Rock/Creek River Gorge Race Report

I don’t consider myself a runner, so against better judgement I decided to take on Chattanooga’s mountains and am probably a better man for the experience.

Trail running has a different language.  Registration, course maps, and time tables are much looser, almost like the routes themselves.  They sort of expect you to figure it out.

I had no hotel, no understanding of where packet pick up was, and absolutely no clue on where the race started.  It’s all about trusting that infinite sunshine will guide you to the right place.

And, you know, it works.

On Friday night, I followed my GPS to the packet pick up and landed at Whole Foods in North Chattanooga.  I sheepishly walked through produce, avoided the olive-bar temptation, then asked the information desk girl if she knew anything about the race.

She looked at me like I had slithered out of the Tennessee River.  “Sir, this is Whole Foods, what are you talking about?”

But I wasn’t as far off my rocker as she thought.

I had typed in Rock/Creek along with a strange address like North 2 or something like that and the GPS pin pointed to Whole Foods.  Little did I know, Rock/Creek isn’t a district or a creek called Rock Creek, it is the name of the outdoor store sponsoring the race!

Anyway, registration was two doors down and I got there just in time to hear, “Yeah, they were here but just left 10 minutes ago.”  It was from 4 – 7 and I got there at 7:10.  So much for loose and laid back trail running!

The employees were super cool and gave me some ideas for rooms, one being the Crash Pad, which I had heard a lot about.  Curiosity got the best of me, so I drove into town and plunked $30 on table for the top of a bunk bed.

Essentially, the Crash Pad is a boutique hostel built for endurance athletes, climbers, and general outdoor enthusiasts.  It was very clean, had great amenities, and oozed that Chattanooga-laid-back-hipster vibe.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have sleeping disorders like me.

I woke up at 6:30, had a bagel with peanut butter, and prayed my printed directions would get me to the race.

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While driving up up the mountain, I noticed my gas tank was on “e” which is always nice.  As I turned into the Prentice Cooper State Forest, the first thing I saw was a mobile home with seven pickup trucks in the driveway.  Then I barreled by a Big Game Hunting check-in station, followed by a shooting range and deer crossing signs . . . all of which put my mind at ease.

The bumpy gravel gave way to a smooth dirt and I flowed through the dust left by the Subaru wagon in front of me.  Empty pine trees lined the road, trying to come back to life as I glanced at the 4X4 truck in my rear view mirror.

The sun rose to my left, but it felt like I was driving north.  I had no comprehension of direction, but was on top of a mountain, and that’s always a good place to start.

It was a cold sun and I sacrificed fuel for heat, sitting in my car as long as I could before walking up the road for a 10-mile race on 3 hours sleep.  I told myself I would take it easy, as if this was possible in mountainous terrain.

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The race began on a gravel road with a short climb to get your blood pumping.  The road turned left and was downhill-ish for the next mile or so.  I feared I wasn’t ready for this run, so I started in the middle and let people pass me for a while.

Once we hit the single track, I was overwhelmed by the serenity of the setting.  I had one eye on the trail and one on the stunning scenery of the valley to my left.  The sun rose over the mountains and the river flowed peacefully below.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful place.

The course was easy to follow, even for a rookie like myself, but it was a continual challenge of climbs and descents, both of which taxed my untrained legs.  I walked a lot of the steep uphills and probably walked 2 miles in all.

There was a particularly ridiculous ascent around mile 7 that led to an aid station.  I refilled my water bottle, took a deep breath, and kept walking.  It was more like hiking at this point, and I knew my 1:45 goal was toast.  (I finished around 1:57).

The rolling single tracks continued and were paved with roots, and rocks.  At one point there were A LOT of rocks, and I thought I was crossing the infamous “Rock Garden,” but it was yet to come – and there was no mistaking it when it did.

By the time I hit the Rock Garden (around mile 8.5) my biggest concern was injury.  My legs were fried and it was literally climbing up and down loose boulders.  I’m sure some of the elite runners “ran” this section, but I tip toed with my eye out for little yellow directional flags.

For the last 3 or 4 miles I was running “with” a woman and we took turns leading each other’s pace.  At one point she fell and wrenched her ankle.  I stopped and made sure she was okay.  She was, and toughed it out.  It was a team effort of sorts, and while we didn’t speak more than a couple words, I felt that special running bond emerging.

Over the last mile, I found a boost of energy and pulled away, but decided I would wait for her at the finish line for a glorious high-five that would commence our tandem struggle through the brutal terrain.  War comrades celebrating joint victory.  I stood at the finish line looking for her baby-blue shirt, confident it would be a reunion for the ages.  A few minutes later she emerged from the tangled nature.  I stood proud, put on my best “great-job-smile” and waited for that powerful hand slap.  She ran up to the line in pain, looked in my eyes, then walked right past me and gave my high-five to some other guy.

P.S. This Gu drink is amazing and I will gladly be one of their endorsed athletes.  For some reason I wasn’t very sore the next day and I am loosely giving credit to two post-race water bottles of this New Pomegranate/Blueberry Gu Brew.

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Rock/Creek River Gorge Trail Race Awaits

Rock/Creek River Gorge Trail Race Awaits

I joined Nashville Running Company’s trail running group in January and ran with them twice.  Now I am officially unprepared and a day away from tangling with the beast.

The Rock/Creek River Gorge Trail Race in Chattanooga is “only” 10.2 miles, but the terrain is a little dicy as shown in this video.

I’m not scared, but this 10.2 miles is supposed to be as much effort as a 1/2 marathon and I haven’t run more than 8 miles since Ironman Louisville (if you want to call that running). Adding insult to insecurity is the fact that I ran “The Nasty” (6 miles) two days ago as “a test” of my running fitness, and am still  little sore.

As I sit in my coffee-shop-office a day before the race, 90% of the bones in my body are telling me not to do it.

“It will hurt.”

“You might get injured.”

“Why kill yourself when you could relax all day and wait for your Badgers to roll Arizona in the Elite 8?”

All of these excuses flood my vulnerable brain and I know that is exactly the time I shouldn’t listen.  Steven Pressfield calls it “resistance” and it can take over your life if you let it.

I like to use the triathlon “transition analogy” to battle these moments of non-commitment.  It’s hard to be in a bike-state-of-mind and “want” to go running, but 90% of that fight is just taking the steps.  Eventually you adjust and forget about the bike.

In this case, the transition will be from a warm and cozy bed to a cold and lonely mountain. Talk about blasting through your comfort zone.  And when you boil it down, I think that’s what growth and life are all about.

9 Things That Are Improving My Swim

Three years ago I could barely swim and vowed to get to respectable levels before IM Wisconsin. Last year, with Louisville a non-wetsuit race, I got even more serious.  I put a lot of time, study, and reflection into swimming and this is a list of stuff that seems to be working.

1.  It’s easy to forget how to swim.  Before my 10-day vacation, I was dialed in pretty good, but this morning it was a flopping baby.  After 1,000 or so meters, I “sorta” had it back, but why can’t it be just like riding a bike?  When I’m not on vacation I swim shorter distances more more frequently.

2.  Form isn’t everything.  While form is definitely something, once you get it “close” upper body conditioning is the key, and that too seems to fade fast.  Paddles really seem to help me relax and focus on using the strength of my lats, and I also use a pull buoy 80% of the time.

3.  Flexibility matters.  Today, there was a girl next to me with fins doing that crazy on-your-back thing up and down the pool.  She looked like she was made out of rubber and when she turned around to swim freestyle, she was unbelievably smooth . . . and fast.

4.  Work on your turnover.  For the longest time I was all caught up in my reach and glide and thinking about all kinds of BS, but if you get decent extension and turn your arms faster (with comparable catch and pull) you will pick up several seconds in your 100.  Of course, you need to build conditioning to do that.

5.  Relaxing isn’t always easy, but . . . it is crucial.  When you’re relaxed, your form and flexibility improve because you’re not thinking about it as much.  So much of relaxation is repetition, but I often repeat mantras like, “breathe, relax,” on each stroke and it puts me in a better state.

6.  Don’t hesitate.  My left arm doesn’t have the same range of motion as my left (nor is it as coordinate) so I’m constantly telling myself to “let go” with my left arm.  Just let it flow in a rotation that is perfectly timed with my right arm pull.

7.  Clear the fog.  I used to have problems with foggy goggles until I started letting them soak to adjust to the water temperature before I swim.  I just lay the pull buoy on my strap and do arm circles or whatever for 5 minutes and my goggles are gold.

8.  Pull yourself.  A lot of people refer to it as pulling yourself over a barrel or a wall instead of pushing water backwards.  When my hand enters the water, I try to find that pressure from my wrist to my elbow (the wall) and literally pull it back.  The key here is pulling with your lats, but also using the other side extension as leverage.

9.  Drink.  I never used to have a water bottle at the pool, but now it’s mandatory.  It definitely keeps my energy level a little higher and, maybe more importantly, lowers risk of dehydration/exhaustion, which I always used to battle after long swims.  I typically put a scoop of some kind of electrolyte powder with the water because it’s easier on my stomach.

I have fallen in love with swimming because it used to scare the crap out of me but it’s morphed into a fun challenge I chip away at every day.  For the record my IM Wisconsin swim was 1:20, IM Louisville was 1:06, and I fully expect the Chattanooga current to whisk me under an hour.

Random Thoughts From Wisconsin

I just spent a few days in Chicago watching the Badgers win the Big 10 Tournament, then headed north to hang out in Beloit, Wisconsin, home of . . . 7 High School Basketball State titles and FatWallet.com.  The first thing I always do is walk down the hill from my parent’s house and gaze at the pool where I learned to swim and flirt with girls.

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It’s kind of a crazy place but we never once called it a Natatorium.  It actually looked like this when I grew up, though I was definitely not swimming the day they took this picture.

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In all seriousness, it was a pretty badass pool to have 200 feet from your house.  The “swim test” was across and back at the widest part and somehow I made it, but mostly you could have found me on a Pabst Blue Ribbon beach towel off to the side.

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In other news I JUST remembered I’m signed up to do the Rock/Creek River Gorge Trail Race a week from Saturday.  That’s just over 10 days to get ready for 10.2 miles of rugged terrain that everyone says is easily the equivalent of a half marathon.

Today, I ran my dog for one mile, then decided to add a few more, but a delivery guy pulled up next to me at the end of the block (we were high school classmates) and he asked where I was going.

I said, “Running.”

He said, “You can’t run now, I’m taking this pizza to your house.”

Dad strikes again.

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So, one of my favorite football players, Chris Borland just retired after one season in the NFL because he feared the long term effects of concussion.  My dream was always to be a back up quarterback in the NFL.  No collisions, along with NFL quarterback status sounds about as good as it gets.

The whole thing reminded me that I seriously considered “retiring” from triathlon a month or so ago.  In some wild-stretch-of-the-imagination I was also a bit concerned about the long term effects of Ironman training.  Not from a safety perspective, but it can really take over your life.

I mean, it’s fun and all, but kind of a grind.   I’m sure the aforementioned River Gorge race (that I’m totally unprepared for) will lift my spirits.

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This weekend I’m heading to Madison and it will be impossible not to think about my first Ironman.  I spent a lot of my youth there, but that city will always remind me of one of my greatest days.  And maybe, just maybe, that is where I will recover my mojo.

I will gaze at Lake Monona and remember the rush of 2,700 people swirling around me as I set out to do something I wasn’t sure I could.  Every cyclist will trigger thoughts of pounding through the Wisconsin hills.  And the state capitol will forever be the symbol of success.  The end of one day . . . that took 12 months to finish.

 

 

My “A” Race

“Never judge a day by the weather.” – Zig Ziglar

I say, “Screw Zig Ziglar!”  This weather has blown up my mojo, but it does look like spring might actually be here in Nashville.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.

When you’re training for an Ironman and basically haven’t run or biked in a month, doubt tends to creep into your head.  But yesterday, I took care of both of those with a short brick around 2:00.  Eighteen miles on the bike, followed by an easy 2.5 mile jog.  I’m back!

Well, not back, back, but I do feel like I could finish an Olympic, which is something.  And, in the name of “stay in the moment,” that’s my game plan.

I’ll probably head over to Knoxville and do Challenge in May and that’s what I’ll train for.  I can’t let Chattanooga consume me right now.

We hear all of this talk about an “A” race, but that seems like putting a lot of eggs in your amateur triathlon basket.  My “A” race is the next one.

 

 

 

Crushing Iron and Snow

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted, and I suppose there have been some legitimate reasons, but I really need to get my ass in gear if I plan to race triathlon this year.  I’ve always felt like writing this blog was one of the biggest keys to consistent training and the last few weeks have proved it.

This transition away from my job of 15 years and into the world of being an entrepreneur has been a challenge.  There’s a lot of comfort having a team-focused-goal, but when you face the world alone, it can seem overwhelming.

I’ve also seemingly forgotten I am a product of Wisconsin because this “brutal” Nashville winter has taken its toll.  There is literally 3 inches of snow on the ground today and I feel a bit like Jack Nicholson in the Shining, typing away with locked doors and no human in sight.

image1A few weeks ago, I had serious thoughts about hanging up triathlon.  Nothing about it seemed fun anymore. The earth-shattering-high at the beginning of this quest seemed like a distant memory.  The infrastructure that insulated me has fallen apart.  What was a common thread of Ironman Wisconsin was now simply “I’m doing this for myself,” and that’s never easy when you’re used to letting outside forces drive you.

For me, there’s no better way to “go inside” than to be in a pool.  I’ve always felt an insatiable pull to water; maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio.  I’m not “into” astrology, but every time I read something about it, in relation to being a water sign, it makes me wonder:

Water signs are attuned to waves of emotion, and often seem to have a built-in sonar for reading a mood. This gives them a special sensitivity in relationships, knowing when to show warmth and when to hold back. At their best, they are a healing force that brings people together — at their worst, they are psychic vampires, able to manipulate and drain the life force of those closest to them.

I can definitely relate to this, and may explain how I can literally go for weeks or months holding back, trying to keep my cool and bring peace, compassion, and understanding to the world, then completely shut down.  I trust people implicitly . . . until I don’t trust them, and a lot of times that applies to myself.

But getting back to triathlon . . . I haven’t been running or biking much, but have been in the pool almost daily for the last couple weeks.  If Ironman Chattanooga happened today, I’d be ready for leg #1, but would crumble like a Little Debbie cake on the bike and run.

It’s been a deep, and sometimes exhausting, search for what’s ahead.  I needed decompression from 15 years in the news business and am starting to feel like myself again.  I know that I do love competition, so triathlon will continue, but with a different perspective.  One that isn’t so guarded or jaded.  One that doesn’t care about what other people think or say.  One that truly relishes the journey of self-improvement and genuine friends you meet along the way.