Thursday, June 24, 2010

Xterra Richmond

Last weekend Kitima and I ventured down to Richmond Virginia so I could do the Xterra Eastern Championships. I qualified by entering my credit card number and personal information online. and accurately hitting the "submit" button.

This race is funner than a clown on fire. It is a triathlon for sure but mix in some adventure racing, (dis)orienteering, obstacle course negotiating, Muddy Buddy and parts of the swim that were more like a run and parts of the run that were more like a swim and you get an idea about what this race is like. The shit-eating grin is included with your entry-fee.

This was my third Xterra race and my dirt-education continued over a course with a 1,000-meter swim, 13-miles-or-so mountain bike ride and a 10k trail run.

Interesting setting for an Xterra as the James River bifurcates the urban jungle. The race course meanders along both banks and over several bridges.

Kitima didn't race but was in full pro-triathlete stalk mode. Below she has hearts floating above her head as she poses with Melanie McQuaid. Yeah, Mel's racing a 29er now.

Kitima got a shot of Conrad "the Caveman" Stoltz below as he entered T2 all alone. How fun must it be to enter T2 without any bikes in it? I've entered T1 without any bikes in it but that's a different story. She saw him reach into a NASCAR cooler with Jeff Gordon's number on it and take off on the run with two bags of ice...brilliant as it was 100 degrees and humid. Well that was the was only 80 degrees to start the race at eight and was a mere 95 degrees during the run. Yes, even Stoltz is riding a 29er now.

Who knew the Caveman was a NASCAR fan?

Below Conrad exits the water. In the background you can see a pedestrian bridge suspended from the Robert E. Lee bridge...yes, you are Dixie. The pedestrian bridge is the start of the bike course and the home stretch of the run. Please to note the boulders, old cement bridge abutments and various foliage that make for an intersting swim; not pictured are pieces of submerged reinforcement bars.

I went off in the last wave. The swim immediately dragged you left as the current was slow and persistent. The water was murky and tasted of manganese, mud and blood. About the time you see the first rock isle you start to encounter lichen-covered boulders just below the surface. At first I tried the stumble-and-jump method of traversing them but then opted for the serpent-like slithering method. Think crawling on your stomach during Army boot camp under those low-hanging barbed-wires. After reaching Belle Isle in the middle of the river you ran for a 100 yards or so and plunged back in for the return trip. More slithering, some swimming and some current negotiations and I was back on the Northern Bank. Angela Schnuerch is pictured in the foreground above in her Full Moon Vista kit. She was suffering from a nasty stomach ailment but still raced and had a blast.

My fat head ruins Kitima's shot of the venue. Take notice, or not, of the shirtless guy digging deep into his tri shorts.

Kitima continued her stalk-mode by chatting up mountain bike and Xterra champ Shonny Vanlandingham. Below they laugh about my chances in the race.

Kitima: "Do you think he'll finish last Shonny?"

Shonny: "Oh? You think he'll finish?"

Both of them: "Bwahahahahaha!"

Below Conrad is infringing on my woman. Kitima doesn't seem to mind.
Kitima: "You know Conrad, Kevin and I aren't married yet."
Conrad: "That's not all tri chamois down there sweetheart."

Rolando and I freshly marked. He's rocking the old-school Train-This top. I'm wearing a Jacquemart Andre Museum shirt--possibly a first in the recorded annals of t-shirt wearing during a triathlon event.

I stand, somewhat effeminately, next to my ride. I beat it like a red-headed stepchild and it asked for more. I didn't have any. Stop by Geneva Bike Shop and they'll sell you one. Tell them I sent you and they'll charge you double and possibly hit you about the face and head.

Here Rolando is concerned. Should we have eaten Mexican and Sushi leading up to the race? Should I have swum prior to this event? I haven't run in months, will this be a problem? Did I leave the iron on? How will recent European fiscal policy reversals effect current U.S. Keynesian fiscal precepts? Damned if I know but that cerveza grande didn't help us.

On the bike course I was having more fun than a tornado in a trailer park. You first crossed the suspended pedestrian walkway and descended a spiral ramp (seen below) onto Belle Isle where you got into some rooty, twisty singletrack. You could here "woo hoos" all around you. After that you crossed another bridge and then got off your bike and shuffled up several flights of stairs and began the meat of the course. It was mainly singletrack with rock geraniums (not quite a rock garden), steep and short climbs, steep ramps, tunnels, narrow and elevated bridges and always plenty of roots. There was a section were you descended sharply and got to ride up some stairs onto a wooden walkway. A mountain bike bystander shouted at me in a thick, southern, drawl, "I see you! Good hustle! Come on now!" The weather claimed many and accidents claimed a few more. One man decided that crashing wasn't enough but instead decided to crash into a briar patch while landing on his backside. Incredible writhing and coprolalia ensued.

Above is a shot of one of the spiral bridge descents.

Melanie emerges from a brush with the troglodytes in a race from a previous year. You got to spelunk in the tunnels twice. Insanely fun as you had to choose either the two outside, angled and wet high lines or take the low middle line and plow through the several inches of water and gravel and hope you made it through. Either way it was a literal shot in the dark. I said "beep beep". It did echo. I took the middle line as the splashing water was cooling.

I latched onto a 50-something year old guy that was ripping the legs off some of us young whippersnappers. His shins were carved from marble. His quads were made of piano wires. I believe he said his name was Thor Merckx. We started chatting as I hung onto his wheel. He would shout out proper lines to take ("stay left kid" or "watch out for that ledge kid") and when I asked him if he was going to take the sharp turn and ride up the steep ramp he said, "Hell yeah! Let's go!" He cleaned it. I ran into what can only be described as a prop from a Three Stooges movie: a piece of lattice wood sticking out from the railing with a nail on the end at knee-level. So of course I focused on this and didn't clean the ramp. Damn you tetanus!

After this I had about ten minutes left of the ride. I wasn't doing too great from a performance standpoint: bad body composition and heat will slow you down. I continued my sodium (Kitima, a.k.a. the salt Nazi had me on a raceday regimen) intake and tried to get some more calories in to start the run.

When I saw the weather prediction my raceday goals became: 1. Don't do a death march on the run. 2. Don't get sunburned cracka!

I got out on the run and had to make up for not taking in enough calories on the run and by mile three felt great and started picking some people off. This is largely unimportant though because you could come in dead last at this race and still be smiling.

"What's next?" I kept asking myself laughing. Below you'll see someone running along the massive rocks of a dried-out portion of the James River. There are a few spray-painted arrows on the rocks but you have to negotiate the cracks/chasms yourself and be an accurate appraiser of your ability to jump after a few hours of swimming and biking.

Above a runner picks her way through the riverbed.

The "Mayan Ruins" above greets you on the run course. Even though I was dying and it felt like someone opened an oven door I couldn't wait to scale it and keep on going. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way. All the competitors I ran into were extremely easygoing and cool offering encouragement whether passing or being passed. Xterra's motto should be "Tri-douche free racing." If you've ever done a road tri, especially an Ironman, you know what I'm talking about.

I wasn't feeling so fresh and springy as this runner was during his trail run race that was held the day before on the same run course as ours.

This gives you a better idea of scale. I don't know how long the crossing was but at the end you have to ascend a rusty, iron ladder that is tethered by one tired bolt that was installed in the late '50's...1850's that is. It creaks to add to your doubts.

Rolando, Kitima and I have already put this race on our calendar for next year. This is, if you couldn't tell, THE funnest race I've ever done.

Monday, May 31, 2010

King of the Hill

Not the animated series formerly on Fox. The phrase takes me back to any number of late '70's snowbanks in Upstate NY. Do you remember the children's game? The object was to remain atop a hill, snowbank, junk pile, knoll or summit while all of your buddies would try to knock you off by any means. Elbows, kicks, eye pokes, groin punches were not only allowed, they were highly encouraged. We played in the winter as if snowmobile suits, knit mittens, wool caps and bread bags over our socks would protect us. The cold sweat redolent of frozen fear still hangs in the back of my nostalgic nostrils.

Back to present day and an offroad triathlon dubbed the King of the Hill Xterra. It is so-named due to a hill on the run course the likes of which would of made the novel Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton a one-page piece of micro-fiction.

Tucked in between Philadelphia and New York City in the Garden State I took a solo road trip (Kitima was in California for the Tour) for my first triathlon since 2008 due to a nasty bout of plantar fasciitis.

I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott and tri-geeked up the room a bit.

Transition space is easy to come by with 114 racers.

I believe it was Niels Bohr who proved that red bikes are faster than all other bikes of any other color.

After a beach run of a couple of hundred yards (Hasselhoff eat your moobs out!) we did two laps of a swim course with three buoys; half-mile total!

This was the start of the mile and a half climb. It started out with double-track but once on top it got into some howlingly fun single track with some baby-head rock mini-gardens. I gave my bike all it could handle as I'm more than a seatful (yeah, I've been doing pushup...that's not a typo...I only do one a day) and it didn't flex, misfire or let me down.
Sorry for the bad shot (can't rotate it with this program). Every Xterra has the obligatory and hysterical pushup contest. I counted for a contestant. The guy with the red head band won but his pushups were not of marine caliber...he was short-arming all of them.
Another Xterra favorite is the best injury contest. You have to show and tell the crowd how it happened. "I was just going along when a mighty Redwood branch fell from on high the victim of the same bolt of lightning that struck me. If I wasn't riding a carbon bike who knows what would have happened..."
I didn't crash; took the swim easy but still came out in good shape; handled the bike course and it's steep climbs well; ran better than I have in a few years but did walk up The Hill and did a bit of a ski-turn descent in order to avoid a Laura "half pint" Ingalls tumble down the grassy steep.
I thank Kitboo who has prescribed some super-secret bike intervals for my improved climbing...if I told you anymore I'd have to squirt Infinit in your eyes. I placed 37th out of 109 finishers and 8th out of 19 in my age group. Not exactly the king of the hill but not the court jester either. Since I hadn't raced in a while I took it conservatively during the race and spastically during the transitions.
Afterwards I took a few plunges: pool, hot tub, repeat.
Made it to some Italian place (not hard to find in NJ) and had penne with prosciutto. Had a up is Xterra Richmond with the illustrious Rolando and legendary Mike F.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Everything is Epic

My sister sent me a link to her blog and indicated that she went on an epic trail run. The link is here:

I clicked with trepidation as it seems all participants in endurance sports have become parrots lately. They blurt from their caged perches "Polly wants an epic" and "HTFU" and little else. Luckily my sister did engage in something epic and I had to take my eye-roll back, but there should be a panel of hardened, wizened and skeptical endurance athletes that will rule on your event's level of epicness; if any.

Sitting here from atop my throne of vocabularied accusations I remember my overuse of the word. I once wanted to engage in something called Kevvy's Epic Training Week in which I was to engage in all sorts of swimming, biking and running; all of the epic variety. All were welcome. It was epic in it's failure and participation. I haven't uttered the word seriously since.

The first time I noticed the word was in 1986 during a 300ZX car commercial. Here it is: "Germany...yeah. Now that would be epic." That is definitely the coolest use of the word ever.

A professor in college once went on and on about Homer's Iliad and Odyssey being among the first written epics. If you've ever attempted to read them you'll understand the word is being used properly in a double context as it serves as a noun and adjective.

Defining what is and isn't epic will be difficult and that is why I have appointed the panel. Don't think a 5k is capable of being epic? Not usually but if you ran it during a double-mega-hurricane while robot pit bulls chased you while you ran sub-seventeen minutes on a broken femur then you just might be allowed to say the next day at the water cooler that your Save The Homeless Dandelions 5k race was indeed epic but let's not get carried away. Doing an Olympic-distance tri in a slight drizzle isn't...well you know what it isn't.

Today I went on a mundane trail run in Mendon Ponds Park. I didn't need to HTFU and nothing about it was epic. I fought through the lack of epicness and still had fun.

"Why are we stopping? Are you tired already old man?"

Ordinary trail signs.
Your average hill.

Decent trail conditions.

"That's all you got? An hour? Kevin, your suckiness is epic!"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Screw Shoes

The title isn't a polemic against shodding your feet. I'm pro-shoe...used to be amateur-shoe but I've lost that status: shouldn't have taken those payments. I'll get into the nuts and bolts of some economical running shoe traction in a minute or two depending on your level of comprehension; the amount of your outside distractions; my ability to momentarily capture and imprison your attention.

After working all week in this raw and foul weather I developed quite a grudge against winter. A decree was uttered in Kitima's direction, "That's it! When I retire we are moving to D.C., Austin, TX, Bora Bora, Tahiti (the home of Tahitian Treat by the way) or Warmsville, California." Kitima greeted this proclamation as she does all of them without lifting her eyes (which I could hear rolling) from the computer and cheerfully saying, "Oh, okay." She must be thinking, "For crying out loud, what's he bellowing about now?"

I made up with the season this morning by running up Stid Hill. There were four inches of the white fluffy over a thin base of packed ice, leaves and stones. Snow globe precipitation was falling. Bristol Mountain's snow making machines were droning in the distance sounding like a formation of B-24 bombers.

No one had been on the trail so Scooby and I blazed up the seven switchbacks and hit the somewhat flatter trails on top. The snow pack increased and we were post holing quite a bit as we turned around and made our way back down. I fell twice; once after stepping on a baby's head-sized stone and once after a hibernating and well-hidden log took on my toe and summarily defeated it and everything else attached to it. This was the first time since my plantar fasciitis problem that I have been able to run over an hour.

Below is a look at the bottom of my screw shoes. Kitima was looking for better traction on the snow but didn't like Yaktrax or any other similar products so she crafted a pair of high-traction winter trainers using the tried-and-true method of affixing sheet metal screws to the bottom of her shoes. I followed suit and you'll see my handiwork below. I usually have 15 screws but spit one out on today's run.

We used 1/2" long hex-head sheet metal screws. You can't feel them while running and I've had no problems driving with them but I wouldn't try it if I were don't drive so well. We bought a driver/bit for our electric drill and had at it. It is incredibly easy to do. A trained monkey could build a pair in several minutes if trained monkeys ever ran trails in the winter and needed traction and were too cheap for Yaktrax.

They work well on everything except asphalt and concrete so if you are on a trail that traverses a road be careful. They sound like tap dance shoes on the road so feel free to tap your little heart out and do those wild, gyrating moves with your arms and hands. You know the kind...think Fred and Ginger. For those of you who need a hint it is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers not Fred Flintstone and Ginger from Gilligan's Island.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Ride

Medium-rare is the mountain bike ride that is fueled from the carcass of an eight-pound rib roast with a horseradish and garlic crust. Kitima spends most early December mornings like G.I. Jane grunting through a regimen of one-armed pull-ups and no-armed push-ups in an effort to be able to hoist the annual hunk of bovine flesh from fridge to counter to oven and out again. Now I know why meat has to rest.

On the Eve and on Christmas Day we went over to Dryer Rd. Park. The first day we met her friends Mary Ellen and Chris, who, like us, got up at the crack of eleven. There isn't a dawn at noon.

The trails were medium-packed and like riding on a tremendously long and twisting pair of white corduroy pants with a bizarre pattern; possibly factory seconds. I found myself trying to identify tires from the tracks left behind. This could be a trivia game for the gal and boys back at the shop.

"I'll take cross tires in the mud for $400 Alex."
"The tire shown here, know for it's prowess in the slop, is only available in tubulars."

Being Thai I wonder if Kitima is having thoughts of the Bridge Over the River Kwai as she rides across this span. Is this Western Thailand? Is it the Burmese Railroad? Is that a Brit manning the TNT plunger?

Safely across she gives the thumbs-up.

At the top of Owl's Maze I attempted a reverse-fakey-butt grab-arbor-vert-Superman. It ended tragically. The bike was fine.

Here I am about to launch into some epic air; at least ten feet but the Thai camerawoman (I won't mention any names) suffered from premature aperturation.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PA, Part Deux

We started with a day at Seven Springs Ski Resort. Kitima is chugging up the steep road that leads to the cross-country trails on top where we cruised around and hit a few rock gardens.
Here Kitima bombs down a trail named Dirt Surfer at Allegrippis which sounds like something you might pay a prostitute to help you perform.
The next day we met a gang of riders at Allegrippis. There had to be around 15 of us at the start. After a short warm-up period on the trails someone shot an imaginary starting pistol and off we went. I sat in with a group of seven or so. It was like a pace line on the roads. A fun, but unsafe, way to ride single track. The leaves had left so you could see our colorful line snaking through corners, climbs and switchbacks. It reminded me of a dragon float at Chinese New Year.
Before I knew it Kalten was down in front of me. I took the low side of the trail, narrowly missing him and a mighty oak tree (it really was just a sapling, maple probably, but by next week if you ask me it will have been a 300-feet tall redwood). A few behind me weren't as lucky. After about an hour I got dropped from the front group once the trails went uphill a bit. Kitima consoled me later with a chilly ale.

Armed with a map by senior cartographer Jim C. (at a price of one Lake Placid 46er ale) we headed over to Rothrock State Park. He didn't have to but Jim added that the map "wasn't drawn to scale." Notice the "beer taps" on the far right of the map.

On the way to the Ridge Trail I splashed around a bit.

We found the beer taps after a few wrong turns, nebulous directions by some locals and plenty of expletives by me. After that we could've used a trail side brew.

A few logs greet you as you start up the Ridge Trail.

You didn't think you'd go to Rothrock State Park in the Keystone State and get away from some stones. There were rock gardens, rock ramps, rock stars...Fred Flintstone would love to ride here.

Kitima strikes a pose.

Innocent start to the trail. One of the most fun trails I've ever been on. The logs and rock gardens are unlike anything I've been on before. I'm already scheming a trip back in the spring to ride more of the park.

Ridge Trail seems to point uphill through a series of burned-out trees from a fire a few years back. It has an apocalyptic feel to it...something out of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road (also coming to you in theatrical form at the end of November). Do you remember art class and drawing in 3-D? This trail is a line approaching, but never reaching, a vanishing point.