I’m proud announce that 2017 will be my third year partnering with Champion System as my official apparel sponsor. I’ve been racing in Champion System custom technical apparel for years before I was sponsored, and it’s clear to me that it’s a great fit. (Pun intended)
The CS design lab makes kit design accessible for non-design oriented athletes. The quick proof turn-around and streamlined order workflow takes the frustration out of the ordering process. And the option to create a team store full of hundreds of custom branded goodies is AMAZING.
For the athlete, a uniform serves several purposes. First, it needs to work well to help you perform at your best. Second, it must look great. Whether your uniform showcases your sponsors or just your personality, either way it has to look the part. For the past two years Champion System has exceeded my expectations in with regard to both. Allowing me to achieve goals and share my journey with others while also conveying a bit of my personality and brand. -Awesome. Their products perform and they showcase my sponsors in exactly the way I intend. So I’m excited to extend this partnership and I’m very proud to be representing a company that is as committed to providing high quality technical apparel and customer service to the sports community.
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!
Just starting to fight the cramping, by sitting upright.
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.
Here’s a quick clip from my recent training week in Sun Valley, Idaho. The higher elevation made training tough, but it’s a beautiful place to train! I look forward to getting a bit more camera savvy as I go along, will post as I go!
On paper, the Xterra Eastern Championships looks like it should be “my race”. Short river swim with intermittent running? -Sign me up! Oppressively hot, humid weather? -I’m all about it! Technical East Coast urban mountain bike course? -Hellz yeah!
“That course is my Jawn, yo!”
“That course is tight!”
-As you might if you were from Philly.
But here’s the catch: I live in Boise. Where there are long climbs, no shade, not much humidity, and very little technical riding.
And they say “Howdy”.
Regardless, I haven’t nailed a race in Richmond (yet). In 2013 I sat out with boxer’s fracture in my left hand. Come 2014, I had a lack-luster swim that left me over 5 minutes down and fighting my way to finish just one place shy of a paycheck (8th).
I don’t know. I came into Alabama, in much the same state this year: broken hand in 2013 finishing 9th. Then a lack-luster bike split in 2014 left me running hard for 10th. But I came away with a strong showing there in 2015.
I had a fantastic block of training between Alabama and Richmond this year. 4 weeks of probably my most consistent and strenuous training to date. I was super confident going into this race. And why not be when your fitness is there? I honestly felt like I could ride and run myself into touch with the Josiah/Braden pain train at this one.
I mentioned in my last blog that I was looking forward to a fair swim this year. And Xterra provided just that. It might have seemed quite normal to Ben Collins who was joining us for this race, to have a “pro meeting” the day before the race. But for the Xterra folks, it was unusual and kind of funny. There just simply aren’t many things to discuss in a pro meeting for Xterra. So we don’t typically have them. But we did this time. And it was a good idea. We mainly all agreed that we’re here to race each other fairly, and discuss the fact that there aren’t “optional” buoys on this swim course. We also had the pro race bumped up by about 10 minutes to provide a clear 2nd loop for all pro women, not just the top few. -All good stuff.
They addressed the athlete’s concerns, and provided a level playing field. I think XTERRA nailed it.
Ahead of the race, I had multiple last minute bike mechanicals just before leaving Boise. I noticed a completely destroyed freehub bearing in my wheel and also that my brake pad was down to metal-on-rotor. A by-product of a bazillion relentless miles in the preceding weeks that left me with little time to even look at my bike when not riding it.
However, before leaving Boise the mischief was all managed. Cody and G-Fit Studio Boise rapidly replaced my freehub body and I replaced my brake pads as well as rotor.
Well, it was all sorted and made it to Richmond with some delays etc. All part of the fun I guess.
Race day came quickly and the mood was great on race morning. Fellow pro Craig Evans was calling this race his “last hurrah” as he accepted a position that afforded more time with his kids and a chance more steady income. I think this set the tone at the start, since most pros were joking and actually standing on the beach this time, instead of hiding upstream to get an advantage in the swift currents.
Knowing how strong of a swimmer I am, Craig Evans decided he’d ride me to the first buoy.
Box-Out The Swimmers
Just kidding. It was all business. Once the gun sounded, I started well in the second non-wetsuit swim of the year. I felt great in the combination of my Blueseventy PZ4TX Swim Skin over my Champion System Apex Tri Suit. I was face-to-face with Braden Currie for quite a while. About half way to the 1st buoy, he pulled slowly ahead of me. I pulled in behind him, and then just kind of faded into the group as we approached the first turn. This took us half way across the river, and we turned upstream. I found the pack in pretty much one straight line. I had a good view of this, because I was now the caboose. I had feet to draft off of, and I felt strong.
There’s a sand bar between the 1st and 2nd buoys, were we could run in ankle to knee deep water for about 20 meters or so. I dove back in on Ryan Ignatz’s feet. I took a more upstream line to the far buoy and came to the bottom of Belle Island back with Ryan. We ran together on maybe a hundred meter trail run and I dived past him in an attempt to bridge up to whomever was swimming just in front of us. Well, he swam on my downstream hip and re-passed me.
In Richmond, this is totally legal.
I came out of the water just a few seconds behind Ryan, last male pro as far as I could tell, a bit more behind Josiah this time. This is just about the same as the non-wetsuit swim in Alabama. Only, Olly Shaw was nowhere to be found.
Running into transition I saw both of them together going the other way on their bikes. Damn. That’s where I wanted to be. Ryan and I were about 50 seconds behind those two. For the last two years now, once the wetsuits come off, I have not been able to swim with Josiah.
I headed out onto the bike behind Ryan and worked hard to reel him in before the single track started. I got pretty close, but not close enough. I pulled him back to about 30 seconds at the end of the bridge, and he disappeared into the woods. I didn’t panic though; I just focused on riding fast.
My “Not 100% Confident” Face
But here’s the tough part of my day. Three days earlier I rode the course and was bucked around mercilessly and felt uncomfortable on such technical terrain. I concluded after the ride that my tire pressure was too high for the terrain. So I lowered it a bit and two days later felt very confident at race pace on the same terrain. However, today despite putting what I thought was the correct tire pressure, I was again fighting my bike.
I was “sketchy”, getting bucked around by the terrain instead of nailing technical sections. My feet were even being rattled out of my pedals. This is very unusual. I was cornering well, but I wasn’t taking the technical terrain confidently. My body felt fantastic. My nutrition was on, having used two full bottles of First Endurance EFS Pro. The legs and body were snappy, had I could tell my fitness was there. But I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t catching people as fast as the previous race.
After the race, I checked my tire pressure and it had gone up over 2.5 lbs. Turns out I should have re-checked tire pressure after my warm up and possibly allowed an extra pound or more for the sun heating them up in transition and during the ride. Live and learn. And those new brake pads and rotor that I installed myself? Yeah, they were rubbing. I’ll let GFit Studio double check my routine mechanical work from now on.
Whatever. Excuses, excuses. It was what it was while I was racing. I managed to catch Ben, Ian, and Alex. (Olly was having a ripper day, but had a mechanical) But I didn’t catch Brandon, Craig, Karsten or Ryan as I did in the previous two races. The fact is that I had the 6th bike split in this race. I was almost 7 minutes slower than Josiah on this day. In the previous two races I was 3 minutes off of his bike split. Yikes. Instead of coming off of the bike in 4th as I did in the previous two races, I was in 7th.
The good news is that when I got out of transition 2, I still felt strong. And luckily, my shoes don’t need to be pumped up. 😉 I managed to run into 4th place by the “dry crossing”. This is a super crazy pick-your-way rock crossing on half of the James River. It’s crazy fun and makes me feel like a kid playing on the Perkiomen Creek.
Chasing Branden Rakita (5th)
The heat was taking it’s toll on everyone by that point in the race. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t start to feel it. I managed my effort in the heat pretty well. I was governed a bit after the crossing, but I still finished with the top run split of the day. I’m pleased to see that. Because it’s not like my fitness wasn’t there. It definitely was. I could feel it. So I’m confident that the work is paying off. It just wasn’t my day. Too bad, since 2nd place wouldn’t have been out of the question had I ridden like I did in the previous races.
It was however, Ryan Ignatz’s day. After the swim and first few miles of the bike, I didn’t see him all race. He ran only 17 seconds off my pace, so the splits I was receiving to him in 3rd were always just about the same. Congrats to him for putting down a very strong performance to finish about a minute off of 2nd. I love seeing the racing heat up and US boys having good fitness racing up front.
Selfie with Alex Modestou (6th) and Ryan Ignatz (3rd)
After finishing on the podium in the first two races of the season, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with my performance in Richmond. But I’m pretty sure I know what my issues were. Rather simple, yet costly mistakes were made concerning my bike. Now, I need to say immediately that THERE ARE NO EXCUSES. Ignoring the specific issues I identified with tire pressures and brake rotors, etc… the fact is I had a weak bike split. I can just leave it at that and prepare better next time.
I finished just off of the podium. I was reminded shortly after the race that even if XTERRA chooses to bring 5 of us on stage, only 1st, 2nd and 3rd are the podium steps. Gold, Silver and Bronze are what matter in most sports. This time around I earned the “chocolate medal” (4th). The chocolate medal is a consolation prize that leaves you with cavities. The wooden medal (5th) should be used to light a fire under your ass, making you work to take the next step.
Disappointed as I may be with my performance on the bike, I won a paycheck. Also, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that only a year ago I was fighting hard for top 10 finishes. So in the big picture I’m feeling good about being able to get into the top 5 against strong competition on a less than perfect day. That’s consistency. You win some, you lose some. But if you’re consistent, when you “lose some” you just might still earn a solid paycheck. J
But I still think that Richmond is a course and environment that suits my strengths. I’ll keep stubbornly saying this until I either win it or go down trying. Just like Alabama this year, maybe 3rd year’s a charm! We’ll see in 2016!
I have to thank my home stay Cindi for providing a great environment for a race, and letting me joyride in her 1967 pickup!
Thanks to Emma Gerrard’s homestay Chris and Kate for inviting me over for dinner and for letting me use their endless pool!
That was so convenient! HUGE THANKS as always to mysponsors and supporters especially Equal Earth! Please visit their new website by clicking here or on the image below! Please visit their websites and support those who support our sport!
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