Experiment: Less is More

These are the accounts my new experiment with a sample size of n=1.

How I got here.

I’ve been running since I was 15 years old. At times, I’ve done it pretty well. My sophomore year in high school, I earned All-State in both cross country and track. After that, I attended University of Virginia and ran varsity cross country and track, earning All-ACC in the 10,000m with a PR of 30:14. That isn’t going to win any national championships, but it was good enough to get me and education at one of the best state schools in the country.

Interestingly enough, when I was in college, my parents revealed to me that when I was born the doctors told them that I would need to wear corrective shoes. They never had me wear them, relied on prayer and I never experienced any difficulty with my feet.

While I was in college I was running 2 times a day and 90+ miles a week to be successful. After school, I started training for my first triathlon in order to spread my training load over three sports and I have been hooked ever since.

As a triathlete, my run has always been my strongest discipline, but it has always been my biggest challenge to stay healthy. For years, I have had nagging calf problems to in the past few years a quirky foot ankle problem that caused my stride to be extremely awkward. I’ve worked through the challenges in different ways — strength training, massage therapy, chiropractic, various shoes, altering training, etc. — and have recently been fairly consistent, if not spectacular, with my run training.

After yet another minor setback with my calf this spring, I went to see Natalie King, PTA/CMIT, at Schrier Physical Therapy in Gaithersburg, MD, http://schrierphysicaltherapy.com/. Natalie has developed the Athletic Movement and Performance Test, AMPT, to indentify strength and range of motion limitations for triathlon-specific movements. Her assessment was the most thorough and eye-opening I have ever received. She indentified a significant range of motion limitation in my ankles and lack of activiation my my glutes. Both of these assesssments fit squarely with things I had been sensing in my stride, but no one had been able put their finger on it.

Natalie recommended custom orthotics to help address my issues. While I have tried custom orthotics in the past, I have never felt supported or benefited from them and have quickly tossed them to the back of my closet, so I was skeptical. Considering her excellent diagnosis, however, I was willing to give them a shot. We spent at least an hour forming the ortho’s and adjusting them using video analysis. I felt great leaving the office and was looking forward to running again.

I was back to running right away and was running healthy. But something was still missing…..

XTERRA Charlottesville Race Report

First post in almost a year. Changes to numerous to count in my life personally and professionally. All of them awesome! I’ve been able to maintain a modicum of fitness. At times, I feel great. Others, I definitely can tell I don’t train nearly as much as I used to. So I try to focus on the times when I am going well.

Like this past Sunday. 🙂

I don’t get back to Charlottesville very often, but it’s always fun to see what has changed and what has not since I graduated from UVa in 1992. After a short pre-ride on Saturday afternoon, we pitched camp, had dinner on the Downtown Mall, listened to the Smashing Pumpkins concert outside the gate of the pavilion at the end of the mall, watched Michael Phelps win his 8th gold medal in the Medley Relay, and then headed back to the campsite to catch some z’s.

Race morning was cool and overcast. Perfect day to race. After getting everything set, and a short warm-up run, I looked up to see my old UVa cross country teammate, Rob Cook. Rob had been an All-America and made the finals of the ’96 Olympic trials in the steeplechase. Hadn’t seen him in almost 15 years so I was psyched. It was also good to know that he would be doing the bike and run leg of relay, so at least I wouldn’t worry to much if he came blazing by me on the run. 🙂

I, along with friends Frank, Pierre, Dr. Kathy, Chad and Lauris were all in the 2nd of 3 waves of the 2 loop, 1200m swim. I got out to a good start, 3rd at the turn buoy and worked my way up to the lead in my wave by the end of the first loop. Lead the wave until the last 50m when a guy who had been sitting my my feet passed me to be first out of the water. No worries. I gave him an “atta-boy” on the run up to T1 and was off to start the bike.


Best part about getting having a good swim in XTERRA is minimizing how many people one has to pass on the narrow trails. As it turned out, even with the 2 minute deficit, I only had 3 people to pass before being in the overall lead. That was fun for about 15 minutes until a rocket-on-rails passed me at about the 30 minute mark. He had been in the first wave, so I knew I had a 2 minute cushion, but he was fast enough, I knew I was going to have to work to maintain it.

I rode all the most technical terrain great, but botched several little things that come from not knowing the course 100%. Frustrating at times, but the course at Walnut Creek is still my favorite MTB course of the XTERRAs I have done. It’s a blast! Got off the bike in 2nd place on the course, but knew that Frank would have been catching me and I couldn’t get a straight answer as to where Mr.-1st-Place was, so I knew I was just going to have to run hard.

After a summer of interrupted run training, it was great to feel strong and run fast again. No pain other than that of working hard. Every time the trail would open up, I would look to see if I could spot #1, but never could. With about a 1/2 mile to go, the course does a hairpin turn onto the park road that runs parallel to the trail. Through the trees I spotted him running the other way, checked my watch and when I hit the turnaround, it had only been 40 seconds. I knew I was inside that 2 minute cushion and was closing. I also knew that Frank would not be far behind me, so I had to push the pace all the way in.

I would end up winning by 1:07. Frank would finish 3rd overall 1:20 back of me (and only 13 seconds back of 2nd — argh!). Pierre would place 4th overall. My buddy Rob finished between Frank and Pierre, so Pierre was much pleased to find out he was a relay!

Much kudos to Dr. Kathy for winning the women’s race overall, beating even pro Alisha Lion, who had bested her by 13 minutes just a month before. Dr. Kathy is back!!

Congrats also to Lauris (2nd in AG), Chad for overcoming some swim demons, Tucker, Stacey (who beat Tucker out of the water!), and Darma and Amanda for their relay.

This was my last XTERRA of the season, so it felt great to end it on a high note. Will be doing the Day of Endurance and VentureQuest race from EX2 Adventures and the Nations Triathlon before the end of the season.

Some days you chase the bear, some days the bear eats all your garbage.

This has been the most prolific year of racing for me in years — and by prolific, I mean that I had raced SIX whole races. I have been so grateful to be able to train and race at a level that approaches what I used to do. My time away from that level of competition has made me truly appreciate how fortunate we all are to “play” triathlon. All year long, my goal race has been the XTERRA USA Championships. I had prepared very well, so I was looking forward to mixing it up.

UPS Sux!
I had made my travel plans to arrive on Saturday morning in Reno. Having never raced at altitude I wanted to give myself the best chance of success. Generally accpeted understanding of altitude racing is that you have two choices: 1) Arrive 2-3 weeks before to adapt to the atlitude. 2) Arrive within 24 hours to limit the increasingly negative effects of the lower oxygen concentration. Not having 3 weeks to just go play in Lake Tahoe, I chose the latter. Because of this, I decided to ship my bike UPS so that it would arrive before I did, avoid any possibilities of delay in transit, and be ready to go. So I, along with Jenn, Frank and Stacey, shipped my bike, “guaranteed” to arrive on Friday 9/28. For reasons unbeknownst to all, mine was the only one of the four to arrive on time. Check Frank’s blog for his, “What can Brown NOT do for you!” rant.

And, of course, there is something about traveling that turns me into a complete knucklehead – or maybe traveling just reveals it. [See my blog from XTERRA in Maui last year!] Hmm… Anyway, after a drive to Dulles, a taxi to National, checking my bags with “seconds to spare” according to the sky cap, having my carry-on inspected because I had 3 drops of water in a water bottle, realizing I had dropped my ID back at security, running back to get it, and making my flight by about 2 minutes, I had an uneventful trip to Reno.

Race Morning
With morning air temps in the 20s (and snow in the mountains) the day before the race, the question on everyone’s lips was “What are you going to wear on the bike?” After much, hand-wringing, I decided on arm warmers with my tri jersey under my wetsuit and a short sleeve cycling jersey over. While I was certainly doubting my decision as I set up my transition area on the frost-covered grass, the sun peaking through the trees felt quite warm. Might as well go big!

While I wasn’t concerned particularly about the swim, my bare feet were freezing on the 1/4 mile walk from T1 to the lake. I was hoping the water, even at 57 degrees, might feel warm compared to the pavement. No such luck. I hopped in for a little stretch out swim and it was COLD. Bring on the ice cream headache! My breathlessness subsided after a couple minutes and I was ready to go. I found a 20 foot hole in the front of mass start, right in the middle and took it. At the gun I was away GREAT! No one to my right faster than me, and only a small bunch to the left. Had a good position, but when I went to transition from start speed to tempo speed, I could not relax and feel smooth. I found some feet and did my best, but never felt great. The short beach run between laps about KILLED me as it felt like a clown was making a balloon animal out of my lungs! Diving back into the water I was just happy to be moving forward. I held my position throughout the 2nd loop. And happy to hit shore in a solid position. Only thing I would have done differently would be to NOT put the arm warmers on inside my wetsuit. They chafed my arm and made peeling the wetsuit something out of a WWE Smackdown episode.

Despite my trepidation on my apparel choice before the race, I was feeling smart about it as I started the bike. As it turned out, it would be perfect mix for me that day. Amongst a few other riders, we rolled out for first mile on pavement. The words Jenn had said to me as we said our “Good Lucks” before the swim rang in my ears, words that carried me throughout the day, “Race YOUR race!” I set my tempo and watched several people pass me on the long (~40 minutes) fire road climb up Tunnel Creek Trail. I felt confident that my pacing would pay off later. At the top, the flat Flume Trail was all big ring, fast, twisty and fun. I felt good and pushed fairly hard. As we started the next climb up the Rim Trail, I quickly realized, however, that today was not going to be Eric’s day. I was riding steady, but any little bit of extra juice would send me right over the red line. I didn’t feel like I was breathing too hard. I just had not gas. The wheels started to come off and continually asked myself, “Am I racing MY race?” I was giving all I had, so emotionally I never allowed myself to get down.

One more tough, beautiful climb — yes, there was still some snow left up there at 8,000+ fee — and we bombed down some twisty, hair-pinned, bouldered, single track. I passed a few slower descenders, and then hit the fire road of Tunnel Creek Trail to the finish. Wheeeeeee! I have never ridden fast enough on the dirt to spin out my 42-11 (that IS the big chain ring, you roadies!). Mike Frasketti would later report to have hit 37 MPH on this section. Back to T2, I wondered what I would have left for the run.

Expecting the worst, I zipped out of transition and felt GREAT! ????? “How is this possible? Who cares?!” While I was not flying, I set a good tempo and steadily starting passing people, and no one was passing me J. Remarkably, the race organizers have found an almost flat 5k run loop (think the single track at Wakefield without going up to the power lines). There were several quick ups and downs, and I could feel myself on the verge of cramping. About a half mile from the end of the first lap, the first doozy of a cramp hit. I shuffled a few steps until it loosened up, and kept going. I managed a few more, “Oh-oh-oh’s” during the 2nd loop, but kept a strong, if not remarkable, pace to the finish. Still had plenty of energy to muster a big smile and appreciate the effort of the day. Final time 3:13:44, 7th in AG, 61st OA.

While this was not the result I was looking for, I was very pleased to know I put everything I had into my day. And for an “off” day, I have no business complaining with my place. To be true, I am far from satisfied and look forward to the next time I have the chance to race in this environment.

Lessons Learnt:
1) Just go race! Getting out there 1 day before definitely added some stress to the trip and it didn’t seem to help a bit with the alititude.
2) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. While I did drink on the bike, I needed to drink as if it were 20 degrees warmer. Despite being in the 40s and 50s for most of the race, I still ended up cramping.
3) Your best race is the one where you give your best – in preparation, in commitment, in effort, and in attitude.
4) No matter the outcome, racing with great friends is always better than racing alone.

Shout out to the ODC: Frank, Stacey, Vergil, Jenn, Mike F. (and his whole family that came to support him!), and Scud. You can be my wingmen any time.

Damian, Pierre & Kathy, we all missed you out there and can’t wait to be hitting the trails with you again soon!

Many thanks to Mark Smith at Bonzai, for his support of my racing and Principle Fitness as a whole.

Click Here to see my pictures.

Why do we compete?

Ever stop to wonder why we spend so much time, energy and money on something that rarely provides any financial gain? We take time away from our friends and family. We work until exhaustion. We obsess over every detail. Why? To lose a few pounds? To be a healthier, better looking person? Sure. But we could do that in a lot less time and a lot less $$ with a few hours a week in the gym. Difference is that we compete.

So why do we compete? Because it’s fun? Seriously? Does running intervals on the track until your lungs and legs are feel like they are completely engulfed in flames sound fun to you? What about riding a skinny saddle for hours on end with nothing protecting your bum, but thing chamois? Puking on the side of the road when your nutrition doesn’t go quite right? Fun is playing marco polo with your kids on a hot summer day. Fun is going to a concert on a Thursday night without worrying about how tired you will be at swim practice the next morning. No, what we do is not “fun”.

It is a hobby. So what is that separates the athelte from the guy who spends his weekends building intricate model train sets in his basment? Or simultaneously plays 10 hands of online poker for hours on end?

This is what I think: We compete to test ourselves. To come face to face with that part of our souls that we don’t want anyone else to know about. The uncertainty, the doubt, the anxiety. Competing makes us face those demons. It is the gladiators’ arena, whereby we find out of we are strong, or brave, or worthy of praise. We hope that in forcing ourselves to face ourselves, we can make these dark places go away. That we will become better people.

And the hard part about it is that sometimes the demons win. Learning to come back from those defeats are often the hardest lessons we learn. And sometimes it takes a lot of defeats. But when we look that devil eye to eye, and he blinks, there is not sweeter victory.

XTERRA Nationals are in two days. Along with Frank, Stacey, Mike F., Jenn, Vergil and Scud, I am looking forward to testing myself against the best in our sport. Hopefully, when faced with those internal demons, I will prove myself, in this battle, to be strong, brave, worthy.

If not, there is always pottery class.

“Who would have guessed he was a figure skater?”

XTERRA Charlottesville was today. Definitely one the most funnest-est courses we race on. It has a bit of everything: rocks, roots, logs, steep climbs, steady climbs, fast descents.

Weekend started with Frank, Stacey, Vergil and I carpooling down. We previewed the entire bike course in the morning which gave us a big advantage on race day. Just before the end of the ride we ran into a couple of newbie’s just out for a ride, one of which, Dr. John Hong, had broken a chain. Frank helped him fix it. Apparently, he used to figure skate. Go figure….. See Video Seriously, it was him.

Pitched camp afterward and Frank “Did Nap”.

Race morning dawned cool and overcast. Perfect for racing. Had a solid swim and was 1st out of the water in our wave. Had a blast “playing” the bike. Rode some difficult sections and screwed up some easy ones, but felt strong and definitely faster than last year when my suspension was held together with duct tape and zip ties! After not running much since Columbia because of a nagging injury challenge, I had been able to put in a couple weeks of light runs and was hopeful I would feel strong. Ran fast and strong the whole way, which I couldn’t say for either XTERRA Richmond or XTERRA EX2 (Rocky Gap). Was psyched for that, and even more so to feel healthy! Placed 3rd Overall and 1st in AG, but more importantly went almost 7 minutes faster than last year!

Frank had a fantastic race finishing 5th Overall and 2nd in his AG. He has worked extremely hard and was happy to seem him go so well. He improved 6 minutes from last year — a time that would have won overall!

Mike Frasketi has been working so hard to qualify for Nationals in Lake Tahoe, but took a nasty fall just last weekend. Despite a painful shoulder, he placed top 20 overall! We’ll see if the points shake out, but was so proud to see him step up and rock! I’m sure it meant a lot to him also to have his wife, kids and parents there to cheer him on!

Stacey was not so happy about the long preview ride on Saturday, but she ate that course up and finished with a smile!

And then there is Vergil. Verg just started racing XTERRAs this summer. His is a long and fabulous story better told by him, but in terms of off road racing, he’s been improving by leaps and bounds. In his first full XTERRA race at Rocky Gap, he was just over three hours and hoped to beat that here. Comparing the courses, I’d estimate this one as 7-10 minutes faster than Rocky Gap. Vergil went 2:35!!! Are you kidding me? Simply awesome!

Got a chance to talk and have fun with Tucker J, Scud, Sue Smiga (who won her AG), Roger M (who crushed his AG comp by 20 minutes!), Chad, as well as some new friends! All in all, a fun weekend and one not to be missed next year if you like off-road triathlon.

If you couldn’t make it to this one, you were certainly missed!