Finding Adventure...

Want to run more this year?

So you've made your new year's resolutions and one of them is to run more (or at all!).  But as soon as you do that, the weather turns frigid. It's just not fair, right?!?  But you made the resolution, so you begrudgingly dig out what you think is "just enough" clothing to get the job done.  You know, that fine line between freezing your patootie* off until you warm up and then hopefully not so much that you boil in your own sweat.  It's a tough one.

(* Patootie is a highly technical term, sometimes referred to as your "tuckus", "tushie", or the Englishman's "bum.")

A common method that helps with this is to wear a jacket or sweatshirt that you can remove once warm and then tie around your waist.  This is often referred to as "dressing in layers."  This has its own set of problems (from fashion nightmare all the way to the potential for it falling off and tripping you and causing death-by-faceplant).  Nope, not a good idea.

One possible scenario here is that you push through it with as little as you can stand in the clothing department and avoid becoming a patootie-popsicle.  But you get warmed up, run for a little bit, and then start to get too warm.  You fight through that for a while, maybe do the dangerous sweatshirt-turned-skirt trick, and ultimately change your running route so you can quit early.  Yeah, that's right, you went to DEFCON-SCREW-IT.  So much for that resolution since it's going to be even colder tomorrow.

But there are alternatives.  I've recently started doing what I call "dressing in segments."  Now, I'm fairly lucky in that I seem to have no problem getting the lower half of my body covered in such a way that I don't need to change it during a run.  Thin Smartwool socks are the norm for me no matter the temperature (because let's face it, I don't have to exercise in sub-20F weather in NC very often, if at all).  Anything below 48F or so and I wear CW-X running tights (light insulation), but above that and it's just running shorts.

But it's the upper half of the body that's the troublesome part.  Above 48F and I generally just wear a dri-fit shirt and headband and suffer a little until warmed up.  For 35F to 48F is where the segments begin.  At this point I usually wear a Smartwool short sleeve shirt, insulated running gloves, and Smartwool arm warmers.  On the upper end, I may still wear just a dri-fit headband, but on the lower end I switch to a dry-fit type (or Smartwool) full head cap.  I've recently considered putting a headband in my pocket to switch to if the full cap gets to be too much (which means it's soaked in sweat).  On the upper end, that's all I need.  On the lower end of this range, I wear a fleece vest on top of all that. 

With that setup, I can generally be pretty comfortable at the beginning of a run.  As I get warmed up, generally I notice my hands are starting to sweat and at that point I remove the gloves and put them in my pocket.  Depending on the temperature, at some point my arms begin to get warm.  If it's far into the run, I might choose to push up the warmers a little, but generally it happens early and I remove the arm warmers while running and put those in my pocket.  I usually find a point where I also start to unzip the fleece vest, and even move to unzipping it almost all the way.

But what about below 35F?  At this point I think it's good to have a thicker cap on the head, but carry a thin one to switch to.  I would also probably just go with a long sleeve Smartwool and a thin or thicker sweatshirt depending on just how cold it is.  And the fleece vest over that.  I'll still use the gloves, but often I still need to remove those, even pretty far below 35F.  But at this point the arms are usually fine.

So none of this is rocket science, but the big revelation for some may be the arm warmer trick.  That's something that mostly only cyclists use, but I think they're great for running, too.  And notice that everything I've mentioned should be things you can easily stuff in pockets rather than having to tie things around your waist.  I'm just not a fan of that, but if it works for you, great!

Hopefully this helps you keep that resolution and stay out there running this winter!
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I'm a Warrior!

Today my buddy, Matt, and I did the Warrior Dash in Mountain City, Georgia. This was supposed to be pretty similar to the Rugged Maniac that I did a few weeks ago...all are basically obstacle course races that are about three miles in length and feature a fairly festive atmosphere. Events can vary pretty wildly from location to location due to the nature of what they have to work with, but I have to say, this particular event has a very interesting course. I don't think it was but a little over two miles in actual length, but the obstacles made up for that!

The course started out, somewhat ironically, with an annoying pavement and gravel road run. I think that allowed me to go out even harder than I planned and may have cost me a little. The first obstacle was simply having to jump into a lake and wade around fifty yards or so. And I should mention that it was nearly neck deep for my 6-2 frame in places, so some folks really had to swim! Oh, and it's Mountain City, Georgia, in May, which means the water was still pretty darned cold, especially at 8:30am!

It's hard to explain, but I took a slightly longer path through the water which got me closer to shore and through much more shallow water for much of it, which let me pass three people. Then we hit the tire area with the cars to climb over, which was really treacherous. They had it totally covered in mud. It was coming out of here that I noticed my legs seemed sort of non-existent. It wasn't a burn, it was more of a strange "you can ask for more, or even demand more, but there simply isn't more" kind of feeling. Can't recall having that. I don't know if it was the energy spent wading through the water or if it was being in water that cold for that long or a combination of the two, but it was odd, I know that.

Then I realized I had a shoe untied! I have no idea how the heck that happened, but I double-knot my running shoes and have for a while now, and am especially diligent about my shoe laces at races like this. But hey, these things happen, I suppose.

There were some run-of-the-mill obstacles like small walls to go over alternating with walls you had to crouch under. Then we hit the BIG wall. It had huge ropes hanging from it and some rungs that stuck out on the front, so while it was probably 12' high, I went over it quickly and easily (and passed folks here, too). Then we headed up onto the "mountain" trail, which was also very wet and muddy and had a good deal of slick climbing. There was a very annoying crawling feature in darkness (a tiny headlamp would be smart on these races, I think, but it would need to be small, waterproof, and cheap for the likely event you break it) and a huge cargo net feature that was thankfully more of a balance beam feature.

After leaving the mountain trail, you headed into the finish section. This started with a HUGE slide down a hill on plastic with running water on it. I was a little annoyed because as I approached there was nobody on it and four chutes and I was directed to the FURTHEST one away, with each runner behind me getting a closer path. SAY WHAT? I should have ignored the direction (I do not believe they would have DQ'ed anyone in this race for nearly anything) and taken the first one, but I did what I was told and ended up passed by one guy and maybe another just because they literally each had to run maybe 12 fewer steps than me! Ugh.

The proctors also yelled "no head first" as you approached. Hah! This thing was so long, fast, slick, and bumpy that it didn't matter. Go how you want, you're going to end up how IT wants you. I almost spun backward, but somehow found enough control to get my feet back forward. That was good, because the "end" simply slid you into a big area of straw that workers were constantly "fixing" with new straw as it got pushed down. So it was evident I could just put my feet down and pop up into a full stride, which is what I did. Matt said he actually did a complete 360 degree spin and did basically the same thing.

You ran through the straw and then into another water feature. It was just over knee deep with floating logs and chains of barrels to cross. That went fine until the last section of barrels. As I was crossing them, I put my hand on top of them to push over. My middle finger on my left hand slipped between two of the barrels right as they smashed together. Wow, serious pain. I jerked the finger out and it gushed blood from under the nail. And it's been seeping all day. Bye-bye, fingernail.

But I soldiered on, jumping over the row of fire and through the finish in 23:54. That was good enough for third quickest so far in the two heats of the day in my age group, but I'm sure will drop some as more waves completed. My target was to be top 5% of my age group for the entire event, and I think I probably did that. But I did not feel like I had anywhere near my best day, and I'm not entirely sure right now why. I haven't looked at the data close (I have GPS and HR data), but I will and I think I just need a day or two to let it all soak in. I definitely didn't make the same mistake as the Rugged Maniac...I paid no attention to my watch during the race!

I can say I had a lot of fun, and I hope they do that event again at that site next year. Compared with Rugged Maniac, they seem to have tougher obstacles and more of them (and way tougher than the Muddy Buddy, but that's really a different kind of race). The festival is also a little more impressive, though the medal and shirt weren't quite as good. I dunno, both were well done and I recommend both, but I'm looking forward to the Warrior Dash in Charlotte a little more now.

Muddy Buddy Race Report

So today Alan and I competed in the Muddy Buddy race in Richmond, VA. The Muddy Buddy is a two man team race where you use one mountain bike and play "leapfrog" with it. Both start at the same time with one running and the other biking. The biker goes ahead and gets to the first transition point and drops the bike, does an obstacle, and starts running. The runner arrives at transition, does the obstacle, and grabs the bike and starts riding. Then you rinse and repeat a few times until the end, where you have to pair back up near the finish for a few more obstacles (including the mud pit), and through the finish line. It was a great event, but I'll start with our race planning...

My coach is wonderful about making sure I train like I'm going to race, or at least attempt to approximate it as much as we can without knowing EXACTLY how an event will go, and for that I'm very lucky. That said, sometimes you can't quite get it exactly right until you've done a particular event before, so there were unknowns. Like the fact that this is called the "muddy buddy" even though the percentage of actual mud on the course is less than 1%. If you'll recall my recent post on the Rugged Maniac, you'll know that one was mostly mud, so we expected a bit more.

After some better research, which was mostly going through picture albums from previous years on the drive up (Alan did that while I drove!), we decided that this wasn't as "muddy" a race as we thought it was going to be (especially with no rain in the forecast), so we decided to change from one of my bikes that I had prepped for this to his 29" mountain bike. It's a great bike, but it's on slightly less knobby tires than what I had prepped. Which was great for this course, but wouldn't have been as good if it had been really muddy.

So, on the way up we decided to go hit the XTERRA course Alan had raced on in the past. It's in downtown Richmond and would give us a chance to get some light work in on the day before the race, which contrary to popular belief really is the best thing to do. (I actually take the day before that off.) We did that, including some bike swapping so we both got some time on his bike with our trick new pedals. They are basically some HUGE platform BMX pedals that I borrowed from Reid with Power Grips added to them. I have big feet, and with both of us needing to wear trail running shoes, we needed something with a MUCH wider footbed than a typical bike platform pedal, and this was JUST the ticket. It's not quite as good as being clipped in completely, but definitely a world better than just riding on platforms. Still allows a good amount of "pull" when you need it, which you can't do on platforms alone. Also keeps you more stable on uneven surfaces, where platforms are easy to bounce off of. Note, too, that our bike of choice was a "hardtail", which means no rear suspension. To make matters "worse", we locked out the front shock so we had almost no front suspension. This course was pretty smooth, so we went with the setup that provided the most pedaling efficiency. We were averaging around 15MPH on our bike legs, so it was fast for a "mountain bike."

After getting our light work in, which was longer than my coach prescribed already, we headed over to the race site to see if there was anywhere we would be able to park my RV overnight. They have an awesome campground at that site, but we decided too late in the game to do this race at all to get a reservation and it was fully booked. But we hoped that wherever they were planning to park everyone who was driving in would be available to just park overnight as we didn't need any particular facilities anyway. They were unwilling to open that parking area, but the lady at the office said someone had showed up who had reserved two spaces but only needed one. She sent us to see him, and he promptly sold us his extra space with water and electric hookups! SWEET. Had we not arrived almost exactly when we did, that would have never happened. It would have been a Walmart parking lot about 4 miles away instead.

So we got in the campsite and got setup and decided to jump on our bikes and go find the course. Of course once we found it we found that we were allowed to check it out, so we started riding it. And rode all 6.9 miles of it! We took it very easy, and this turned out to be a GREAT idea. We planned where we'd leave the bike at each transition point, and got to see the obstacles enough to know they were going to be very easy, technically. We also learned there was no "mountain biking", just fast off road gravel racing and running. The only "technical" element would have been the creek crossing, except for the fact that it wasn't able to be ridden at all. The only way to KNOW that, however, was to see it the day before. Except you can't see what you need to see as the water was a bit too murky. So I took off my shoes and socks and waded in. I'm very glad I did that.

So we went back to the RV and had supper and planned things out for the race. There were five legs (with four transition points), which meant one of us had to do three runs and two bikes, the other two runs and three bikes. We decided it made the most sense for Alan to do the three runs, which turned out to be a great strategy. We also made sure we communicated as the biker passed the runner during the run leg, so the runner would know the bike would be in transition, as there was a chance the bike may be later arriving at middle transition points. This didn't end up happening, but was close on one occasion.

We got up race morning and got our nutrition in and headed over to the start. We did a good job of staying at the front of our wave with the bike, but we did learn one potential problem...they were starting the runners a full two minutes behind the bikers in each wave. We also realized there were a lot of casual competitors in all the waves, and our wave was next to last. That meant a LOT of passing would be happening, which is less than ideal, but the same for everyone in our age group, anyway.

At the start, I was lined up in the second line of bikes. I took off hard, but not quite true sprint speeds. I quickly found that trying to ride Alan's riding position and bike wasn't ideal and should have been trained for better. Next time. Well, and next time we'll probably do more of a "compromise" position instead of me fully adopting his position, especially since I was doing more of the biking than he was anyway. I noticed most of the guys ahead of me off the line seemed to be sprinting and only a few were pulling away any at all. So I kept my pace and before half the leg was over I was in the lead of our wave. I kept on it pretty hard and got into transition and over the first obstacle (a small climbing wall) and headed out on the run. It's worth noting they had water stations at every transition, but I rarely get much water out of a cup into my mouth if I'm trying to run hard, and with my total run being a one mile leg and a 1.35 mile leg, I wasn't willing to "take it easy" so I could drink. I knew we'd be under an hour in this race, so hydration just wasn't necessary (the winners last year were a mid 47 minute time in our age group).

So I started at a pretty good clip and ended up running that first leg at around a 7:50 pace. I thought I could pull a little better than that, and I may have and just can't pull it out of the data exactly. It wasn't better than a 7:30, though, which was about where I thought I'd be. I thought if I ran that hard after a really fast bike leg that I'd have to wait just a little for Alan at this transition, but he ran so fast to start that he ended up passing me back right before transition, which was basically ideal. So we both did the "frog maze" at the same time and headed out again (a "frog maze" is a small maze you have to crawl through that's got solid walls and is covered, so it's fairly dark...but it was so easy there was no getting lost).

I started to feel the legs pretty good in this stint, but dug hard and got to transition. I chucked the bike where Alan could find it and took off through an inflatable "obstacle course". That would have been easy, but there were people "stuck" in there that made it a little dangerous and definitely slowed me down by 20-30 seconds just waiting. There's just nothing else you can do if you hit the obstacle at the wrong time like that. And it's not like I could have just beaten those people by being faster...they were slower people from previous waves.

Took off on this run, but was really struggling. I think this was more of a 9:30 pace stint. Couple hills got to me a little, and my legs just felt a little heavy. I think I just need more experience feeling like this, though, to know I can power through. I also need a little more work doing short distance running for speed, too, but for other reasons I've needed to get the base miles in to get my distance capability up, so that kind of thing will come. Alan passed me a lot earlier than I would have liked here, so I knew I was holding up the team just a little. He got the bike to the final transition and I got in there and got through it and took more time finding the bike than we hoped, but got it and got through. The problem there was simply the time gap meant a lot more bikes came in after he left, so it was "buried" a little deeper than I was expecting.

At this point, we were in the final leg. What I needed to do was catch him, but didn't really need to pass him since we had to finish the last obstacles together anyway. The creek crossing went very well for him thanks to my recon work, but it didn't help me as much because again, I got there with traffic in the way. It was a narrow area we were allowed to cross, and I was behind a clump of people. You can't really just squeeze between people when you have to carry a bike, which we did thanks to the rock ledge as you went into the water. But I got through, got past the clump, and took off. From here a lot of it was uphill to the finish, and I really felt burn in strange places in my muscles thanks to the odd riding position that I wasn't used to.

I actually never did catch Alan, but it turns out he only had to wait maybe 30 seconds for me, so I didn't hurt our time too much in those final two legs. I dumped the bike and we hit the rope wall and then plowed through the mud pit and to the finish. We were fairly certain we had done very well, but decided to head back to the RV to clean up. As we talked more about who we saw where (each wave had a color coded wristband, so it was easy to know if you were passing or getting passed by people in your wave, which likely meant they were in your age group), we realized we really did probably do very well, so we hurried back over and checked the results. Turns out we won our age group by over a minute! And qualified for the Muddy Buddy World Championships in December! YES! Our time was also nearly two minutes faster than the winning time from last year. Supposedly the only changes to the course were to add two hurdles to the running legs, so it wasn't any easier than last year. So, needless to say we're really proud of our finish!

Car racing heart rate data

So, I wore my Garmin 405 GPS and heart rate data logger during a session at the race track today. What's interesting is we did a "mock" race start during this session and I don't see any extra spike thanks to it. But my heart rate is in the 140's on average for the driving portion (had to start the data pretty early before even getting in the car and getting belted up).

That's actually a little higher than I thought it would be. Given the temperatures we see inside the car, it's easy to see why race car driving should be considered a sport. I can't sustain that kind of heart rate while paddling a kayak! Anyway, check out the data. I'm curious what others think. The dip at the end in speed to zero was a pit stop to change the rear wing angle on the car and then we went back out to see what effect it had.

(And in case you care, the 158 and the 223MPH speeds are data errors. Earlier in the day we were seeing 132 or so, but that's near the max that car can do at VIR.)
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The "big one."

When NASCAR races at Talledega, they always talk about when "the big one" is going to happen. "The big one" is the inevitable large crash that takes out much of the field thanks to the tight racing caused by the restrictor plate. Well, I didn't involve anyone else, but today I had my "big one."

We were in our qualifying session for the first of the two races at the SCCA Double National at VIR. I was drafting with Glenn Stephens (of Traqmate fame and a heck of a nice guy...thanks for the data help this weekend!) trying to get a good time in when I overcooked the entry to Oak Tree just a little and ended up looping it part of the way around. Glenn and I hadn't gotten a clean lap up to that point, but were still motoring pretty good. But Glenn got away, and I checked the track for traffic and took off. Never even killed the car, and I really only did half a spin to a stop with the rear wheels off the pavement.

I made one mistake, and that was not checking my brakes. Something about that off caused my front left brake line to get cut. I went full bore up the back straight and was passed near the end of it by another Spec Miata. But I still hit fifth gear and was right on his tail going into roller coaster. He hit the brakes and I did as well, only my pedal went to the floor. I dove to the inside of him so as not to hit him (that would have been ugly for both of us!). As I was navigating his car and trying to make sure he didn't turn into me (nobody in their right mind would try a pass like that, so I knew there was a good chance he wouldn't see me or at least wouldn't be expecting me to be doing that), I kept pumping the brake pedal. I'm pretty sure I got five and likely six pumps before I left the pavement, but none did anything. As I cleared his car I tried to turn the car back to the right. As I did I knew it wasn't going to stay on the pavement, but I got it turned just enough to go sideways in the dirt, which helped scrub a LITTLE speed off. I hit a peak of 115MPH and the data showed I was only down to 100MPH when I hit the wall with the right rear corner.
It would appear my Miata will live another day, too! Thanks to the awesome engineering by Mazda it would appear this thing still has straight frame rails and everything is "merely superficial." Not so superficial that it will buff out (as Tom at OPM said, "we didn't bring that much wax!"), but not so bad, ultimately. Especially for a triple digit hit. I can't complain too much, but I can take this moment to thank all the fine folks that helped me out this weekend, inlcuding Reid Allred, Glenn Austin from Traqmate Data Systems, OPM Autosports, and Rossini Race Engines.

For whatever it's worth, it looks like I would have been 11th on the grid (and maybe higher, a few people were found illegal in impound after qualifying) on my time now, and could have probably improved to around sixth or seventh if I had some clean track and working brakes. Oh well, we live to race another day.

It's 106 miles to Chicago...

...we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.

Hit it.

The Tar Heel Sports Car Club used to have a night series about once a month at the RBC Center in Raleigh.  It was a low key series limited in participation and never thoroughly scored.  There were no trophies.  But it was a heck of a lot of fun.  This run isn't terribly great, but I submit that this is some of the most fun you can have at a max of 45MPH on a weeknight (well, and with your clothes on...I think mine were on, anyway!).