass myself on the race course, and even step on the podium a few times. Instagram is great to keep connected, but it isn’t quite rewarding to me creatively. I have a desire to create art. I don’t desire to be prolific, I just like to produce things I can be proud of. Pots, sculptures, songs, videos, designs, etc. In college, I studied chemistry and mathematics, but as electives I studied music, sculpture, guitar, as well as film & video production. These remained important creative outlets, but I just didn’t know how to really make them jive with my athletic career.
In this age of engagement, I see video (herein referred to as “film”) as a creative medium and to highlight my supporters. That’s the way endurance sports marketing is evolving. It’s time for some more entertaining and interesting content that takes people places and maybe even inspires. So for now, I’ll use filmmaking as a tool to convey those ideas and stories under my 10Ten brand umbrella.
I plan to use my own experiences as a starting point. But my ultimate desire would be capture and convey adventures of others. I have ideas on how to do this, that would be unique and perhaps unexpected in the endurance sports space. Of course, I’ll let it evolve organically as I do with just about everything in my life… but I have ideas about how to eventually bring a fresh perspective to the endurance sports experience. And I can’t wait to bring those ideas to life.
For now, I’m in the early stages of (re)learning the nuts and bolts since a lot has changed in the last 17 years. It’s been a rewarding learning experience so far, and I expect that to continue. I’ve become so re-invigorated that I wake up at night with ideas. I’m also brimming with new questions. That’s a passion and creativity that’s been dormant for some time. And until I get a pottery wheel and kiln, you’ll have to deal with my freshman year of filmmaking.
For now, heres a teaser from my winter cross-training montage coming soon:
I’ll have a lot of announcements to make in the coming weeks. My 2017 racing schedule, partnership announcements, product highlights, and sponsor contests! Thanks for sticking around, it’s going to be an amazing year!
Cover: Scott Conover Photography 2016
When I decided in 2013 to get a bit more serious about off-road racing and Xterra Triathlon, I knew one important thing: I didn’t know enough about mountain bikes. And this is an issue if you happen to be a pro triathlete that wants to make a switch and be competitive. Yes, it’s mostly about fitness… but a bit more so than in road triathlon, off-road equipment (and race-day setup) can offer not just marginal gains but significant gains.
Luckily, I quickly found a resource in Bauerhaus Bikes, Boise. When I dropped by the shop, I realized pretty quickly that I was talking to people that could very easily be doing something else for a living, but were passionate about cycling and had knowledge that permeated every aspect of the sport in great depth. “Oh, that’s neat I’ve never seen (insert just about anything here) before. Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist.” “We’ve just worked with someone to make it.” Whaaaa?
Those be my kinda peeps. So, more and more I’ve been lucky enough to work with the amazing group of folks at Bauerhaus is just that. A fit studio. However, it’s also a pro-shop for anyone with particular tastes, or wanting a bit more (or a lot) of customization. It’s basically a candy-store for bike geeks that have PhD’s and wear skate shoes and like DIY projects. They, and the brands they represent are playing a significant role in my education and evolution as a racer and person. I’ve been fortunate to have their guidance and advice on equipment selection and set up. It helps that they only purvey the best, most reliable equipment for training and racing. They have me set up to roll on the speedy products of Niner Bikes, Rolf Prima Wheel Systems, Maxxis Tires (Tyres), Shimano/PRO Components, Rockshox.
With that, before I get her all dirtied up…. I thought I’d introduce you to my 2016 racing setup, the Niner Bikes RKT 9 RDO:
This is a size Large frame. I’m only 6’0″, which should technically have me on a Medium. But when Michael Tobin at Bauerhaus fit me on my first Niner, we found that it was most optimal for me to be on a size Large. Probably due to my high “ape index”. Related side note here: there are some dropper-post options on the market for XC racers nowadays. But due to my gangly build, I can get my butt on the rear tire in technical situations, so no dropper needed for me, at least for now…
Now, I’ve noticed that the more “guy’s guys” riding for Niner have all chosen to run the Black & Red color scheme. But, I’ve gone the “Green and Greener” route. I’ve never been a “guy’s guy”. Anyway… I also like being myself, different, and besides it “pops” better in race photos. And it’s all about representing the companies that support me. If I could, I’d paint the whole thing neon, ala Sven Nys. Regardless of your color preference, it’s a dead sexy machine.
And for as “dead sexy” as it looks, it rides that way. The bike is just as confident than I am in technical terrain, or even more so. My mechanic suggested we go with XTR 1×11 drivetrain, mainly for it’s reliability. There used to be a trade-off since the cassette “only” spans from 11-40. But I’m a fairly large MTB racer (read: ok power) and with 30T-36T sprockets to choose from, this wasn’t a significant issue that warranted compromise in reliability. Also, (but not pictured) I use a Stages Power meter on an XTR left crank arm. It’s currently on my hard tail since I raced it last weekend.
A good friend of mine, Eric Lagerstrom turned me on to Rolf Prima Wheelsystems at training camp in Poway, CA. I had ridden a pair of Rolf Vigors back in the early 2000’s and they were sweet. This year, I was lucky enough to start a new partnership with them and they really have delivered the goods. The new Alsea Carbon racing wheel set is fantastic. The paired-spoke lacing system provides significant rigidity that takes a 29er wheel to 26er stiffness and handling. The lower/paired spoke count decreases the “sail” effect I get from 29″ wheels while flying over waterbars in high cross-wind situations. So it’s nice not to lose your bike from under you whilst airborne.
I think that the most noticeable (and important) difference between the Alsea and other leading brand wheel sets (Yes, I’ve ridden them) is that the they “spool up” or accelerate noticeably quicker. I assume this has something to do with equations containing pi, moments of inertia, and tangential forces. Regardless, if you are an XC racer this is just an important fact. I’ll leave it at that. 😉
Since I started a new partnership with Maxxis Tires this year, there was a learning curve in tire selection. As I mentioned in my sponsorship announcement, I decided to try out the IKON, BEAVER, PACE and ARDENT RACE models. Turns out that the IKON works VERY well in most conditions. Especially in dry conditions with some loose spots. However, I’ve found the most surprising tire to be the ARDENT RACE. This tire looks at first to be similar to the Schwalbe Racing Ralph that was previously my go-to tire for most conditions. But with the closely placed, ramped center knobs, this tire rolls a bit faster. They both have similar cornering knobs, but the ARDENT RACE’s knobs keep biting harder at steep angle and inspire cornering confidence. I just raced the IKON front and back with success in Bonelli, but the ARDENT corners better than the IKON on looser (think Boise in Summertime) trails, so I’ll probably be running this up front most of the time in Idaho. I honestly don’t see a reason not to.
When it comes to suspension, on previous bikes, I found that I could not stand opening and closing valves manually when my eyes were crossed from intensity in a race. So, one thing I insisted on when building my RkT was to have simultaneous dual-lockout suspension. I want it either fully open for locked. Rarely do I see the need to lock the front and not the back, or vs versa.
We did this by swapping out the rear for a RockShox Monarch XX and then tied it in with the RS-1 Fork via the Full Sprint Dual-Lock Remote. Oh man was that a good choice. Yes, I know the FOX has some electronic dohicky, and locks out fully rigid, but I actually like that this setup. It soaks up light chatter, even when locked. But it doesn’t bob. I’ve found it sprints up hills well and maintains traction when “locked”.
And when it’s opened up… BRAAAP! I feel like this suspension combination was made for the RkT. It’s plush over serious terrain and the RS-1 fork just goes where you aim it. (e.g. This video was shot on some deceivingly technical terrain.)
The keen eye may notice we’ve added some little goodies. Xterra racing, although similar to XCT/XCO in duration and intensity… is self supported. So that means I had to find smooth and lightweight support solutions. I like the aftermarket EMT gear for this. I put an EMT Chainbreaker top cap on the bars, with an 11 speed quick link in it, just in case I break a chain. (which has happened) Also, that thing under my side-pull water bottle cage is an EMT multi-tool. I actually also use it to build and break down my bike when I travel. Pretty slick. Not pictured is the dual CO2 holder I attach via the water bottle cage bolts. It’s just a piece of aluminum that has threads in two directions to hold two standard CO2 cartridges. From there I just strap a lightweight tube, tire lever, dollar bill and nozzle to the frame. Typically inside that little triangle. That keeps the bike’s center of gravity pretty low compared to a saddle bag.
By now, the weight weenies may be wondering “But Christopher, what does such a setup weigh?”. Well, it comes in at 23.8 lbs. Nearly 2 pounds lighter than the Jet9 I raced last season. However… just like with discussing Watts and Tire Pressure, I think people get a bit too caught up in absolute values. I know there are lighter bikes out there. Humans don’t like to hear this, but it’s relative. To begin with, this is a size Large. So it’s a bigger bicycle. More importantly, I weigh 162-167 lbs during the year. So I’m on the higher side of the weight scale being a triathlete with an upper body. SO, this is a light bike for my size and body weight. Really, any weight that I lose in my trunkjunk is more important to me than compromising performance to get my full suspension rig below 23lbs.
By far the most important thing is that it does what I need it to do. No more, no less. Honestly, I feel like if Niner would have asked me what I wanted in a racing bike, yeah, I would have included some built-in self-support solutions… but from a performance perspective: I would have come up with this bike. From aesthetics to high performance, it’s a rad machine all-around and I’m beyond stoked to be riding it in 2016. I’m also really excited to represent such great brands on the UCI, ITU and XTERRA circuits. Special thanks to Niner Bikes, Bauerhaus Bikes, Rolf Prima WheelSystems, Maxxis Tires for their support this year!
It’s taken me a bit of time to recover from the XTERRA World Championships, both physically and mentally. The second half of my racing season had it’s challenges for sure. I wasn’t satisfied with my performances at the Mountain, European, and US Championships. But with five solid weeks of training available before the World Championships, I was looking for a good result. I know that I get fit training consistently at home, sans travel. And everything went well in that five weeks. Very well I’d say. I was down to a good race weight for Maui. My power was back up to Springtime values, all systems were go.
But while some people were having the race they dreamed of, I was living a bit of a nightmare. If you’re interested in learning about things like hypervolemic hypernatremia, feel free to read on or just give a quick listen!
I flew over to Maui on the Tuesday before the race. Racing on Sunday, I figured this was enough time to finish my heat acclimatization. I know that when I travel, I typically don’t have issues with heat and humidity. HOWEVER, I do have issues with water retention. And for some reason, it causes compartment syndrome in my legs when I run and ride after flying. It typically takes 2-3 days to completely disappear, it usually does, and it did by Thursday. My best guess from reading a ton of literature is that my body is used to a certain amount of sweating. I’m not a salty sweater to begin with, so I must accumulate salt and then hold water during periods of forced inactivity. I’ve confirmed this with weight measurements.
This is usually not a big issue. But the cramping suddenly came back on an easy spin on Friday morning. It persisted on Saturday. I tried to drink lots of water, but I know from experience that it takes 2-3 days for my body to come back to equilibrium.
So on race morning, I was hopeful that I could dilute my system and hope that some pressure would come out of my muscle fascia and allow me to put together the race I had worked so hard to prepare for. Warming up on the bike ride into the race site at Ritz Carlton Kapalua, I was feeling optimistic! No cramping in my glues or piriformis muscles. So far, so good. Well, the Ritz is not bike friendly (very odd place to have a triathlon world championships, don’t you think?) so I dismounted and walked to the transition.
On the downhill walk, my quads started to cramp painfully. Right up the middle (vastus lateralis/intermedius), top to bottom. I know it doesn’t do a damn thing, but I stopped to stretch it out. And it didn’t to anything. So now I was frustrated. But I stayed positive and focused on the race and doing what I could. I set up my transition. I drank a bottle of water. I decided to go sweat it out a bit longer on the bike. I cramped painfully during that ride too. Not good.
Needless to say I wasn’t a happy camper, but on the beach before the race I was all smiles and focused on the race. A switched flipped. There was a moment that I said to myself: control what you can, let everything else go. You trained hard for this, so just race. In that moment, I decided that I was going to race hard regardless of what happens.
Now, I’ve been to Kona a few times. I have to say, the start of the XTERRA Worlds is much more exciting. It’s an ITU style start with a mix of XTERRA, ITU and Ironman’s best all standing shoulder to shoulder and ready to rip into beach break. All this while a helicopter flies panning shot maneuvers at like 30 feet away. It’s freaking electric!
The horn went off and I sprinted into the water, missing the first drop off and sort of half-bellyflopped into the water. Despite my crappy hole-shot, the swim was uneventful for the most part, and I felt very fit running into transition. I got out fast, although I put my shoes on in T1, so my time doesn’t look special. and was ready to see what I could do on the bike. I pushed a bit out of transition and my legs were holding up. I sat down to start the long first ascent and calmed myself down. I was holding close to 500 watts, so I backed off knowing what I was able to sustain in the long term. I felt really, really powerful. And now optimistic!
But about a half mile in, the cramping started up. I tried to kind of ignore it and focus on the race. But the pain quickly grew and grew until I was wincing and losing power. I let a few riders pass, then a few more. The pain became so unbearable that I couldn’t ride. Have you ever had that nightmare where something is chasing you, and you can’t run? I certainly have, although I’m usually not being chased by anything… but that’s EXACTLY how I felt. I ride all the time, but right now I just physically can not do it.
I did what I could to relax my muscles, stretch them out, stretch the opposing muscle groups, breathe, pray, whatever! I drank my whole fresh water bottle in one go. I was ready to bag it right then, since I know it doesn’t usually loosen up. But what if it did? I’d never know if I didn’t try. And there’s like 18.5 more miles to go! So I got back on and rode.
But it hurt.
I could only ride standing up. So I did that. I rode standing up the whole time. Hips forward, knees splayed out to the side like I just learned to ride a bike today. Grunting in pain all the while. Periodically, to my surprise, the pain subsided. I rode like a man possessed and passed lots of people. Then it came back and I was standing on the side of the trail again. This happened three times over 11 miles of hard climbing and descending. The only explanation I can find is that the pain was so bad that my body decided to turn it off for a bit.
I can handle normal adversity. In fact, I crashed along the fence line exactly where Josiah (and many others) crashed. I just got back up and kept riding. Yeah, I was frustrated that in addition to my body not working, I had crashed. But crashing is part of racing. It’s the “body not working” part I can’t handle. And I really mean “not working”. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t lift my knees. I physically had no business being on a bicycle. That’s a frustrating place to be, and it takes a toll on an athlete mentally just watching what you trained for go down the trail, and ultimately down the drain on that particular day.
Eventually, on the long descent in the eleventh mile, I realized that I was doing significant damage to my muscles. I was in constant pain and now couldn’t use my legs to absorb the terrain at high speed. So I had to slow down. Now the top AG men were coming past me at high speed. It was just getting dangerous for both my muscles and my well being. After much hemming and hawing along the trail, I pulled the plug.
It’s not a short ride back from mile 11. It was a painful ride on the highway back to Kapalua. My mind wandered from wanting to mourn my race, to just letting it go. I honestly wanted to cry at some points. We each put so much work into what we do. No one may see that work, but it gets done come hell or high water. And normally, what you have to show for it is performances. I’m there to race and I want to race hard. So not being able to even finish was a real bummer.
But it’s not the end of the world. I know this. I had a bad day. Time to hold steady until I get the chance to do it again. And that time will come soon enough. And I’ll be stronger when I get there. So, I wanted to put this race behind me pretty quickly. (Probably too quickly, since I didn’t want to think about racing, or even write a race report.) It just took some time to digest and come to a good place before I could.
The thing I’m nervous about is putting measures in place so that the cramping issue does not return. There are a few tacks to take. One could say, well just watch your salt intake and weigh yourself to maintain correct hydration for the travel and week before the race. That’s the one I think will work. Watch what you eat, and weigh yourself to make hydration adjustments if needed. Or you could say, just go there earlier and give yourself more time. But I honestly think that wouldn’t do it. Mainly, because I’ve performed without cramping in hot humid weather before. I’ve done it this year in Alabama and Richmond. Not to forget that I used to run cross country in Hawaii. And also, I was there six days out. The issue went away, and then came roaring back with poor food choices.
The cause of my cramping is clear to me. Believe me, if it were a simple deficiency of electrolytes, as everyone is quick to offer up, I would be able to take care of it. I learned that 20 years ago. I know a lot about hyporvolemic hypernatremia (not drinking enough during exercise) and hypervolemic hyponatremia (drinking too much water without enough electrolytes.) I assure you, my issue is the one that falls though the cracks in medical literature, save for a few side-note mentions and papers on ICU patients during heart attack treatment.
How do I know? Data. The same cramping happened in the past, as recently as February when I was sick and drinking pedialyte to “stay hydrated”. I gained liquid weight and cramped. It took a lot of time for my body to get back. Dilution was the solution. And sweating. It’s very hard to believe (for me at least) but I weighed 11 pounds more in the days after this race than I did on race week. It’s nearly impossible to gain that much actual weight in a week. That’s like 40,000 calories of food in terms of body fat storage, or nearly 7,000 excess calories per day. I eat 3500, and my basal is over 1,750.
It was liquid. Here’s a picture of me a few days after the race:
I found that this is something called hypervolemic hypernatremia. (Too much extracellular fluid caused by too much electrolyte). High blood plasma volume for an endurance racer is usually desirable. But In my case, there is a tipping point where it causes/caused compartment syndrome. My cramping symptoms are exactly what someone with compartment syndrome experiences: painful cramping in their most trained muscles, when they call on them. Especially brought on by eccentric contractions. This is why it comes on when I run/walk down hill, and also why it affects my glues when I’m riding since I have very tight psoae. or psoas…es? j/k. Anyway, that makes sense. I just don’t know the exact mechanism for the cramping, but it’s probably not crucial.
Most likely cause of too much salt? Island food basically. Tuna poke (poh-kay) and Teriyaki chicken are some of my favorite foods of all time. Poke basically marinated raw fish. As it happens, Hawaii is the Poke mecca. So, basically my salt intake doubled (or perhaps tripled) by eating poke as a snack and on my salads for lunch. Combine that with the fact that there’s pretty much teriyaki everything on the island + hot weather + reduced training load + salt water ingestion during swimming… and you have a perfect storm for super high blood plasma volume.
The good news? These are mostly controllable variables. I’ll be sure to focus on my race week nutrition an hydration next year and all of next season.
The thing I’m really excited about was my physical preparation for this particular race. This year, I feel like my coach and I really nailed the physical prep. I still think that the course in maui is not quite technical enough to be fair to the Xterra pros. But, I’m now more optimistic about my prospects of racing well on that course. In those brief instances when my body did decide to let me race, I was climbing much better than I ever have on that course. I could really push and keep pushing. Same as in training. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to unleash. I really wanted to see what I could do on that course. But I’ll get more chances.
Failure isn’t part of the process, it is the process.
I loved the race report posted by the eventual winner Josiah Middaugh. “If first you don’t succeed, try 14 more times.” In his explanation of the journey to his world title, he points out that it’s a long road and a myriad of things go wrong along the way. This is poignant reminder that things don’t always go as planned. All we can do is keep working diligently, and be the best people we can be along the way. This is very much in line with Coach Paulo’s “philosophy” (hehe) of working hard every day to be better. After all, that line of thinking has me performing the best level of my career. This year was my best season of racing so far. Two podium finishes at XTERRA “majors” and the Professional Tour Standings? Hell yeah! That gets me pumped for 2016. I’m looking forward to continuing to do things better in the future.
On that very optimistic note… that’s a wrap on the 2015 season’s racing.
See y’all in 2016! Yeew!!!
I was going to write a “season summary” blog post, but I decided to let R. Buckminster Fuller explain how it went, and how I plan to pull it together for Worlds.