March 27, 2018

SERC 1/Florida Cup XC Race Recap

So I thought it would be fun to do an XC race the week after a 6 hour race... I wasn't sure how I would feel after the Graham Swamp 360 but I thought a whole week would be enough time for decent recovery. And if anything, considering riding at Haile's Trails outside of Gainesville (Newberry, FL) is always awesome, I couldn't pass up on an opportunity to go ride there. This course is only open a few times a year for races only, so I had to go! Fortunately, I did not totally bury myself at Graham Swamp the week before and my back ailment was feeling a lot I was ready to go lay down some laps! I had also done an XC race at Snow Hill last November the week after racing Couch Potato AND The Swank 65 in North Carolina the week prior, so I knew it was certainly possible considering I didn't do too bad at that Snow Hill race. Besides, these XC races only last about 90 minutes so if anything it is a really good interval workout.

After the Graham Swamp race last week, I took 2 days off the bike while we took the kids to LegoLand for spring break. On the 3rd day (Tuesday), I hopped on the rollers on my road bike for an hour doing a TrainerRoad recovery type ride. On Wednesday, I rode at Hanna Park on the mtn bike. I didn't ride long and just wanted to see how I felt overall. I only rode the south loop so I did a warm up lap, then a fast lap and finally a warm down lap. I only wanted to ride the distance of an XC race and I felt good enough to know I could confidently race Sunday- my legs were a little groggy but not too bad overall. I took Thursday off and Friday I did another easy TrainerRoad ride. Saturday I did an easy hour road ride with a few efforts over the Wonderwood bridge. I wanted to keep my effort and volume as low as possible to maximize recovery. What I didn't do was keep my beer consumption under control Friday and Saturday night! Friday we had out of town relatives over for the evening and then Saturday was a friend's book publishing party, so I had way too many beers 2 nights in a row...including the night before the race. Brilliant! So on race morning I woke up a bit tired with only 5 hours of sleep... but whatever, this bike stuff is all for fun so no way I'd put life on hold for a 90 minute bike race. Besides, that's my style prepared but don't take this stuff too has to be fun! Good beer (in moderation, usually) the night before EVERY race!

So the drive to Gainesville Sunday morning was a bit,eh...rough, boring, dark...but hell, I was about to go ride Haile's Trails! I got to the course and setup close to a spot where I could setup my bottles since I was rolling solo. I always set a cooler on a char in the feed zone at races so I can roll by and grab what I need. For XC races, that's only 1 bottle per lap. I got to the venue at 7:30 so that I would have plenty of time to pre-ride the course prior to the 9:30 start time. I was told at registration that the course was a bit different than the last few races so riding it was a must. Since I don't get to most XC races the day before to pre-ride, I always ride a lap before the race. This is to not only to check out the race course, but also my warm up. 

The race course was backwards from the last time that I had ridden there and the first mile was totally different and quite challenging. There were a few steep punchy climbs, drops that became off-camber, and just some totally fun stuff to ride. After the first mile was some fun, flowy single track, a drop down into a quarry, a few short/steep climbs and some killer views along some beautiful lakes that had formed in the deep quarries. The whole course was 5.5 miles and it was fun as hell!

This was the first race of the Southeast Regional Championship Series (SERC) which also has races in GA, AL, TN and NC through July. It was also the USA Cycling (USAC) Florida Cup, whatever that means. I was curious how big this race would be (overall turnout) considering it was a SERC race and also how much of the dense south FL race population it would draw. To my surprise, the turnout was really low. Not sure if this is the trend in XC racing considering all the endurance races and gravel races popping up. This would also be my only SERC race since I am not doing too much XC stuff anymore, just long races where I get the most bang for my buck. I will hand pick a few XC races throughout the year that are close enough for me to drive to the morning of the race, like in the fall Florida series. Anyhow, there were only 13 dudes that lined up for the XC-2 40-49 race, which is usually one of the biggest classes. XC-2 is CAT 2, or sport, in the XC racing world. Sport is a notch above weekend warrior (Beginner/CAT 3) but not as hardcore as the Expert/CAT 1 folks. 

Racing sport suits me just fine considering where I am in life. I raced sport for a little over a season in 2006 before upgrading to Expert, where I raced from 2007-2008 before the heart disease stuff got me. I honestly have no desire to race expert again because I see that as being too serious and I want bike racing to be fun. I was on the verge of burnout racing Expert back in the day and I do not want to go down that path again. Besides, since I have a 2nd chance at racing bikes, I do not know how long this second chance is going to last so I want it to be as fun as possible. My heart disease has no cure and my ICD only protects me from worst case problems, so I have no guarantees with this stuff.

Ok, so back to the actual bike race... I was not super aggressive at the start like I normally am for XC races. I just kinda took off with the group and settled in around mid pack to start. My goal was to get through that first mile with no issues and then settle into a good pace when we hit the flat single track. I had no clue who the fast guys were in this group and I honestly did not pay attention to when the leaders pulled away, I just rode my bike as fast as I could at threshold. What was cool about this race was the guys who came down from Jax, who normally do the road bike/race thing, and raced in my class. This certainly added to the fun element and gave me a good reason to push a little harder so the "roadies" wouldn't beat me, haha! I know those guys are all incredibly fit but I was really impressed with how fast and consistent they were out there on the mtn bikes. Great job indeed to Drew, Ralph and Travis! I hear those guys may have the mtb bug...

So I actually had a really good race. I felt great, rode great and was very consistent. I was smooth all day and never had any issues on any of the steep climbs that a lot of people had to get off their bikes to get up. My average heart rate was perfectly at the top end of threshold. I spent 75% of the race in zone 4 and the other 25% in zone 5, so I'm not sure I could have pushed too much harder. My 3rd lap was almost the exact same time as my 1st lap, so I was really stoked that I did not fade at all. I took no nutrition besides bottles, so I seemed to mix them all just right, haha. What is interesting to me, however, is how fast guys are in this class these days. The last time I raced sport, I was always in the top 5. Since I have been doing a few XC races the past 3 years, I have not touched the top 5. Yes, I train primarily for races that last 6+ hours instead of 90 minutes, but I'd think I have enough intensity with sporadic group rides and TrainerRoad workouts to be a little faster. Finishing 7 minutes behind the winner in 7th place in a 3 lap XC race is curious to me considering how good I felt and how overall fit I am. I know that I could train specifically for this stuff and do better, but it is still interesting to me what kind of fitness garners what kind of results in a different style of racing. Maybe I'll target some specific workouts after ORAMM this summer and see if I can cover some ground in a few FL XC races in the fall. Could be a good challenge but I honestly just like being competitive.     


Ok, so March marked the 3rd month in a row of knocking out a 6 hour race. I did the Battle of Snow Hill (Geneva, FL) in January, The 6 Hours of Santos (Ocala, FL) in February and the Graham Swamp 360 (Palm Coast, FL) this month. My next 4 months will be the Hammerhead 50 (Ocala, FL) in April, the 6 Hours of Haile (Newberry, FL) in May, the 6 hours of Tsali (Bryson City, NC) in June and then ORAMM (Old Fort, NC) in July. After July there are a few races I may do like the Fool's Gold (Ellijay, GA) in September or maybe one of the Chain Buster Southeastern Endurance Cup 3/6 hour races in GA & NC in September and October. I will definitely do the Couch Potato or Swank 65 again in Brevard, NC, but probably not both again. September through December is the Florida State Championship Series, so I will certainly do a few of them like Tallahassee, Fernandina, Hailes or Felasco if I can make any of them fit.

Oh, and after ALL races...its time for a cold one! I've been on a FL craft beer sampling kick lately and I've learned that not only is the selection continuing to grow, but there are still plenty of good ones to choose from in the sunshine state! 




March 21, 2018

Graham Swamp 360 Race Recap

Impossible is nothing and bittersweet is an understatement. Those were my sentiments last Saturday in a nutshell. I had a really good feeling going into the Graham Swamp 360 6 hour race that I was going to have a good day. Hell, I was due. But even though I spent the entire week prior to the race with overwhelming low back pain, I knew if I could get on my bike Saturday there was a good chance I’d have a good day. I’ve been through enough low back flare-ups over the past 10 years to know how long they usually last and what I can handle even though I wasn’t 100% positive that my back could hold up over a 6 hour mtn bike race. I was doing everything I could to manage the pain all week- Aleve, muscle relaxers, topical ointment, stretches, heating pad, ice packs, massage...I even had a SPECT/CT scan in nuclear medicine at Mayo Clinic to see if something could be found that x-rays could not. BUT, and here's a big BUT...I also remember what it felt like 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with a heart disease and told I wouldn’t be able to do these things anymore, so it’s gonna take hell or high water to keep me from completing my “missions.” Besides, adversity doesn’t own let's race!

The Graham Swamp 360 is a 6 hour endurance race hosted by Triumph Endurance Events and The Graham Swamp Trail Crew just an hour down the coast in Palm Coast. The 7 mile trail is called Graham Swamp. This was the 3rd year of the race and I was eager to finally get it on my calendar. I had just started riding Graham Swamp this past year, 3 times to be exact. After the first time riding it I knew it would be the ideal place to train for the 6 Hours of Santos last month since the trails are so similar. The course is a good mix of technical drops, punchy climbs, crazy jumps (not for me!) and plenty of flowy single track where you can relax, stretch your back and take a drink or hammer to make up time. The race was on St. Patrick's day and the weather was literally perfect.        

My plan Saturday was to start slow and roll steady. And when I say slow, I mean go slower than what feels normal so there is no chance of unnecessarily burning any matches too early like I sometimes usually do. I did a solo 6 hour/120 mile road ride a few weekends ago and felt great, so I knew exactly how to handle my effort, hydration and nutrition. So Saturday during the race, I nailed it...finally. I didn’t seem to have a lot of power during the race and that was probably from so many muscles being fatigued from a whole week of not being able to stand up straight. I didn’t actually need a ton of power at the pace I was maintaining and I kept telling myself that. But I was in good spirits, scratch that- I was in a damn good mood… and I thoroughly enjoy riding Graham Swamp, so my mental game was strong. I felt my back a little on the first lap when I was crouched low going up the climbs, but luckily it never got any worse. I was able to move around a lot on the bike and stretch it out very opportunity I had. The day was also gorgeous and the temps at race start were perfect- in the high 50’s. I also was able to hold off cramps until my final lap as the temps crept towards 80. I felt strong on my last lap and I was damn proud of that feeling because it took a lot of work to get there. I also know that I usually feel like death at the end of these long races so this was a pleasant change. 

Considering I do these races totally solo, I had no clue where I was in relation to anybody else during the race. I assumed there were several ahead of me per the norm. When I got to the finish line after finishing that 8th and final lap and 11 minutes to spare...I learned that I cracked the top 3. I was pumped! I was so excited that I finally made the podium after so many tough races since I came back to racing a few years ago. My goals typically don’t include podium finishes, but there are a few races I think I have a chance to place top 5 if things go well, and I've been close a few times. That’s just the trick many things have to go well in order to do well in long races. Your bike, fitness, hydration, nutrition, recovery, mental battles, luck...and one more for heart. That’s always the wildcard... I can never predict when I’m going to have a good heart day or a bad heart day so I just show up as best prepared as possible and hope for the best. I’m just excited as hell that I can actually be out there doing something I love and show others struggling with heart disease that adversity does not own gotta keep your chin up and keep pressing on. Determination usually wins in my world, so it can in yours too, right? Wearing Ironheart during these races embraces that mindset of overcoming all aspects of heart disease via an active lifestyle. Do I push the envelope? Absolutely. But at the same time I think I have many aspects of my heart disease figured out and I am well aware of the risks. If I trust technology, it should have me covered…

Ok, so it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged a race recap, so I have some folks to thank…

First, thanks to my wife Char for putting up with my selfish training schedule and filling so many gaps in my absence. I do my best to minimize time away by training early in the morning or in the garage on the trainer, but I am still away too much. I owe you and always will. Thanks to my kids Avery, Riley and Caleb for just being awesome kids, being good and helping out when dad is gone on his bike. Thanks to the Ironheart Foundation for your continued support and inspiration. Thanks to all my friends at Bicycles Etc for keeping my bikes in tip-top shape and for suggesting this Top Fuel that has performed like a champ in about 20 races in just over 2 years. Thanks to CORE Nutrition Planning for helping me dial in the never-ending hydration and nutrition battle. Thanks to Triumph Endurance Events and The Graham Swamp Trail Crew for putting on such an excellent race- the venue and atmosphere were incredible! Thanks to all of the racers on the course for being cool and also to the guys I chased for 6 hours...Todd and Frank...Great race fellas! And last, thanks to all my bike buds who make playing bikes so damn fun year after year.

Oh, one more....thanks to the Little Ceasars pizza I had with the kids the night before the race for not making me regret least the beer I had with it was good!



March 15, 2014

Hatfield Hell Weeks

Yea, that sums up the last 2 weeks. I'm not even sure where it started or who it started with, but all 5 of us had been hit by something that sucked. It probably started with Riley, which is usually the case since she is a daycare part-timer and constantly brings home kid germs. I'm thinking it all began with her perpetual runny nose and mild cold, which eventually hit Char. Char got the usual sore throat, mild know, just feeling like...blah. The real fear is keeping these bugs away from Caleb, which was hard to tell because he had several colicky sessions. Avery and I usually manage to fend of the daycare stuff...usually...

Anyhow, a cold seemed to hit me a week and a half ago as I fought the annoying clogged sinuses, itchy throat, feeling rundown, etc. It never seemed to hit me full force, which it usually doesn't anyhow. I'm thinking that it's a combination of my decent immune system and the fact that I eat Airborne all day during the annoying 2 weeks that this stuff seems to linger. But then things got real- Riley got a stomach bug. That started with her usual waking up in the middle of the night but this time it included vomit- like 4 rounds of vomit- 2 of which covered both of us! We got through that somewhat ok (mostly because of Char) only to have it come back a day later. I was home early from work on a Thursday (still a little under the weather) to help Char take care of the 2 cranky little ones. Riley surprised us with a big barf on the living room floor followed by an even bigger one on me while we were laying on the couch. We thought she was better. Guess not. Good times.

Then on a Friday, to complicate things even more, my usual lower right back pain escalated into lower right flank SERIOUS PAIN. I fought it through the weekend with a cold and a cranky Caleb and a recovering Riley. I don't think Char felt too great either so we had an awful weekend. Oh yea, during that time I had Avery for the week so I had to take her to her middle school city championship game on Friday night and travel soccer games on Saturday and Sunday. By the time Sunday night hit we were all exhausted. Char from carrying the load with the little ones, Avery from having 6 soccer games that week and myself from the debilitating flank pain and an annoying cold. But the cool thing was Avery's middle school team won the city championship! That was clearly the highlight of the last 2 weeks.  

Monday I got up still in serious pain but had to take Avery and our neighbor to school. I got into the doctor that morning only for them to not really know what was wrong other than it was not kidney stones. They set me up with pain killers and muscle relaxers and a return visit to the spine specialist. I'm pretty sure this pain is related to a lower back injury that I've been fighting for a few years now. Anyhow, the pills did not alleviate the pain at all- they only made me sleepy. Great. So Tuesday I got up still in pain but figured I'd go to work anyhow since I had to take the kids to school. When I went to check on Avery, she was still in bed but I noticed vomit all over her bathroom. Oh crap. Things are not good when Avery throws up because she faints beforehand. To make a long story short, Avery fainted 5 times that morning and couldn't keep anything down. She did, however, recover the next day but still stayed home from school. Her mom took her to the doctor to make sure this was nothing out of the ordinary (she was diagnosed with vasovagal syncope a few years ago) and to make sure she didn't hit her head when she fainted twice alone. Fortunately, we had her baseline concussion testing done last year for sports. She has to get retested Monday but unfortunately she cannot play soccer until then. She has 2 travel games in Gainesville today that she will now have to watch. Poor kid. That morning was absolute misery because I was in pain, semi-sedated, but totally freaked out by all of Avery's fainting episodes. Real stress.

Ok, so after 48 hours I stopped the pain meds because I was tired of being sleepy and because they were not helping the pain anyhow. I also needed to go back to work. Over the next few days the pain gradually decreased, which I was hoping and expecting that it would. But the story does not end here. Char started developing pain from breastfeeding and ended up seeing the doctor for antibiotics. And the 2 little ones were not sleeping at all. They were cranky as hell throughout the night. Paranoid that they could have ear infections since they seemed to have minor colds and had trouble sleeping, we took them to their pediatrician to double check and also give us peace of mind for the weekend. They both ended up clear- so I say money well spent on 2 co-pays to reassure us that they are not sick too. Things are finally starting to turnaround!

So here I am on a Saturday morning looking forward to a good weekend. Riley and Caleb did not sleep well last night but they are in good spirits now. Actually, all of us are on the backside of our individual misery...hopefully. The weekend weather looks great so I'm looking forward to playing outside! I know I have yard work on the slate today but hopefully I can find a little time to get on my road bike Sunday. We have a little shopping trip planned today- we need to get out of this damn house! Kentucky plays today in the SEC tournament and if they win and Florida wins that will mean a meeting in the SEC Championship tomorrow. That will be especially cool because my brother-in-law's family will be coming up to visit for the day from Gainesville and they are all Gators! Either way, Go Big Blue!    

I'm really not sure why after all this time I decided to hit my blog for this but when I recapped the past week or so in my mind- I thought I had to get it into words so that I could fully appreciate what we just endured. Not that this was anything that any other parents haven't been through, it was just that it was so much in such a short amount of time! We sure as hell earned some parenting stripes this week!

September 4, 2013

8 Hours of Labor

Ah, a race recap. It's been exactly 5 years since I toed the line at a mountain bike race. And to be exact, it was this race that was supposed to have been my last race ever. I raced the 8 Hours of Labor in 2008 on a co-ed team with my wife Char and although we finished in 2nd place, something went very wrong with my body that day. To make a long story short, I ended up at the Mayo Clinic with a diagnosis of a heart disease called HCM. You can find all of that story in the 2008 archives in this blog. Anyhow, I clearly had a score to settle with this race. I really wanted to do this race again- but this time on a solo mission and a better outcome. So it works out that 2013 is finally the year that I made it back! My goal for this race was simple- finish comfortably and finish strong. But my bigger goal was to be an ambassador for heart disease. I want people with heart disease to see that we do not have to be as limited as once thought- we can get off the couch and overcome our ailments and supposed limitations. This is why I am so proud to be a part of Ironheart Racing. They inspire. They motivate. The demonstrate the outcome of determination through athletes like me. It was important to me to make a good showing wearing the Ironheart colors and to be able to punch heart disease square in the face! 

I sorta been riding a decent amount this year, mostly on the road with a good mix of group and solo rides. I got on the mountain bike here and there but not as much as I'd like. I also ran quite a bit through the winter but it tailed off into the summer. I probably averaged about 4-6 hours a week on the bike up until August, which actually isn't that much, but my fitness was ok. Hell, it's hard to find time to ride a lot when you are married with kids, finishing up college, buying a 2nd house, working full time and then some, etc, etc... At the start of August when I decided to fully commit to this race, I swore off beer and ice cream and picked up the volume on the bike. I eased into 4 and 5 hour road rides on the weekends. My biggest weekend was 3 weeks before the race when I hit a 5+ hour 100 mile road ride on a Saturday followed by a 3 hour mountain bike ride on Sunday. Getting through those rides feeling good overall and good about my hydration and nutrition, I knew I would be ready to at least pedal my bike for 8 hours around the woods.

The week of the race while I was tapering, Riley got a nasty viral infection and did not sleep well 6 out of 7 nights. So going into the race when I should be recovered and fresh, I was tired as hell. Whatever, my mind was made up to do it. I had already spent a grip getting my bike overhauled and put off a ton of family time to ride. The payoff was coming regardless. We had a weekend trip planned for Gainesville to spend with family, so the race fit in quite well. Considering Riley's age and that Avery was staying back in Jax for a soccer tournament, this race was a pure solo mission- especially considering that the time investment that day would be more like 12 hours. I would have to support myself for the day but I wasn't worried about that part at all. It actually fit perfectly into the personal nature of my mission.

The day before the race I got to the trails at San Felasco to ride the course and register. I had not seen the Bergers in a few years, so it was very nice to catch up with them. I had gotten to know them well when I raced heavily from 2004-2008. For those who do not know the Bergers, they are the southeast mountain bike race promoters that own Gone Riding, which is first class all around and hosts countless races year round. Anyhow, as I got out on the course, I was pleased with the flow of the trail- nothing too difficult and not too many steep climbs. The course was a little over 7 miles and would take around 45 minutes at my "race pace," which was perfect because I had set up my nutrition plan in 45 minute increments. Also, my bike was working great, which is always a huge relief. I was also able to set up my tent along the start of the race course, which would make for easy transitions to change out bottles and grab food.

Race day- got up early, ate my usual bagel with nutella, a banana and half of a Monster. I got to the park at a decent time, setup, got kitted up, and ran into my Velobrew road race buddy Drew Miller. I never thought about or even asked who was going to be at this race because I was so focused on my mission. Anyhow, it would work out great that Drew was there. I really had no idea how Drew rides in the woods- all that I knew is that he is always fit and fast as hell on the road bike. It would turn out well that we would ride much of the day together. Having him there squashed a big part of the mental aspect of the race during the race.

The race starts as a mass start on foot with a 100 yard run to your bikes. I had no intention of running fast because I had a long day ahead of me, and also running sucks. The start of the race was a jam up once we got on our bikes but would clear up a few miles into the trails. Drew and I rode together and chatted for a while, keeping a comfortable pace. We would keep this up for a few laps and the more tired we got, the less we talked. I was very aware of my pace, heart rate, hydration and what I was eating. After the 5th lap I got a little cramp in one of my hamstrings while I was changing bottles. I was annoyed but was able to stretch it out and keep going. As the day went on, my stops between laps lasted a little longer but I was intent to not be stressed. In hindsight, this lackadaisical approach probably cost me a lap. Anyhow, mid way through the 6th lap, I noticed that Drew slowed quite a bit but I pressed on fearing that the cramps would set in if I didn't keep a consistent pedaling cadence. I waited for him after the lap and he said that his knee was giving him problems and was calling it a day. I thanked him for the ride up to that point and took off aiming to knock out at least 2 more laps.    

The 7th lap was tough. Cramps attacked my groin, hamstrings and quads. I fought through them even though they hurt like hell sometimes. I've learned just to pedal through them because they will eventually go away. As I finished the lap, I began thinking about ending the pain and suffering and just chilling under my tent and drinking a Coke. But the more I thought about it the more I thought about how far I've come to even be here. Wait- did I ever mention how hot it was?!? It was in the 90's all day! Florida heat, baby! Anyhow, as I finished the lap and rolled towards my tent to grab a new bottle, I noticed people at my tent. Yes! A morale booster! I dropped my bike and greeted my family- Char, Riley, Al, Courtney and Blake. I chilled there for a minute, gathered my bearings, drank a Coke, held Riley, gave her some Coke, told them about my day so far and riding with Drew. Al took a blood sample to test my lactate levels, which were fine. Man, I felt great! I took off for an 8th lap (my goal) feeling good and somewhat renewed. I began to reflect that lap how I felt 5 years ago not knowing what was going wrong and how I felt now after I had once been told that I would be limited to brisk walks and golf for the rest of my life. I was riding my bike in the woods, loving it, and feeling a huge sense of accomplishment. I tackled my demons. And just like that the cramps came back and I instantly didn't care about any of that stuff- I just wanted to be done. I then started thinking about the time and if  I would have time for one more lap or even if I could finish another lap. I wasn't sure about the cutoff time and sort of hoped that I missed it and would have to stop anyhow, making my decision easy. When I got the the finish line, I asked the guy there when the race ends. He said I had around 50 minutes to get back and if I didn't the lap wouldn't count. I thought about it for a second and thought, "hey man, I did it- I accomplished my mission. I feel good right now." So I called it a day. I didn't need to push myself into a potential dangerous situation like I did in 2008. I was coming out on top this time.

Its funny that I still have not stopped thinking about doing that 9th lap. That's the competitor in me- going a little harder, a little further, a little longer. Hell, I did what I set out to do. I finished in 7th place among amateur men and 15th overall. Not bad for somebody with my schedule, lifestyle, and supposed bad heart. But still, I honestly wanted to do better. I will next year though, watch.