Thursday, March 22, 2007

Race Report: Rock Cut 20K Trail Race.

March 17, 2007
Rock Cut 20K Trail Race
Rockford, Illinois

Whenever I retire from long course triathlon racing I will become a devotee of the trail. Trail races, adventure races and rock climbing! The atmosphere at these pursuits is entirely different than a crowd of wigged out, overtrained, type-A triathletes. Don't get me wrong, I love triathletes, but long distance trail runners are an awesome group through and through!

This race was the last in a series of 4 held at Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, Illinois. The series included a 5K, 10K, 15K and 20K. In true fashion, I skipped the "easy" short races and just showed up for the 20K. Weather was great. Mid-30s and clear with almost no wind in the woods. The midwest has finally started to emerge from a longer winter than usual so the trail still had snow and ice in spots. The snow and ice were definitely preferable to the mud. Being one of the first thaws of the year, things got messy. You know when that top two inches thaws, but it is still frozen underneath? Yeah, it got messy at some points! I love it!

This race was my first real test to see how my training as a member of Team Race Athlete is going. This season I am under the expert tutelage of Coach Mike Ricci of D3 Multisport. Our team is preparing for Ironman Wisconsin in September. In general I've been doing a lot more strength and speed work than I usually do this early in the season. Coach tells me not to worry- we'll get to the base training eventually! It was interesting to me to see how this type of training would play out for a long trail race.

As trail races go, this was a pretty good-sized one. There were about 150 runners in the field. With a race of this length you really want to build into it slowly. Unfortunately, the fact that 150 runners have to funnel onto twisty singletrack in the first 200yds really precludes a nice slow start. There were mile marks on the course, but I don’t know how accurate they were. I went through the first two miles in about 6 flat pace (which is closer to my road pace than trail pace). For the first half of the race I was running in 4th or 5th place. I did a good job keeping the pace steady and keeping the race leaders within sight. The first six miles were mostly flat with some nice muddy sections.

Around halfway I was feeling very solid and started to close on the race leaders who had been trading surges for most of the race. By mile 8 I was running alone with race leader John Collett. John is an alumni of perennial NCAA division III track and XC powerhouse North Central College. John is also training for IM Wisconsin, so the triathletes were really dominating! I’ve raced John on shorter road courses a number of times, but always came up short. Trails and long distances are my specialties though, so it looked like things might be a bit different this time around.

Somewhere around mile 9 I was running right behind John on a twisty section of wooded trail. Somewhere or other we zigged when we should have zagged. The course was marked with small orange flags and we somehow missed a turn. We thought we were on course, but really were running stuff we already covered backwards!
After about ¾ mile we reined it in and decided to turn around and backtrack. After the fact it is funny to realize that we never backed off the pace that had put us in the lead. You’d think going that far off we might have thrown in the towel and jogged it in. Nope. We eventually found the turn we missed and began the tedious process of making up lost ground. The last 3 miles of the course were actually the best in trail running terms. Steep hills (one with a rope to pull yourself up), creek crossings, and mixed terrain. We managed to keep up a solid pace and make up a few spots. I pulled away from John somewhere around mile 12 (for you kids that are counting that’d be about mile 13.5 for us!).

This would be a really great story if I could report back that we made up all the time we lost and I managed to pull off a win for my first race of the season. Happy endings are so cliché don’t ya think? I finished 4th overall in 1:35. I did manage to pull of an age group win in the last ¼ mile! John still won the overall series of 4 races so he wasn’t too disappointed about the detour. Navigation comes with the territory when you’re trail racing, so I just chalk our taking the scenic route up as extra training miles at race pace!

Until this race, I was really happy with my swim and bike training. I felt my running has been lagging a bit. This race was nice reassurance that things are progressing as they should. The St. Louis marathon in April should provide even better feedback. Next up is the Hillsboro bike race.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why Wii?

I'm not a gamer. I don't even have time to blog, let alone to spend countless hours trying to beat Final Fantasy 27, or whatever they are up to now!

It's not that I don't see the appeal. There are some games out there that I am sure I could get hooked on. I can get wrapped up in anything that has a compelling quest or even a strong plot!

I was never an Atari kid. We had the poor man's version which was the TI Basic. It had some pretty good Atari rip-off games and some others that my brother and I spent way too much time trying to figure out how to "beat". Somewhere along the line, we had one of the original Nintendos, but even in junior high gaming had begun to lose its appeal. I spent almost all of my daylight hours doing something outside: fishing, riding and working on motorcyles, good ole plain working. I started competitive summer swimming in about 3rd grade. Track started in 5th grade, cross country in 7th. Even back then I was too busy for video games!

An article in the local college paper -"Wii contributes to weight loss"- got me motivated enough to write on this topic. For those of you who are incredibly out of the gaming loop (like me) the Nintendo Wii is darn spiffy. The wireless remote thingy actually controls movements in the games. You can simulate a golf or baseball swing and the remote will magically convey your motions onto the screen. I have not done this, only spectated as my younger cousins used one on Christmas.

Back to the article. Apparently a 25 year old college student came up with a Wii workout where he played 30 minutes per day without changing his diet or other exercise habits. Get all the details at The end results of this quasi-study were: resting heart rate dropped from 82 to 68 bpm, waist shrank from 34.5 to 31 and body fat went from 19% to 17.2%. Believe it or not folks, there is actually a site out there called Video Game Fitness.

Ahh here's something that triathletes can understand! Dropping 14bpm off our resting heart rates is the stuff of triathlete wet dreams. Should we all stop our intervals and long runs and play Wii instead? To look at this another way maybe it simply shows the sad state of the average Americans health. If 30 minutes worth of active video gaming can drop 3 inches from a 20-something male, what does this say about our society as a whole? Obesity in our country has reached epidemic proportions.

Kudos to the video game companies for making their games slightly more active. I suppose I should not be a pessimist and just see this as a good thing. Is there anyone else out there that just sees this whole Wii thing as a grand farce worthy of the Three Stooges? What absolutely kills me is to watch these kids "playing baseball" on the Nintendo Wii. One person "pitches" and the other "swings." This is where the farce comes in. (It is much better for my mental health if I just think of it as farce and not tragedy.) The thing that gets me is that they are so damn close to just picking up a real ash Louisville Slugger and leather covered ball. Just unplug, walk outside and go through essentially the same motions. Even better is multi-player mode where you recruit some friends to pitch and field!

I have to believe that reality will always trump virtual reality!