Recap: 2014 Season Debut &....Now Off 2 Vegas!

HERE ....WE......GO! This entry is a bit rushed (so pardon the grammar/spelling) as I'm in between packing and leaving for Las Vegas. As you know from my previous entry, I'm once again attempting the XTERRA double of last year. Essentially two challenging XTERRA trail races in less than a week. One being atop Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs (thankfully already completed) and the other at a much more manageable elevation yet still at a moisture sucking dessert.  So yes, XTERRA: Lake Las Vegas West Championships is up in a few days, but before we look too far ahead, we must recap what just occurred. 

Last Sunday my lovely and supportive wife: Molly Mandje and I rose early and made the 100+ mile journey down to Colorado Springs. Being the first race of the season, I had the typical pre-race butterflies fluttering around. I was both excited and anxious about my debut. I didn't doubt my fitness, but of course as I've mentioned before, training and racing are two COMPLETELY different art forms. 

Upon arrival at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Molly and I were greeted by good friends Ben Anderson and his two boys. They'd be racing the 5K, which meant we could all enjoy the day and course together. Our other friend Christy made the 20 minute drive to come and support me as well as keep Molly company during the race. It was a fun and relaxed atmosphere which help put me a bit more at ease. 

After a small warm up, I changed into my PUMA FAAS 100 TR racing shoes and made my way towards the start line. I had warmed up over what I assumed would be the 1st mile of the course. Unfortunately, due to weather reason, the first 1-2 miles of the course had been slightly altered, which I didn't know till the gun went off. 

-Race Time-

Time to SUFFER! 

Time to SUFFER! 

With a crack of the gun, we were sent off into (at least for me) quite literally the unknown. Seeing the race course funneling a lot sooner than I expected, I made a hard -perhaps TOO hard- push to the lead. After a few hundred meters, I found myself in the lead but closely followed by a group of guys. I do 99.99% of my training solo (although my Colorado HS mate Liam Meirow would put it at more like 96.86%) so it's always an alarming feeling to have people around you in a race. I maintained my composure and decided to focus on the surprisingly technical terrain in front of me. The first 1-2 miles were full of rocks/boulders, small streams, snow and sloppy mud. All of this while climbing at 5-6% grade and at an elevation just below 7K feet! Needless to say it was a quick and rude awakening return to racing. 

Early days in the race

Early days in the race

My lungs were handling it alright, but my legs and specifically quads were feeling down right miserable. I could immediately feel the weight sessions and hard workouts I had done that week. I kept telling myself to calm down and that this was expected. I knew that eventually the course would have to level out, as I was pretty sure the finish line wasn't located on the moon! The course also had a great deal of switchbacks in the early miles. This was both good and bad. Good, in the sense that someone could be 5 - 10 seconds behind you and you could be out of sight. Bad in the sense that... someone could be 5 - 10 seconds behind you and you wouldn't be aware. Naturally the more I tired the more I feared that I had gone out too fast and might be caught. I kept assuring myself that if I was tired, that others behind me surely would be too. 

A much welcomed flat/downhill portion

A much welcomed flat/downhill portion

The further we climbed (over 600ft inside of 2 miles or aprox 5.8% grade) the more labored my breathing got. With it went my ability to correctly hear the noise behind me, so I was somewhat running blind or rather deaf. I was certain that I had a comfortable lead and was about to allow myself a bit of a reprieve from the suffering when all of a sudden around one of the switchbacks I spotted a runner! A RUNNER...in a race -that I was TRYING to win- the nerve of him! The sight of him gave me a much needed shot of adrenaline (and fear) and jolted me into a different gear. Not wanting to be caught, I managed to lift legs, which now felt more like Lincoln Logs a bit quicker and higher as I crested what I hoped to be the last -for now- of the hills. 

Finally after 3+ miles, the course decided to flatten out a bit and I was able to start striding out and work on building a comfortable lead. This was also around the point where I recognized the course from last year and I was more or less able to predict what would be ahead. Thankfully, for the rest of the race I was able to keep a commanding lead and didn't come under threat. Nevertheless, I wanted to run quicker than I had last year and pushed on. 41 minutes and 44 seconds later, I crossed the finish line in first place! The time was heaps quicker than last year, but unfortunately I couldn't quite compare the two races as the first 2+ miles had been slightly different and thus making any comparison null and void. Either way, the point of the day had been accomplished. I had received a hard rust buster at elevation and practiced racing, tactics, dealing with the type of uncertainty you can't duplicate in practice and had come out unscathed. 

Ending the pain!

Ending the pain!

At the finish I was greeted by my wife and our friends. Ben's kids, 8 year old Ezekiel and 14 year old Abreham were quick to congratulate me and tell me about their own 5K. Abreham was a bit upset that he'd gone off course a bit while Ezekiel was shocked at how muddy and rocky the course was. The three of us headed out for a cool down and talked more about our experiences. It has truly been great having the Anderson's in our lives as they're not only a great family, but fantastic role models. 

Ezekiel, Abreham & I 

Ezekiel, Abreham & I 

Basically how I felt at the end of Sunday

Basically how I felt at the end of Sunday

After the awards ceremony, Molly and I said our goodbyes to our friends and hit the road back towards Boulder. While I was feeling a bit sleepy, tired and sore, I knew my day was far from over. This was but a small part of the bigger picture. Once home, I plumped down on the couch, slapped on my RecoFiT Compression Sleeves and worked on hydrating via some PowerBar Recovery drinks for a few hours. Later that afternoon I headed out for another workout, this would be a shorter one and on the much gentler and forgiving road surface. Given how my body felt, the workout went surprisingly well. After that I returned home, and hopped on the bike for a quick spin to Rally for a light weight session and swim. 

Finally, 16+ hours after I had started my day, I could finally relax. I was done with the day's race and training and could begin to look at the week ahead. Up next is Las Vegas, which brings us to now. I've had a good week thus far, but have been dealing with soreness and fatigue -which was to be expected. Monday was an easy easy day + a swim/bike. Tuesday was the last hard workout of the week and it went about as well as I would expect it to go given that I had raced just two days prior. Wednesday (yesterday) - Friday will just be easy running and recovery. 

I'm looking forward to the race this weekend and will admit I'm once again anxious/eager. My goals for this weekend are (1) WIN and (2) IF the course is exactly the same as last year, then run significantly faster than I did in 2013. So we'll see how that goes, I'm not afraid to put my training and goals out there. The gauntlet has been thrown down and now it's time for my legs to do the TALKING, so HERE... WE... GO!

I call it #Trailbolt but yeah...need to come up w/ something MORE original...

I call it #Trailbolt but yeah...need to come up w/ something MORE original...


Spring Into Racing, Volume: 2

Alright STOP, collaborate and listen, MANDJE's back w/ a brand new edition! Yuuuuup, THAT just happened, a "Vanilla Ice" reference. Anyways, you're not here for an early's 1990s hip hop lessons. It has been about 4 months(!) since my last entry and I'm on the verge of kicking off another racing season. It's technically spring, but that doesn't mean too much in Colorado, where in a 24 hour span it's not uncommon to have temps dip from mid 60s to...SNOW (as has recently been the case). So, like Spring's sluggish awakening, I too must commence the long road/trail back to the start and finish lines that I've neglected over the past few months. Much like last year's entry: "Spring Into Racing", I'll recap the past few months, bring you up to speed and talk about what's coming up next.

My last entry closed off w/ me on the beach in Hawaii. Once I returned to Boulder, I faced a bit of a dilemma. My physical body was still good to go and eager to carry on training and exploring new frontiers, while on the other hand, my mind was absolutely drained! Weeks and months of a singular drive and focus, workout after workout and finally having the day come and go had left me a bit burnt. I decided to take the remainder of the year (basically ALL of December) to just "run". Why do I put it in quotes? Well, by "run", I simply decided to go off the clock for the rest of the year and run as often, far (or short) and as slow (or fast) as I pleased. Basically I wanted to still enjoy running, I wasn't ready for a full stop and I wanted to avoid losing too much fitness. 

I gradually tapered off as the month progressed. One week I might run 5 times and the following week maybe only 4 days or so. These runs allowed my mind to wonder stress free and somewhat recharged the batteries. My runs ranged from 30 to 120 minutes, basically whatever I felt like doing. During this time I also re-entered the weight room and pool. I have always enjoyed swimming and decided to start incorporating swimming (+ biking/spinning) and a radically new weight routine into my 2014 campaign. I consulted with my good mate and knowledgeable Rally Sport trainer: Scott Novickis about my running goals for 2014 and how he could help me achieve them by trying a different approach in the weight room. Basically I wanted to be stronger than ever but without adding any physical mass. The goal was to remain around my 145-148lbs frame but be way more powerful. 

Split Leg Squat

Split Leg Squat

December came and went, I'd managed to keep most of my fitness and I was now ready to take an official break. I purposely picked the last few days of December and the first few days of January as my time off. Overall, I took 7 days off and felt more than ready, eager and recharged. Unfortunately January turned out to be a lackluster month, as I battled a bit of a virus and some niggles. I managed to make it though January and February, but that month wasn't that much better either. Things finally started clicking by the mid-end of February. I knew that if I could get a solid month of training in March, I'd be ready to race by April. Throughout all the mid-winter viruses and niggles, I managed to train virtually everyday while keeping up with the swimming/cycling and weight work. This also meant some ridiculously LONG days at Rally. There were many days that between two runs (on the treadmill due to weather), weight work and either a swim or bike, I'd spent 4-6 hours there!

        Yup, "Spring" is here. 

        Yup, "Spring" is here. 

Alas, March came and with it, my most consistent month of training. Apart from the cross training/weight work, I started experimenting with different workout structures and also faced one of my nemesis, famed Magnolia Road from the book, "Running with the Buffaloes". I've always had a love/hate relationship with that long strip of hilly dirt road that relentlessly climbs to nearly 9,000 feet. In the past I've either smashed it or it has smashed and humbled me. So this winter, after being called out several times by long time friend and sometimes training mate: Spencer Casey, I decided to start making the 20 min trip up there. I'm happy to say that so far so good, I've had a several easy runs up there to test the waters as well as a couple really solid workouts. 

So now you're up to speed, it's SPRING and April's here! I'm a few days away from my 2014 debut and I've decided to follow the same formula from last year. This coming Sunday, I'll race the XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain 12K and six days later head back to Lake Las Vegas for the XTERRA West Championships. As I mentioned, I did both last year and I'm quite eager to do both again. Times generally don't matter in trail running, which I like, as it's more about the head to head competition. What does excite me about these first two races though, is the fact that -weather permitting- I'll get a fairly accurate gauge and comparison to the Roberto Mandje of 2013. So in essence, I'll be racing not just the clock, the competition and the course, but also the 2013 version of myself. 

Also just like last year, I have decided to train somewhat through this weekend's race. In doing so, I have already completed two grueling days filled with running workouts + lifting and cross training from Monday - Thursday. My legs and body are a bit worn from it but also stronger for the efforts. I'm mentally prepared for the rebirth and shock to the system that I'll receive in Cheyenne this weekend. I'm hoping Cheyenne can kickstart what I trust to be an even better year of racing than 2013 was. I'm excited about Lake Las Vegas, but I must get through this weekend's test/race first. 

Time to let the legs do the talking...

Time to let the legs do the talking...

Cheers for reading and checking in. Now that my season is opening up, you can expect more blogs, race recaps and hopefully workout videos (both running and in the gym). I hope to give both the casual readers and super fans an even more intimate look into my year of training, traveling, racing and everything in between. I'm excited and I hope you are too! This winter I teamed up with outstanding local photographer: Dane Cronin to brainstorm as well as work on some projects that we hope to feature later this season. Aside from some studio and trail shoots we did, we also experimented with a video that can be found in the media section of my site or simply click HERE. Anyways, that's just a hint of some of the projects in the works as well as a few of the -away from the training- activities that have kept me busy this winter. Stay tuned...

Lastly, but certainly not least, I'd like to thank my new footwear and apparel sponsor: PUMA for stepping in this past winter and giving me a chance to join their team. As always, I'm thankful to ALL of my sponsors and I look forward to representing them with continued success both on and off the field in 2014! 

Hasta la proxima....

Hawaii Five-O: "XTERRA Trail World Championships"

ALOHA and Happy Holidays! I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. By now I trust most readers know the result of the recently concluded XTERRA Trail World Championships. In this entry I'll give my race recap as well as sharing the typical behind the scene tidbits. Alright then, ready? Great, grab your surfboard, board shorts and let's paddle out into this tale.

Got Surf?

Got Surf?

This year I decided to make the trip to the "Aloha State", a much shorter one than last year. I traveled alone, leaving my super supportive wife, Molly Mandje, back in Colorado. With a pending honeymoon to plan, she's got to be frugal with her vacation time. Unlike last year, I stayed far away from the touristy hustle and bustle that is Waikiki. Instead, my good friend and eventual XTERRA Trail World Champ Women's winner, Polina Babkina, set me up with a place to stay in Haleiwa. There I had the pleasure of staying with a friend of hers, Shannon White and her family. They've got a beautiful home about a quarter mile from the world famous Sunset Beach. 

Sunset @ Sunset Beach, 1/4 mile from my host family's home.

Sunset @ Sunset Beach, 1/4 mile from my host family's home.

Arriving to my host family's home, I was immediately greeted by Scott and his awesome wife Kathi. They quickly made me feel at home and within 10 minutes of arriving  I was already down at the beach with Kathi walking her two dogs. We quickly got to know each other. Within an hour of my arrival, you would've thought Kathi and I had known each other for years. Scott and Kathi have three amazing kids. There's Shannon, a mermaid-like surfer and runner (who's equally graceful riding a wave as she is navigating a technical trail) and her two brothers. Brent, the oldest, is an avid surfer and a talented graphic designer. Murray, the youngest, is a hulking high school senior and state record holder in the bench press. 

The next day I woke up early for a run at nearby Pupukea State Park Reserve with Shannon. It turned out to be a bit longer of a run (100 minutes) than I had planned, but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring (aka getting lost) some new trails. The run allowed Shannon and I a chance to get to know each other better. We spoke of our love of the ocean, surfing and of course running

Pupukea State Park Reserve

Pupukea State Park Reserve

The run served as a good chance for me to shake the travel out of my legs. I felt good and super light - gotta love sea level - on the various hill climbs. I also welcomed the heat and humidity (90%), despite feeling like I was "swimming" through most of my run, as I would tell Shannon time after time. 

The "Bunker" @ Pupukea State Park Reserve

The "Bunker" @ Pupukea State Park Reserve

The day before the race  I drove about an hour into Waikiki. Once I arrived at the XTERRA Expo, I quickly made my way to registration. There I was greeted by the familiar and always smiling faces of XTERRA President Janet Clark and Series Manager Emily McIlvaine. I always seek these two ladies out when I get to an XTERRA event. They and the entire XTERRA staff have been immensely helpful and welcoming to me over the past year.

XTERRA Village/Expo @ Waikiki

XTERRA Village/Expo @ Waikiki

Once I collected my race packet, I had the pleasure of catching up with the super  XTERRA couple James and Nozomi Wade. I first met them back in May at the XTERRA Southeast Champs in Alabama. It's always a pleasure to chat with them at the races and expos as their enthusiasm and love of the sport is nothing short of contagious. After that, I headed to greet good mate and defending Co-Champion: Joe Gray. Over the past year we've kept in close contact, speaking several times a week, thus forming a great friendship. We greeted each other, posed for a few pictures, spoke about the pending race, wished each other luck and that was it. I jumped back in the car and headed back to the North Shore. 

Joe Gray & I @ XTERRA Expo

Joe Gray & I @ XTERRA Expo

-RACE DAY-

Sunday, November 24th. The day had finally arrived. A year of different XTERRA events across the country, thousands of miles in training, an endless summer of weddings and a historic Colorado Flood had delivered me here. Shannon and I made the 30 minute drive to the race's breathtaking venue: Kualoa Ranch. It has served as the location for shows and movies like "Lost" and "Jurassic Park" amongst many others and today it would serve as XTerra battle ground. 

The story lines were drawn long before we set foot on Oahu. The top contenders included defending "Co-Champion" Joe Gray, who'd be looking for a decisive win and NOT a tie. XTERRA Favorite Max King, who had never lost an XTERRA World Championship he entered. He'd be looking to retake the crown after missing last year's race due to the birth of his daughter. Then you had the (on paper) red hot favorite and rookie Patrick Smyth. Despite his rookie tag, Patrick came in as the reigning XTERRA National Champ held two months prior, where he had defeated both Gray and King.

That left myself and several others to see if we could spoil the party. I felt confident in my training and secure that I had prepared as best as realistically possible in the weeks leading up to the competition. I wasn't nervous, instead I was simply curious and eager to find out how my body would respond. After a short warm up and some strides, I headed to the start line. There, I was greeted by Gray. We exchanged a few pleasantries before crouching down to wait for the cannon blast. Delving into our own pre-race world, we fixed our eyes forward waiting to unleash hell.

Gentlemen, start your engines! 

Gentlemen, start your engines! 

BOOM! The cannon echoed through the valley and with that, we were off to test ourselves! I say "ourselves" because even though we're ultimately measured and judged by our finishing position relative to our fellow competitors, the true battle -in my opinion - particularly in trail races is between you and the course.

I kept that in mind for weeks and months during my training. Knowing full well that I couldn't focus on any one person, racing can be far too unpredictable for that. On any given day anything is possible. Instead, I poured my energy both in training and during the race into my own efforts. I was up against a great field, but I was also up against myself both in the "here and now" and the 2012 version of me. 

It's YOU vs YOU, "Be Your Own Hero"

It's YOU vs YOU, "Be Your Own Hero"

I had worked hard on the mental aspect of racing this year. Staying positive during bad patches, calling upon the training I had done to get to this point and remembering that no matter how tough a particular hill or mountain is, there's always an end to it, if you just keep going. It was a good thing I had honed my mental skill, because it didn't take long for the aforementioned top 3 lads to separate themselves from the rest of us.

Although I had anticipated a quick start, it seemed these guys were out to race a 5K. Within the span of half a mile they were completely gone! It was a tough pill to swallow and frankly a bit too early for my liking. I decided not to chase them as I had intended on finishing the race and figured if I let hubris lead me up to them, well I'd most likely be looking for an ambulance ride back to the finish. 

The 3 Amigos early on

The 3 Amigos early on

Looking around I felt there were far too many people ahead of me and around me. That's one problem with training (and alone at that), you go from being completely solo or with very few people to suddenly there's a herd of guys, each as eager and driven as you are. I quickly told myself to be patient, that the course and pace would sort them out. It takes a great deal of confidence coupled with a bit of a gambler's streak to let people go early on. Looking around, I reached the first mile somewhere between 7th and 9th place. It definitely wasn't where I wanted to be, but there was only a certain level of recklessness that I was willing to indulge in.

I knew that there was a beast of a climb around mile 9 that would last for about 2 kilometers. Between miles 3 and 7, the racing Gods decided to gift me with a savage cramp in my lower right back. It came on like a sniper's bullet and I immediately felt its effect. Suddenly my momentum was halted. At that point I was in 7th place, but still had 8th and 9th right on my heels. I did my best not to look back, but I could tell they were quickly gaining ground. In a matter of minutes my thoughts went from "Oh yeah, here we go... I'm gonna roll up to those guys in front", to "OMFG, am I going to be able to finish!?".  Leandro Santillan, who I had done a bit of battle with last year -and ultimately beat- was first to strike and I knew he'd be looking for revenge.

View of the finish from way up in the mountain.

View of the finish from way up in the mountain.

All I wanted to do more than anything, was insert my right thumb in my lower back and massage some much needed relief into it. Instead I gritted my teeth and attempted to deliver oxygen to the area. I didn't want to let Santillan or the other bloke behind him know that I was physically hurting in anyway. I figured the fact that my pace had drastically slowed served as enough of a sign. Like sharks to blood, they crept closer and closer. With my confidence waning and frustration rising, I decided that I'd trained too hard to simply drop out. Santillan eventually went around me near the 6 mile mark. Within 30 seconds he'd put a 20 - 30 meter gap on with the course's hillier sections still ahead. 

Race Mantra: "Trust In Your Training"

Race Mantra: "Trust In Your Training"

I knew from last year that I had more speed than him on the flatter sections and thus told myself to keep him within striking distance. I was now sitting in 7th place but even that wasn't 100% secured as 8th place was also gaining ground on me. "TRUST IN YOUR TRAINING, TRUST IN YOUR TRAINING...", I repeated over and over to myself. I needed to use as much mental strength during this painful stretch as I could muster. I wasn't physically drained (yet) and thus this portion became a battle of the mind over the body.

 

FINALLY, some relief! We finally got to a point where I felt that Santillan wasn't getting away from me and instead the gap was now shrinking. On top of that, the pain had finally subsided to a manageable state, allowing me to start making progress. At this point we were over half way done with the race and I knew the BIG climb still awaited us. Those that had respected it would hopefully reap some reward, while those who hadn't would hopefully be humbled. 

Around mile 8 or so, I overtook Santilla and made a hard push to create some distance. I wanted to put him away and give him absolutely zero hope of catching me again. It was a bit of a gamble because (1) I wasn't sure I was 100% out of the woods as far as my lower back went and (2) we were starting to climb, so it wasn't a given that - despite my preparation - I'd be able to sustain such a hard push. "Oh well!"  I said to myself, "You're all in now, so let's go!" I stopped worrying about what might be happening behind me and started dreaming of catching the runners ahead of me. I wasn't sure what was going on with the top three and wondered if one of them would blow up and come tumbling back through the field. Shortly before the 9th mile, I spotted a slowing Chris Gomez from Flagstaff, Arizona. He had gone out quite hard early on and was now clearly feeling the hills. I decided to go after and catch him before the big climb to come.

The hurt locker: lost in the vast abysses of space and time...

The hurt locker: lost in the vast abysses of space and time...

Eventually I came to the base of the final climb around mile 9 and passed Gomez. I figured since Gomez came from an even higher elevation than I did, that he'd maybe have something left in the tank. Not wanting to leave it to chance, I pushed and willed myself up the 2 kilometer long climb. I quickly created a gap and felt better about it. I stole quick glances back around each switchback to chart my progress. There's no doubt that I was hurting and wondered if he could tell. At the same time I knew that I had to push hard now and not save anything for the flatter sections that would eventually deliver us to the long awaited finish line. I kept repeating, "You ran up Mount Sanitas, you ran up Mount Sanitas...". 

The climb lasted longer than I thought it should. It seemed like a cruel and unrelenting joke. Once again I used more mantras and self talk. I kept thinking, "If you're hurting, they're hurting, keep pushing, you don't know who else might be in front of you...". Alas, I reached the top of the climb. I had created a big gap that, as a result, meant I wouldn't have to worry about the guys behind anymore. I now focused on throwing my legs that had turned into giant pieces of lifeless wood down the mountain. The terrain became technical and narrow. I was careening down a virtual rainforest slip and slide. More than once I slipped and caught myself at the last minute. I knew I couldn't step off the gas as there were still guys somewhere ahead of me.  

I took a hard tumble at the bottom of one such switchback and bounced back up so fast, that I had to double check if I still had my bib number and wedding ring on. Adrenaline didn't allow me to dwell on the pain. Instead I drove and drove my oxygen deprived and high humidity stricken body toward the finish line. Finally I got within sight of the finish line. Half a mile out I knew there wouldn't be anyone else to catch. I was running out of real estate and there wasn't anyone else in sight. Still, I didn't allow myself to back off the pace. I finished just as hard as I would've had I been trying to out kick someone.

I must have driven myself a bit too hard in the closing stages, because I don't remember crossing the finish line, only hearing XTERRA extraordinaire announcer Kalei Waiwaiole addressing the crowd and myself while inquiring whether I needed medical attention or not. I picked myself up as best as I could. I was greeted and aided at the finish line by Boulder based friend: Pam Simich. Brian Metzler, her husband and my long time friend was out there racing as well and the family had made a holiday out of the trip. 

I soon found out that I had finished in 5th place while running around 2.5 mins faster than in 2012. I was pleased with the effort as I couldn't had done any better on the day. I tip my hat... I mean headband to the four lads ahead of me, particularly the top 3 who ran under the previous course record! Well-done fellas!

James, Nozomi and I post race

James, Nozomi and I post race

Staggering to the medical tent, I bumped into race winner Patrick Smyth. We congratulated each other and talked about our experiences, falls and the general beauty of the venue. Being a competitor I couldn't help feel a little disappointed at not being more competitive with the top 3 guys. I couldn't help wondering "what if my back hadn't tightened up..." That's racing for ya, often times a cruel but beautiful and unpredictable mistress. I quickly reminded myself that I had done the very best I could have done on that particular day and under those conditions. I had improved both my time and place from the previous year and that - on that day - was good enough. 

Fast Friends (left to right) Shannon White, Brian Metzler, Max King, Joe Gray and Patrick Smyth

Fast Friends (left to right) Shannon White, Brian Metzler, Max King, Joe Gray and Patrick Smyth

The atmosphere around the awards ceremony was a bit more laid back and jovial than before the race (not surprising). There I got to catch up with several of the other competitors on both the men's and women's side. This is usually where the true camaraderie of the trail community shows itself. Both elite and age group athletes alike converge, congratulate and share their race experience with one another. It's here where over this past year, I've been privileged to make some long lasting friendships and connections. 

XTERRA Trail World Champs. Men's Podium

XTERRA Trail World Champs. Men's Podium

Eventually they called the men's podium (top 5) and we headed up one by one. We once again greeted, congratulated each other and posed for photos. We were called up again for a larger group shot with the women's top 5 finishers. Afterward, I made my way around to a few of the different members of the XTERRA family to thank them for once again hosting such a top class event and allowing me to be a part of it. As usual, the last person I sought to bid farewell to was Janet Clark.

Janet Clark and I

Janet Clark and I

With that, I headed to the car for the short drive back to the North Shore. With the race venue in my rearview mirror and the pacific ocean to my right, I begun to turn my thoughts towards 2014 where I'll be even hungrier and more motivated than before. For that I thank my opponents, both those ahead of me and those giving chase behind me. They all help elevate my performance more than they'll ever know. Before I could let my mind wander any further, I remembered that I had a bit over 24 hours left in Hawaii. I desperately wanted to make sure I spent as much of it in the ocean. The race was over, the beach beckoned, and this time I would allow myself to answer its call...

"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean." - Arthur C. Clarke

"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean." - Arthur C. Clarke

Kilometer Reps @ North Boulder Park

ALOHAAAAA! This will be my last entry before this weekend's XTERRA Trail World Champs. That being the case, I have posted (below) one of my last hard workouts. This was done on November 12th. The location is North Boulder Park, which the way I run it, is spot on 1 kilometer around. 

As I mentioned in the video, I had done this workout about a week or so prior, only then, I had done 8 or so repeats. The rest was about 90 seconds and I'm/was pleased with the effort. Once again I had my good mate Spencer Casey keeping me company on the bike and filming.

After the Kilometer repeats, I jogged 2 miles via the Boulder Creek Path towards the short but steep hill by University of Colorado's Football stadium aka Folsom Hill. As I mention in the video, the point of those hills is to work on strength/speed/form. I started doing these hills years ago while being coached by Brad Hudson and have continue to work them into my training. The body squats are a new twist that I have incorporated into them.  

So enjoy the video below (it's a tad long, but I wanted to take YOU, the viewer through more or less an entire workout) and I'll have a few more words below afterwards.

So there you have it. I went from zero races and entries in 2 months to three different entries (one video blog + two workouts) in less than 2 weeks! Hope this has been able to shed some light into what I've been up to since this past fall. I'm writing this final entry from Sunset Beach in beautiful Hawaii, eagerly anticipating Sunday's race. I'm not 100% sure of the field outside of Defending co-champion: Joe Gray, Mr. Mountain/Trail runner: Max King and New Kid on the Block: Patrick Smyth. Those 3 (on paper) seem to be the class of the field, so we'll see what develops. It'll be interesting, that's for sure and God willing, I'll have a bigger say in this year's race than I did last time! :) A more in depth handicap of the race can be found HERE

The beach gives a feeling, and EARTHY feeling...

The beach gives a feeling, and EARTHY feeling...

Until next time,  gracias for watching, reading and most importantly, your support. Cya at the finish line. Mahalo...

Hill Workout @ Centennial Trailhead

Hola! As previously mentioned, I've had a couple of recent workouts filmed. I'd like to thank my good buddy Spencer Casey for not only filming my recent workouts, but also keeping me company on many runs. He's been at my side on and off for much of my XTERRA build up which has helped immensely. 

Now to the workout. This was a session that I did this past Saturday (November 9th) and it was the third time doing it since I started back on October 1st. I had originally planned to use nearby Mount Sanitas and do my typical "2 mins hills" there, but I wasn't able to access it due to the recent floods. Instead I opted to run 2~ minutes at this location, but quickly found out that the section I was running was spot on a quarter of a mile (400 meters). Despite the 8-9% grade, it took me less than 2 mins to run, so I have just gone with 400 meter repeats vs 2 mins instead. 

As I mentioned, I started doing this workout at the beginning of October. Since then I've worked out October 1st - 5 x 400 meters, October 15th - 8 x 400 meters, November 6th - 10 x 400 meters and most recently November 9th (the workout below). The goal was always to stay relaxed while gaining strength/endurance and confidence on the hill. I'm happy to say that each time I did it, I had a faster average than the time before. 

The workout on this day -as the video alludes to- was #1 of 2 for that particular Saturday. Due to scheduling conflicts, we weren't able to film the 2nd one. The plan (which was executed) was to run the hills in the morning, get the legs a little tired (but NOT trash them) and then in the afternoon, run an undulating/hilly (but on the roads) tempo. The tempo served as a stimuli and simulation of running at a faster pace on tired legs. 

We've got another video that was filmed earlier this week. That one will most likely be posted this upcoming Tuesday or Wednesday, as I depart for Hawaii for the XTERRA World Champs. 

So enough yakkidi yakking from moi. Enjoy the video and if anyone has further questions or needs something explained, please don't hesitate to contact me.   

Colorful Colorado!

Colorful Colorado!

Back 2 The Future!

Weeeeeeell it has certainly been a while since my last entry! Before I go on, I'll explain the tittle (cuz my wife didn't think it was clever...). In this entry I wanted to briefly cover what I have been up to and then focus on the future. The immediate future being the XTERRA Trail World Championships in less than two weeks. 

For this entry, I decided to switch things up a bit and do a video. My lovely wife Molly Mandje shot it from her beautiful office overlooking Chautauqua Park and The Flatirons. In the video I briefly bring YOU the viewer up to speed. In short, I haven't raced since my previous entry which was both by design and an act of nature. 

I managed -for the first time this year(?) - to remain in Boulder for consecutive months. In doing so I focused on regaining my health and rebuilding my fitness. During this time however, many Boulderites as well as residents along the Front Range were affected by the devastating floods that swept through in September. 

Warning, the vid was shot in one take (early in the morning and I might have still been half asleep!and it's therefor far from refined! I put a few bullet points below the video to further elaborate on a few things mentioned and/or anything I might have missed. 

  • In the video I mentioned getting involved in some Boulder Flood relief & the helping of friends. Here's an article written by RecoFiT President: Susan Eastman Walton, who's home was affected by the September floods. She wrote of her ordeal for "303 Triathlon" titled, "Flood Heroes." 
  • I was my intention to participate @ the XTERRA Trail National Championships at the end of September. Unfortunately, my training was hampered a bit by the aforementioned Colorado Floods. Many of the trails that I would normally frequent were washed away and/or closed. Many are still closed or drastically altered and it'll be a long time before things are completely back to normal. My wife and I were fortunate in not being personally affected by the floods. Our community however was not. So for about a week or longer, my training took a back seat as I attempted to help different friends and/or neighbors. It was nice to see neighbors and strangers alike come together and help wherever and however was possible. I did my part but there's still much to do. Exactly two weeks ago, CBS Denver ran this story: "Colorado Floods, How To Help".
  • In September, my good friend and excellent Trail & Mountain runner from France: Martin Gaffuri came to Boulder. We enjoyed several (albeit limited due to flooding) trail runs together while he prepared for the main purpose of his visit: The Ultra Running Race Of Champions aka UROC. I had the pleasure of being his "crew" for the entire 100K race. Here's his well written piece on his experience and excellent placing. "MIND OVER BODY, Story of My First 100K Trail Race
  • Last but certainly not LEAST, about a month ago I was contacted by a family based in Denver. They're an amazing family and I can't do them justice in just a few words. In short, Ben Anderson and his wife Teresa have adopted 4 kids over the years from Ethiopia. Their most recent adoption, 13 year old Abreham, has shown a remarkable love for running. Ben got a hold of me through a mutual friend and asked/gave me the honor of mentoring young Abreham. Since our first meeting about a month ago, I have met with Abreham a few times and have gone running with him. I truly look forward to taking him under my wing and being a good mentor/role model for him in the years to come. Also, I might as well enjoy running with him while I'm STILL faster than him. He is talented, driven and super competitive! Thanks again to Ben and Teresa for allowing me to be a part of their lovely and eclectic family!
Abreham Anderson  meeting for the first time (October 12th) @ his brother's (Ezekiel) Soccer game. 

Abreham Anderson  meeting for the first time (October 12th) @ his brother's (Ezekiel) Soccer game. 

 As always, THANKS for reading and watching. Tune in later this week for a workout we recently filmed!

Into The Wild: "Continental Divide Trail Run"

What do you get when you do two races in 10 days with a total elevation of over 24,000 feet...while battling a sinus infection? A very very tired and humbled Roberto! If you read my previous entry, then you know what (un)great fortunes I've been having. Coming off a humbling race at 14K+ feet, I had a short turn around before heading up to Steamboat Springs. 

Routt National Forest - Race Site

Routt National Forest - Race Site

I soloed the 3 hour drive from Boulder to Steamboat Springs around midday on Friday. It was a rare chance (this year) to head to a race without my lovely and supportive wife. It also meant that I could blast the radio and sing at the top of my lungs as if "The Voice" was holding auditions in the back of my car. Several eardrum shattering songs later, and I was in Steamboat Springs. I headed straight to the race's HQ in order pick up my race packet. There I met race director Luke Crespin, his wife and the race's volunteers. I was pleasantly surprised to be recognized and receive so many well wishes ahead of the arduous race.

I didn't know much about the race, only that it would take place at Routt National Forest, the 1st 5-6 miles would be ALL uphill and that the majority of the race would take place above 10,000 feet. So yeah, I knew I was in for a helluva battle, I just didn't know how rough I would have it. What lay ahead would become the toughest racing experience I've ever had.  

-Pre Race- 

In Steamboat, I stayed with my newly married friend: Amy and her husband. Not only are they locals, but they had done the race at least once before and did a great job of informing me about the race. Sometimes you want to know a lot and other times it's best to know very little. I'm not quite sure (even in hindsight) which option I should've taken. Either way, Amy and Gregg were awesome host and gave me a great idea of what to expect. 

Race Kit

Race Kit

The "Continental Divide Trail Race", would serve as the longest race of my life. It had been billed as a 15 miler -as was the case in previous years- but this year it would be 16-16.50 miles long. "Great", I thought, just what a difficult race needs, an extra 1-1.50 miles! The addition, I learned, was pure logistics and made sense when explained. It would allow for an easier aid station along the course. The race would have two aid stations, with the first being at the top of Long Lake (about 5 or so miles into the race) with the second being about 3(?) miles from the finish. I can't really remember as despite the length of time I spent on the course, some parts were a complete blur. 

I consulted with Amy and she suggested I carry some sort of fueling belt, where I could store electrolyte and energy drinks/snacks. I had never done this before, not even on some of my longer training runs, so I knew I was in for a first (boy was I right in more ways than one!).  

-Race Day- 

As is the norm, I woke up, grabbed a shower, suited up and ate 1 - 2 PowerBar Harvest Energy Bars.  I felt both great and anxious. I was excited to see what this course and elevation would do to me, I was also eager to see if I was finally at 100% health after a tumultuous couple of weeks. 

IMG_5990.JPG

I sneaked out of Gregg & Amy's home at 6:30AM and made the 5 minute drive to the shuttles that would take us from the bottom of a ski mountain, to the race's start line. The shuttles left at 7AM and took all of 10 minutes to deliver us to a more remote area that would serve as our start line.

The race would start at 8AM and I used the near 45-50 minutes to stay warm and relax. I was feeling good but not great and I knew I would want to conserve energy for the challenge ahead. A few of the other competitors recognized me from race results and another race I had done in Steamboat last year. They were friendly and inquisitive as to my form and expectations. I did my best to answer questions, but the reality was that I was truly entering uncharted territory for me. 

-Race Time; The Continental Divide awaits!- 

8AM came and saw a phalanx of trail/ultra/mountain runners and myself dash into the narrow trail ahead. The race would take us 5+ miles uphill to Long Lake. Despite the race's distance/terrain, the runners went out like world class sprinters and I found myself in about 7th place. 

Pre-Race @ Start line, all smiles (for now).

Pre-Race @ Start line, all smiles (for now).

The first 150 - 250 meters were all downhill and somewhat wide (see pic above) before cruelly turning into an uphill single-track trail. It was before this point that I made a push to get near the front. I managed to get myself into 3rd position behind the two nordic skiers that would finish 1st and 2nd. 

I felt the pace -albeit early into the race- wasn't sustainable, but couldn't really slow down either as behind me were 150 or so other experienced and aggressive trail runners. I maintained my positioning for about half a mile before disaster struck! Unlike other races in my career, this disaster/wall/melt-down happened in a flash! Within seconds I went from feeling alright to feeling like I'd gotten smashed by a donkey in my lower right back. Tightness consumed me and my breathing became labored. I tried not to panic and maintain some sort of control over my body's vitals. I took stock of my lower back, my quad muscles, my calves and breathing. All seemed to be deteriorating at an alarming rate.

A sign of what's to come

A sign of what's to come

Shocked at my body's betrayal, I tried to stay positive. Unlike last week's race, where I ONLY had 1 mile to endure, here I had 16+ and this all going sideways all within the first mile. One by one runners begun to pass me and I couldn't even fake a fight. My lower back got tighter and tighter and I felt weaker than an anemic newborn. I made the horrifying mistake of looking down at my watch. I somehow hoped that maybe 1 or 2 miles had gone by, at least something that would give me a bit of hope. Unfortunately I was 1 KILOMETER into the race, I repeat.... 1 KILOMETER, that's 2.5 laps around a track, that's barely over half a mile in. Basically I had Evel Knieveled into a formidable wall and it didn't look like I'd ever recover, nope, not with 15+ miles left. 

Me during the race

Me during the race

This was by far the earliest I had ever known that I was done. I thought about dropping out, but then realized two things. (1) I'd have to run against a sea of runners going the other direction & (2) There wouldn't be anyone at the start line, as the race was point to point, so I'd be stranded in the middle of no where. With those two sobering facts hitting me in the face, I decided to carry on. I decided that I would battle my way to the 1st aid station and call it a day there.  

Up and up we went, by the time I hit the first mile (took 10 minutes 30 seconds) I was both physically and mentally done. I had gone from 3rd to ummm I don't know, maybe 20th? Now, I'm not trying to sound sexist with my next sentence, so please don't take it that way. I had never ever remotely come close to being, "Chicked"  (example #1) and I suddenly found myself with 3-4 women in front of me, and they weren't barely in front, rather they were passing me by as if I were a street sign. One by one they and others went by me. I quickly learned that when you're in that type of agony/hell/discomfort, you stop caring about who or what passes you. I also secretly hoped for a rogue Mountain Lion or Bear to jump out of the woods and put an end to my misery. No such luck...

For the next 2-3 miles, I had many different thoughts went through my mind, that I sometimes lost focus and found myself tripping over my feet and the steep boulders on the course. Eventually around mile 3 or 4, my body started to collaborate some. Suddenly I found new life and started "sprinting" (if you can call it that at 10K feet) for all I was worth. In a span of minutes, I had gone from feeling injured and hunted to a primal savage chasing down prey. 

The chase was on and made it a point to see how many people I could catch by the first aid station. Little by little I started to feel less alone and started seeing dots up ahead. Each time I came around a decent clearing or open plain, I would see one or two runners ahead. This gave me both a psychological and physiological boost. As I've mentioned in other entries, I read my opponent's body language (we all do while racing) and make assumptions based on what we see. Knowing I was finally moving fast, I knew that any runner I saw in front of me was moving slower and it was only a matter of time before catching them. 

Dramatization....

Dramatization....

Further and further I moved up the beautiful but hellish terrain. I had by now passed several runners, but still had zero idea as to what place I was in. I knew I had a few targets to catch before the aid station. They consisted of a man who had passed me earlier, and was sporting a knee brace (yes, a man with one good leg had blown my doors off earlier) and of course driven by pride and ego (not afraid to admit it) the 3 women that had left me in their wake a few miles before.  

Each false flat we hit was a welcome sign for me. I could use my superior speed and make up grown. Unfortunately I wasn't out of the woods yet (figuratively and literally) and each time we hit another uphill, I died yet again. This back and forth would carry the rest of the race. Each time I had to gamble on how much to push in order to catch an opponent before succumbing to the next hill ahead. Not knowing the course at all, this was a dangerous game of Russian Roulette. 

Eventually I reached the first aid station. At this point I had three weapons left. (1) Momentum - I had to believe that I was moving faster than just about anyone else on the course and if I could just endure a bit longer I'd crawl my way back to the leaders (2) Pride - At the risk of coming across like an elitist, I felt I was being bested by runners whom shouldn't be ahead of me (again, I apologize for my bluntness) & finally (3) RAGE - I was royally pissed off at the misfortune that had befallen me the past few weeks. Between ill-health and little niggles, I'd had enough of it and just wanted to release my rage/frustration. 

So with that said, I soldiered on. I decided I wouldn't be dropping out and I would see this through. Pride be damn, yeah it was thoroughly bruised and I still had no idea what place I was in, but I knew that more than anything I couldn't live with regret. The regret I would have if I didn't see this through and find out just what the other side of this journey would look like. I pushed and pushed and skipped the aid station, at this point I had two women in front of me and the knee braced guy as well. Fortunately the aid station provided a sort of out and back loop, where you could see the people in front of you. I calculated that I was 1 minute behind the 1st women and in about 12th or 14th place.  

-GAME ON !-

The remainder of the race was tough but not as tough as the first 5 - 6 miles. By this I mean that there were no longer any mile long climbs. Any climb now would be a few minutes at worse. The only issue being that this was all taking place at well over 10K feet elevation, so even a false flat or slight incline at that elevation will punch you in the throat. I opened up my mini fanny-pack looking fuel belt and took a big gulp of the PowerBar Energy Blend I was carrying and figured/hoped it would be enough to get me to the finish line. 

Fall Down 9, GET UP 10!

Fall Down 9, GET UP 10!

The more I pushed the better (mentally, definitely not physically) I felt. Eventually I overcame the three targets I had and pushed on. I was now in full flight and only lamented at the fact that I didn't feel this powerful early on. I had gone from contemplating dropping out, to dreaming of winning the race again. I still had very little idea of what place I was in, but pushed on harder and harder hoping to catch everyone and anyone ahead of me.  

Eventually I passed the second aid station as two other runners were reaching it. While they stopped to take some water and refuel, I pushed on. I knew I couldn't afford to halt my momentum and surprisingly enough, I didn't feel thirsty at all. I know knew/guessed/hoped that there were 2-3 miles left. We had emerged from the forest that encompassed the vast majority of the race and were on a very wide dirt road. Without warning we hit some VERY steep switchbacks. I remembered what Amy and Gregg had told me about this section. They'd said it would remain this way all the way to the finish before a slight (400 meter long?) climb to the finish.  

I pushed and pushed down these switchbacks, which were very similar to the ones I had encountered last month at XTERRA Beaver Creek and that gave me confidence. It also gave me a ton of pain. I completely bombed down the dirt roads and could feel my quads and lower back taking the brunt of it. I continued to pass runners left and right. Each time I passed one, I managed to push even more. My goal was to demoralize them and not give them any chance at coming back to me. I also wondered to myself, "Just how far behind was I? How could there still be people in front of me!?" Regardless I pushed on and on. I would later joke with Luke at the finish line that they should've measured our heights before and after the race. I jammed myself up so much while racing the downhill section, that I felt that I had given away 1/2 a foot of height. 

Finish Line Area

Finish Line Area

Finally I reached the end of the downhill section after clocking several sub 4 minute mile (pace) for many sections. There was a volunteer at the bottom of the final climb to the finish and I asked her what place I was in. I had hoped she'd say 3rd, but when she said "FITH...I think fith place", I nearly crumbled. I was thoroughly disappointed by the news, but before I could feel too sorry for myself I quickly picked myself back up. I realized that I had rebounded from my worst start ever, I had not given up when that's all I wanted to do and I had pushed beyond a pain threshold than I thought possible. 

I crossed the line in 5th place and happily limped over to congratulate the four men in front of me. We were all sore and thoroughly satisfied to have finished the race. For me, it was the longest race of my life and I don't just mean literally. I had learned a lot and experienced more pain than ever before. My hips were immediately sore and I couldn't sit right away, as my left leg was cramping. My lower back was a total mess and I felt as if I were going to pass out as I had been dizzy for the past few miles.  

-Post Race & the future... - 

Me for several days after...

Me for several days after...

Despite all that, I limped around, cheered on the other finishers, thanked Luke and his wife for the wonderful race and stuck around for the awards ceremony. I wanted to be there and show respect to the podium finishers as others have done for me all season long. I also wanted to get a mental image of it as I would be using it as motivation for my return to the race. I hope to race it again next year or in the near future as it was a challenging course but one I think I could fair a lot better at.  

With the post race festivities done and dusted, I rode down back to the base of the mountain to get my car and head home. The 6 days since the race have found me in a world of soreness/pain. My quads were sore for a couple of days, my calves are STILL sore and have made regular training very difficult. My lower back has surprisingly come around quickly. I saw Toby Marchand for some cupping and acupuncture and that worked a charm.

Toby putting me back together

Toby putting me back together

I've spent a lot of time running soft surfaces and swimming. I will now be busy with traveling for weddings and family engagements which will surely hamper training a bit. I don't plan on racing for at least a month, when I will (hopefully) lace up for the XTERRA National Championship I need to first get my health 100% (I believe I'm almost there) and my fitness up. I'm definitely done with racing while not feeling tip top, and thus will make a decision on Nationals at the very last minute. 

As always, thanks for reading and following my journey! I appreciate the support from all my friends, fans, sponsors and most importantly, FAMILY. Also, I hope I didn't offend anyone with this entry. I always respect all competition, be it young, old, woman or man. I just wanted to write as candidly as I could and express my thoughts during the heat of battle. Muchas gracias! 

Till next time... 

Till next time... 

Such Great Heights: "Pikes Peak High-Altitude Mile"

HOLA! This entry finds me one week removed from a taxing & UNIQUE race. It also finds me at the tail end of a savage cold! I've only been able to run two or three times in the past 8 days....well that is, IF you don't count last Tuesday's HISTORIC run.  Last week I had the privilege of taking part in the first ever "Pikes Peak High-Altitude Mile". It was decision that while I don't regret, further knocked me on my already debilitated arse. 

Train tracks @ Pikes Peak 

Train tracks @ Pikes Peak 

The special race took place at the staggering elevation of 14,115 feet atop the famous Pikes Peak Mountain. The field consisted of track, road, trail and mountain runners. Call it my love for racing or more honestly a morbid curiosity, but I knew that sick or not I would kick myself if I let this chance slip away. 

Shuttling to the top of Pikes Peak

Shuttling to the top of Pikes Peak

So with my mind made up and an unrelenting cold to deal with, I decided to prepare for the race the only way I could....by resting and not running for a few days. It was far from ideal, but I felt too weak to train and knew I'd be doing more harm than good. Also I knew with only a few days to go, there'd be little -if anything- I could do to prepare my body for the strenuous task of racing hard at over 2.5 miles above sea level. 

-Race Morning- 

I woke up at 5:45AM on Tuesday as I had to be at a park in Manitou Springs in order to catch the race organized shuttles. The other competitors, their friends/family and myself would board special vans and be driven from 7,000 feet up to the top of Pikes Peak. Having never met any of the other competitors before, it was nice to see such an eclectic group of athletes. Some were visibly nervous while others seemed giddy and much like myself, genuinely excited and quite eager. 

Hi-hooo hi-hooo up the switchbacks we go....

Hi-hooo hi-hooo up the switchbacks we go....

Mile after mile we wound up the hair pin turns, climbing higher and higher. As the air got thinner, the views became more and more spectacular. Our driver (quite a character he was!) had done this drive many times before and was all too eager to point out different vantage points and feed us tid bits about the road, the course and everything in between. 

A few of the runners in my van had been up to the top before and were quick to share their experiences. I hadn't been there before and kept waiting for my head or body to feel the elevation. I gained confidence during the ride up, because I didn't feel any different than I had at 7,000 feet. Two of the guys in our van admitted to feeling a bit dizzy and not enjoying the ride up.  

Overall it was a very enjoyable trip to the top. The other athletes were friendly and their excitement and enthusiasm was definitely contagious. I did my very best to push from my mind, any thoughts about my weakened state. I kept thinking/praying/hoping that the 1 mile distance -regardless of the elevation- would be too short to cause much if any damage. Boy was I wrong...

Finally @ the top (a DIFFERENT way 2 get here)

Finally @ the top (a DIFFERENT way 2 get here)

-Pre-Race Time- 

Once we got to the top, we were greeted by both wintery conditions and a medical team.  They along with a scientist/doctor that rode up with us would record our resting heart rate, oxygen saturation level and even had us fill out some questionnaires (mood, predicted finish time, etc). 

Medical Staff...safety 1st! 

Medical Staff...safety 1st! 

Once we made it through our battery of test, got final race instructions and received our bib numbers, we were free to go "warm up" for the mile ahead. I put "warm up" in quotes, because it was damn cold there, so that was the best way to warm up and also because unlike most races, my fellow athletes and I were visibly (and physiologically) affected by the elevation. This meant that we would all be doing a truncated version of our typical warm up routines.  

Feeling weak, but not wanting to reveal JUST how weak, I decided to go out and jog the course. The course consisted of one 268~ meter loop that we would run 6 times. The loop was a combination of hard packed mud and soft/loose/wet mud. It also had a deceptive rise on one half of it and a gradual drop on the other. I decided to try a few hard strides about 10 mins before the start of the race. On the surface I probably looked the part, but inside I had just driven myself into a hole. They didn't feel great, they felt sluggish and on to top it off, I felt surprisingly winded. Still, I decided not to panic and just enjoy the experience. 

Race Venue

Race Venue

-Oxygen Debt tim...I mean RACE TIME- 

A small but spirited and hard core crowd had gathered. Amongst them, were a random spattering of curious tourist who wanted to see what all the commotion was about. Myself and 14 other competitors lined up, got our introductions and crouched down for the starter's gun. Just after 9AM the gun went off and with a deep an anxious breath, we were off! 

Finish Line + Podium

Finish Line + Podium

We immediately scrambled for the pole position (meaning the shortest rout around the circuit) and bumped into each other. It seemed we all had the same idea in mind, start slow and position yourself well. With 15 skinny and nervous competitors comes 30 skinny and razor sharp elbows. We bumped and jostled for about half of the 1st lap before settling in a bit. 

Early into the race

Early into the race

The 1st lap went by in an oxygen deprived blur. I could feel the effort, but it wasn't quite unbearable. We approached the first 400 meters in around 75 seconds (5 minute mile pace) and we were all in a tight pack. I immediately got a great rush of positivity as the pace hadn't felt THAT bad and in fact rather slow. I even contemplated taking the lead and pushing the pace a bit. No sooner had these thoughts gone through my head, than my body/health begun to betray me. "Oohhhh (explicative deleted)", I thought! "Nooo, not now, too soon, c'mon Mandje, c'mooooon!". 

Alas it was not to be. I quickly lost contact with the lead pack and started breakdancing my way further and further backwards. I hit 800 meters in around 2:36. Being a runner and a mathlete, I calculated that I was on 5:12 pace, I knew however that I was still far from done with my electric slide backwards. Just like that I went from contender to spectator.  

Knowing my race was over as soon as it had started was a tough pill to swallow. I'm a competitor first and foremost and I hate losing. I remained positive and decided to finish the race instead of taking the easy way out... a DNF (Did Not Finish). I wasn't injured (unless you count pride) and could easily -albeit painfully- get to the finish. I owed it to the race volunteers, my sponsors, my fellow competitors and myself to see this through.  

Loneliness of the (in) Oxygen Debt Runner

Loneliness of the (in) Oxygen Debt Runner

There's more to running than coming in first or last (both of which I've done plenty of times during my career). There is the experience of competition and feeling your body's effort as you thrust, push, pull and will it across finish line after finish line. Often time this is lost on myself and most people as we get so single track minded and only focus on winning or placing in our age group.  

As I watched the other competitors effortlessly float away from me, I couldn't help but smile a bit (on the inside) and appreciate their mastery of the course and experience at this extreme elevation. Sure I had wanted to win, but now I was offered a rare glimpse into how the other side lives. It's easy to post race recaps and make the social media rounds when you race well. It's however a more human, real or visceral experience when you're humbled in a race and have to pick yourself back up.  

My suffering came to an end approximately 5 minutes and 45 seconds after the gun had sent us on our historic mile long journey. I finished 15th ...out of 15 competitors, aka DFL (I'll leave you to figure out what that means). In a year where I've only finished 1st or 2nd in every race I've competed in, this was a sobering result that showed just how quickly things can go awry when you're not healthy. Still, I had no regrets in doing the race. I learned a lot and surprisingly still had fun.  

Post-race w/ some of the lads

Post-race w/ some of the lads

 I think it would've been a completely different experience had I been 100% healthy, and perhaps that small but important fact, is what kept me from really beating myself up. I congratulated my fellow competitors and we headed in for another battery of medical check ups. I'm sure some interesting data was collected from all of us, which I'd love to see one of these days.  

Afterwards, we watched the much smaller (4 total) women's field race and cheered them on, having a great understanding of the 1 mile journey they were about to embark on. The awards ceremony, photo opportunities and interviews followed afterwards. With the post-race activities complete, we once again boarded our respective vans and begun our free fall to the more humane 7,000+ feet elevation of Manitou Springs below. 

Atop Pikes Peak - Post Race

Atop Pikes Peak - Post Race

The race didn't do my immune system any favors and the week since has/had found me battling a sinus infection and cold. Rest didn't come easy, but I had to give in and get myself back to 100%. I'm still not there (almost though), but I have started training again (just easy aerobic runs). The next race is this upcoming weekend in Steamboat Springs. I'll be racing a 25K called: The Continental Divide Trail Run I'm looking forward to it, but will be treating it as more of a hard long run than an all out race. 

Thanks for reading, the road towards XTERRA Nationals & Worlds won't be smoothly paved, but it'll certainly be an interesting journey!  

 

Into Thin Air - XTERRA Mountain Champs

Well I'm happy to report that I survived this weekend's XTERRA Mountain Champs race at Beaver Creek Resort. After my previous entry, I was riding a bit of an optimistic HIGH. I had just completed my first hard workout in ages and it went well. Armed with that new found confidence, my wife & I headed UP into the mountains for a nice weekend in Avon, Colorado (just outside of Vail). 

Race HQ - Beaver Creek Resort

Race HQ - Beaver Creek Resort

We arrived at race headquarters by 1PM on Saturday, just in time to catch the awards ceremony for the Triathlon portion of the weekend's activities. The location was breathtaking, not only because of the elevation (over 8,000 feet) but the views and world class ski facilities. I gathered my race packet and greeted two of my favorite XTERRA personalities in President: Janet Clarke  & race announcer extraordinaire Kalei Waiwaiole, whom I hadn't seen since the XTERRA Southeast Championships.

Race HQ, PowerBar Folks, Molly & I

Race HQ, PowerBar Folks, Molly & I

After a quick stop by the PowerBar booth and a chat with good mate Richard Burgunder and I was ready to preview the course. I had been feeling a bit flat and tired since the workout on Tuesday, so I wanted to make sure I ran the hilly course nice and easy. I also wanted to make sure I knew the course inside & out in order to avoid any potential blunders come race day. Covering the course at ANY pace seemed both a literal and metaphoric uphill battle. My breathing was labored and my quads felt both exhausted and heavy. The first two miles were straight uphill consisting of switchbacks and single track. 

Despite feeling less than stellar during my course preview, I kept telling myself that, "no matter what you have to suffer through, others will too...". I've repeated this mantra many times during training, course previews and races. Sometimes you feel like you're the only one out there suffering and in those instances it's nice (albeit not an overly humanitarian wish to bestow on your fellow competitors) to know those behind you are going through the same hell you are.

The course was beautiful and well marked. I didn't know who I'd be facing on Sunday, but that didn't matter. That's part of both the beauty and curse of XTERRA, you never know who's going to show up (at least in my case). Road runners, Trail gurus, Ultra Runners and/or Track Speedsters alike tend to converge at many of these XTERRA events. Young and old, everyone is welcomed to challenge themselves against nature and in this race's case the THIN CRISP ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELEVATION. 

See the Forest 4 the Trees... Race 4 the Experience...

See the Forest 4 the Trees... Race 4 the Experience...

-Race Day-  

We arrived at the race venue at 7:30AM, a solid 90 mins before the cannon would blast and send us into a frenzy. I'd had a great night sleep and hoped that the previous day's lethargy would be a thing of the past. Molly and I found a quiet place to sit and relax until I was ready to commence my pre-race routine. 

Business Suit!

Business Suit!

At around 8:15 I headed out for a 20-25 minute warm up. I decided to run the first mile of the course again, to see if it seemed as bad as the previous day. Unfortunately, it seemed slightly worse! I couldn't believe how much my breathing was labored despite how slowly I crested the inclines. I pushed the negative thoughts out of my head and just figured that once the race started I'd be fine. Normally the adrenaline and excitement of competition can transform one from a timid, nervous, pre-race jittered runner, to a battle ready beast right out of the movie 300. I've seen this remarkable metamorphosis many times in my years as a runner and have experienced it myself. So, naturally, I was planning on relying on that to jump start my body.

-Cannon Blast: "Into Thin Air" we go.. . -

The infamous XTERRA Cannon boomed sending a healthy fleet or runners sprinting of the line. I was somehow momentarily caught off guard and didn't react as quickly as I normally would. With the cannon still ringing in my ears and the smoke floating away, I took a few hard strides in order to position myself. I immediately found myself in 5th place behind Richard Burgunder, eventual winner: Jordan Chavez and the pint-size AND talented Welsch sisters, Kaytlynn and Heather. If you haven't heard of them before, Google will bring you up to date on this dynamic duo. Despite their youth, they're quite prolific and experienced runners and regulars on the XTERRA circuit. 

As I mentioned earlier, the first two miles or so were straight uphill and I definitely did not feel like Usain Bolting out of the gate. Despite my wish for a tamer pace, I chased down the early leaders in order to position myself before the course entered a long single track portion. Within a minute or two, three of us (Richard, Jordan & myself) had separated from the rest of the pack. Having never raced either Jordan or Richard before, I decided to stalk them and let them set the pace. Another minute or two later and Richard waved me on as he could feel me breathing down his neck. 1 down... 1 to go? Jordan and I immediately separated ourselves from Richard.  

Aaaaand....Boom goes the dynamite! 

Aaaaand....Boom goes the dynamite! 

Jordan seemed legit as he'd been sporting some World Mountain Running kit pre-race, but I make it a rule not to pay too much attention to what people look like or wear before a race. I touched upon that subject in my XTERRA Lake Las Vegas entry a few months ago. Despite that, Jordan seemed to float up the hills, while I felt like I was dragging furniture behind him. My breathing wasn't doing me any favors either, as I sounded like a career chain smoker giving chase to some bratty teens. Again, positive thoughts, positive thoughts....

By the time we hit the first mile, Jordan had built a solid but not insurmountable lead of about 10 - 15 seconds. I kept thinking/hoping that a couple of things would happen. 1) I would eventually snap out of my oxygen-deprived induced funk and (2) Jordan would "pop" (when a runner hits the wall, crumbles, becomes exhausted, bites off more than they can chew, etc, etc...) and I'd be able to pick up the pieces.  

This was not to be though, as Jordan ran an excellent race and went on to a convincing victory. Hats...I mean headband off to him, he ran his own race and was never truly challenged. Later, during our cool down together he did confess to feeling the hills/elevation and looking over his shoulder numerous times, hoping I wasn't reeling him in. He also mentioned that he'd been in the area training for the past 3 weeks. It made me think to where I was 3 weeks prior, and it certainly wasn't hitting the high altitude trails. Instead it was treadmill running in Connecticut in order to avoid a possible bear encounter. Either way, it was great to cool down with Jordan and learn how universal the fears and pains we suffer are. 

I, much like Jordan, spent the race alone. I finished a distant 2nd and was never really challenged for that position. Still, I never gave up hope on capturing 1st place and pushed each hill to the best of my abilities on that day. The downhills were a mix bag, as I would push as fast as I could go, but often times found that my lungs weren't keeping up with my legs, which was the case -albeit in reverse- during the uphill sections.  

Finish Line! - Je suis fatigué

Finish Line! - Je suis fatigué

Eventually I managed to end the suffering and crossed the finish line, where I was greeted by my wife, the spectators and of course the wonderful XTERRA crew. I congratulated Jordan, his family and then invited him to join me on a cool down. During our cool down, we introduced ourselves, talked a bit about our past and where we'd be racing next. That's definitely one of the perks of distance running, the comradery amongst competitors. XTERRA once again proved a great catalyst for that. We ended our cool down, congratulated each other and parted ways until the awards ceremony.

Overall & Age-Group Podiium

Overall & Age-Group Podiium

Not one to stand around, sulk and lick my wounds, I quickly did a mental check list of the positives I could take away from the day's race. Yes, I'd come in 2nd (when I wanted nothing but 1st!), yes I'd been soundly beaten and yes I had struggled on the hills, but all that negativity was quickly put away when I once again realized where I was not only two months ago, but a mere 3 weeks prior. It hadn't been till about 3-4 weeks ago that I was able to resume what I would call "proper training" and even then I hadn't been able to reach full volume (I'm still building my mileage). I remembered back to an evening in Alabama where the Marine Doctor at Fort Whitting had done a check up after my last race and even offered me crutches. I'd come a long way since then and knew/know the best is yet to come. So overall I had run as well as I could've on the day and walked away unscathed and all the better for it. 

 - XTERRA Kid's Race- 

Shortly after my cool down, I was approached by one of the XTERRA crew members and asked if I'd be interested in leading the Kid's run. "OF COURSE!" I exclaimed! I was given some quick instructions as to what to do and expect. My overwhelming fatigue and soreness quickly melted away as I saw the beaming smiles and excitement radiating from my worthy "Kid" adversaries.  

XTERRA Kid's Run

XTERRA Kid's Run

One by one they lined up, some timidly with the urging of their parents, while others with their cheeks and chest puffed out in an exuberant display of bravado. It was truly a great scene at the starting line and I couldn't help but smile ear to ear. Kalei gave the final instructions before the count down would send the mini XTERRA-thletes on their way.  

We took off and immediately sprinted towards a sharp right turn. I did my best to sprint and avoid a stampede! The Kids were full of energy after spending most of the morning watching their folks compete and weren't concerned about pacing themselves for the approximately 400 meter course laid out. 

Having successfully lead the winner to the finish line, I decided to camp out there and cheer on the rest of the finishers. It was a great way to close out a successful weekend for the XTERRA crew, competitors, parents and most importantly the kids, or "Future XTERRA-thletes" as I like to call them.  

Future XTERRA-Thletes! 

Future XTERRA-Thletes! 

Well that closes the book on another great experience with the XTERRA family on my road towards the National & World Championships. Now that I'm healthy, I fully intend to knuckle down and add some much needed consistent training in preparation for September - November's Championship racing. 

As always, thanks for following/reading and cheering me on out there. I look forward to my next race, which may be a road mile at 14K feet on August 13th. In the meantime, I'll be running up and down these Rocky Mountains in anticipation of a great fall season! Hasta luego...  

 

 

 

Rarefied @ Brainard Lake - XTERRA Tune Up

Well, it has certainly been a while since I've posted a workout or race result. If you read my previous entry, then you're more or less be up to speed. This entry finds me both excited and anxious! Excited because I'll finally get to do what I love, racing! It'll be the first time doing so since my little injury/set back in May. Anxious because of the challenging course that awaits.

On Sunday, July 22nd, I'll be racing the XTERRA Mountain Championships at the Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado. Being that it's in Colorado, one would assume I would have an altitude advantage, well... "Au contraire mon frere!" Boulder, where I live/train is nestled at a breathable 5,500 feet of elevation. Meanwhile, this race will start somewhere between 8,000 & 9,000 feet. Yup, you read it right, "START" at that elevation. I don't quite have all the details yet, but I've heard that it may climb north of 11,000 feet at some point during the race. If that should happen, well then my fellow readers, it has been nice knowing you! I can only assume I'll graze my head on a low flying plane or worse yet, get altitude sickness, become disoriented, forget who I'm and finally have to call that mountain my (new) home. 

All kidding aside, I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead. I'm writing this to provide a sneak peak into my training. Below is a workout we filmed on Tuesday. I decided to mimic (or shock my system) the pending altitude that I'll face on Sunday. My good mates: Jordan Schware  and Ironman Champion Paul Ambrose accompanied me to the rarefied air at Brainard Lake for a suicide missio... I mean hard workout. Jordan manned both the bike and the camera while Paul soloed the trails in preparation for his upcoming races. I took to the roads with one goal in mind, and that was to comfortably hurt (oxymoron much?). I wanted to experience both physiologically and psychologically what running hard at nearly 2 miles above sea level would do to me. The views (and again, thin air) were breathtaking. 

I'm pleased to say that the workout went well. I hope my fitness continues to improve now that I'm finally injury free. My goal for this weekend? Simple, to get out there and compete again. I missed training the 2nd half of May and didn't race at all during June while I was getting back to 100% fitness. I'm now happy to report that although this isn't a "COMEBACK" per say, that I'm BACK to full health. Now I've just been slowly working on the fitness end and enjoying the process. So, without further delay, enjoy the video and I look forward to reporting a positive experience after this weekend's race. 

Cheers!

 

A COMEBACK? Nahh...BEEN HERE FOR YEARS!

A COMEBACK? Nahh...BEEN HERE FOR YEARS!

Behind The Scenes... Sponsorship

G'day, its been about a month since my last race/entry. If you read my previous entry, then you know what I'm talking about, if not, well then I'll just wait here for a few minutes while you go and read it. Go ahead, I'll wait...

 ...Done? Great, so where was I? I had a 9 day span where I didn't run due to the injury I sustained in Alabama's XTERRA Southeast Championship race.

In the interim I sought treatment from Toby Marchand. We aggressively tackled both the contusion on my right knee as well as the strained bicep femoral on my left leg.  I also swam a ridiculous amount while I rested my bruised and sore muscles/ligaments! A typical pool session would last anywhere from 45 to 90 mins, where I'd cover 2,500 - 4,000 yards.

Aqua Man

Aqua Man

So apart from traveling and rehabbing, the down time served as a chance to reevaluate my racing schedule and touch base with a some of my sponsors. As elite/professional athletes in non-team sports, we make our living a number of ways. There's are myriads of sponsorship opportunities and tiers out there, soI figured I'd shed some light on a few. 

When working with current or prospective sponsors, an athlete and the company/sponsor will seek to reach a mutually beneficial deal. There are different levels or tiers, which depend on several factors. The age of the athlete (young always trumps old, as there is more upside/time in the career to invest in), their event (Road racing vs a fringe track or field event) their past/recent credentials (NCAA All American vs Also ran or Olympian vs 10 x 4th of July local 5K champ). Another factor that is weighed in and many people (athletes included) fail to realize, is the athlete's marketability. Do they have an interesting "story" (Lolo Jones is a great example), do they photograph well (can they be used in regional/national/international ad campaigns)? Are they well spoken, is this someone we'd like to have out there promoting our product/company outside of just putting down fast race results? These are a few of the factors of amongst others that are taken into consideration. 

Once all these factors are weighed in, the athlete and prospective company/sponsor will reach a deal. There are several levels or types of sponsorships. Below are some of the common tiers or levels.

1) "A Kit deal": This generally means a sponsor will provide the athlete "x" amount of material (shoes/socks/shirts/equipment etc) at a discounted rate or for free. In turn the athlete wears and represents that given sponsor during their competitions and/or public/promotional appearances. Many companies will do this with many up and coming athletes or older athletes that race a ton at the local level. There's minimal risk to the sponsor and the athlete provides cheap and visible marketing at their local and regional competitions. 

Will Run For Food

Will Run For Food

2) "Bonus structure": Here, there's generally a kit or product deal already in place. The addition of a bonus plan or structure is then put forth. This means that the athlete and sponsor have agreed on "xyz" payment for "xyz" achievement. This could range from local/regional/national racing success all the way to World Championships and/or Olympics. If the athlete achieves an agreed upon standard (can be both athletically and/or marketing - magazine cover, interviews, etc) then the sponsor will pay the athlete the agreed upon bonus. 

3) "Full Time Sponsored Athlete": This 3rd type of sponsorship is the most desirable, and encompasses the previous two. At this level, you have a legally biding contract which includes a salary. The salary can range from a few hundred to several thousands dollars per month. The athlete is contracted by the sponsor for a fixed duration (anywhere from one to five-plus years). During this time, the athlete has contractually agreed to represent themselves and their sponsor(s) to the best of their abilities both on and off the competitive field.  The athlete is being compensated with the "kit" or materials they need to train/compete as well as given bonuses for achieving pre-agreed upon standards. Often times these can amended at the conclusion of each year during the life of the contract. Some companies even exercise a "reduction" clause. This more or less means that if the athlete hasn't performed well or has been injured, then they may get some of their salary docked until they reach their previous levels of success/performance. At the same time bonuses or a raise in salary can be achieved during the lifetime of the contract IF the athlete performs above and beyond the previously agreed upon bench marks (ie. from also ran, to winning a national title) and continues to show great potential. These are typically agreed upon during the lifetime of the contract during renegotiations which can happen once a year or so.

So there you have it. In an effort to keep it short and simple, I'm sure that I've skimmed a few areas. If there are any specific questions out there, please feel free to reach out. I can't speak for others, but I've been in the sport professionally now for the better part of a decade. I've also openly spoken to many good friends/athletes on the subject while living and traveling all around Europe on the racing circuit. I've had the pleasure of working with many different sponsors covering all three of the levels outlined above. 

Lastly, to wrap this up. I'll leave you with a relatively new way for sponsors to reach out and market themselves. In the fast changing world of marketing and social media, it's important to stay fresh, relevant and find innovative ways to raise your product's profile. This is why I was more than happy to help one of my local sponsors, RecoFiT Compression, push the envelope a bit with their recently released cheeky ad campaign via Indiegogo

The more exposure they get, the more brand awareness is created. Expanded brand awareness then may brings more customers and more marketing dollars. New money trickles throughout the company so they can then invest more into the products they create and the athletes they support.

Cheers again for reading and feel free to post/email me any questions. 

Link to video + Indiegogo fundraising campaign here: http://bit.ly/13xPRdU


Happy trails... 

 

 

Sweet Home Alabama...XTERRA Edition!

I'm back in Boulder after being away for almost a week. My recent trip to Alabama was both fun and frustrating. We'll beging with the Fun first and I'll cover the rest later. I enjoyed my trip mostly because I got to meet some great people at the 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile, Alabama. I was also reunited with my "Bama Family". Primarily Sky Hope, who I met back in the late 1980's when we were both living in Bamako, Mali. Our folks being Military (his) and Diplomats (mine) were stationed there and our yards literally shared a wall. We've remained close family friends for 24 years and counting. 

I was a guest of the Marines at Fort Whitting for a two day running/fitness clinic. It was great to interact with the soldiers, answer questions and get to see what their physical training is like. The two day clinic culminated with me being invited to take part in their PFT (Physical Fitness Test). I won't divulge too much, but needless to say they're some strong folks! It was a pleasure getting to meet Tyler Fotheringill, Billy Ross and of course catch up with my brother Sky Hope. 

Marines of the 3rd Force Recon Company. Sky & I (on right) & Billy & I (post PFT run)

Marines of the 3rd Force Recon Company. Sky & I (on right) & Billy & I (post PFT run)

My trip to Alabama was twofold, the military component first and then competing at the XTERRA Southeast Championships/Oak Mountain Trail run. As I mentioned in my previous entry, the month between Las Vegas and Oak Mountain, hadn't been the smoothest. Still, I remained confident in my training and accumulated fitness to carry me through...

-Road trip to Pelham & Oak Mountain-

Sky & I drove from Mobile to Pelham Saturday morning at the completion of the PFT. I was feeling good and confident, as the calf/shin issue that had been hampering me, seemed to have gone away. Once we arrived to race headquarters, I quickly made my way to registration. Being relatively new to XTERRA (this would be my 4th event ever) I was pleasantly surprised to be stopped and recognized by several competitors and spectators. Many wishing me luck for the following day's race, while other congratulating me on the Lake Las Vegas victory. One of those such people was the wonderfully positive and active couple of Nozomi-Shinoda Wade & James Wade. James competed in the XTERRA Triathlon on Saturday, while wife Nozomi would be doing the 20K trail portion the following day with me. Meeting people like these two has truly helped increase my enjoyment of XTERRA events.
Nozomi, James and I @ registration

Nozomi, James and I @ registration


At registration, I was greeted by Emily Mcllvaine, signed my race waiver and took a quick look at the course map. I didn't know much about the course, but figured it would be a straight forward course, as my event consisted of two 10K loops. 

-Race Day & Trouble ahead...?-

Sunday morning I woke up feeling good & eager to go! I went through my typical pre-race routine (more details in previous blogs if interested) once we got to the course. Oak Mountain State Park lived up to the billing. It was truly a beautiful place with a myriad of trails. As I got more dialed in on the race details, I begun to get concern about the manner in which the races would be executed. The plan was to have the Marathon go off at 8AM and the 5K ten minutes later. These both seem simple enough as my 20K race wouldn't overlap with either of these courses.

Race Kit, locked & loaded! 

Race Kit, locked & loaded! 

What had me concerned, was the spacing between the 10K, which would start at 8:20 and my race, which would start at 8:30AM. This meant that the 10K competitors would only have a 10 minute lead on us, which as I saw it could cause some serious headaches (or in my chase knee pains). Knowing the trail was primarily single track and that our course was literally the 10K course done twice, I anticipated the frustrating scenario of having to run through a TON of runners.  

I listened intently for the pre-race instructions that are customary at XTERRA events. I eagerly hoped to hear of some sort of remedy to this potential scenario. Surely, if I had picked up on the potential quagmire ahead of us, then the race organizers/volunteers had too, right? Sadly, it wasn't addressed and my fears would soon be realized. They did address the aid stations, which sadly wasn't executed in the manner that we had been lead to believe. For the 10K/20K there was only one aid station, which in the 20K we passed twice. 

Being pretty care-free and easy going, I decided to put all these worries behind me and line up. I was once again greeted by some fellow competitors and posed for a couple of pictures. I was feeling confident and ready to see my race plan through. My plan was fairly simple, run the 1st loop conservatively in order to learn the course while staying near the lead(ers). The 2nd loop, I'd go to "work" and either make a push for the win or make a push for the lead(ers).

-Cannon Blast: Pandemonium in 3...2...1...?-

The blast of the cannon sent myself and the rest of the competitors down a long undulating road. This was wide and long enough to allow us to spread out and settle into a rhythm for about 1/2 a mile or so before jumping into the single track trails. I felt good and we weren't exactly flying so I decided to assume the lead a few strides before we headed into the trails. I also knew we had a healthy group of guys with us and some would be keying off me, so I didn't want to get stuck too far back and risk getting shoved to the back.

Start --> Finish, a race in pictures....

Start --> Finish, a race in pictures....

Well, it wasn't long before I/we came across the fist of many 10K runners. Luckily they seem (as would be the case with several other competitors) to anticipate getting caught and quickly made way for us. Myself and the 4-6 guys behind me quickly thanked them in between gasp of air. This would become the norm for the entire race, right up to the finish line. At times it would be a smooth pass while other very frustrating. The race has a no headphone/ipod/iphone policy, well that rule wasn't exactly followed as I certainly startled my fair share of runners as I passed them last minute. 

Towards the end of the 1st loop, it seemed myself, eventual winner Josiah and 3rd place finisher Daniel had separated from the rest of the field. I still felt good and confident in my race plan. The nature of the course didn't really allow you to look behind you too much, as there were numerous twist and turns to test focus on in front.

Coming around a turn I saw ahead of me a gaggle of women seemingly running in place. I immediately yelled, "on your left!", nothing. So then I yelled, "Runner!", nothing. Then I tried, "Coming through!" aaaand...nothing! I then took it upon myself to run around them by taking a few strides off the trail (something I and my fellow competitors had already done numerous times). It was at this point that one of the women at the back of that herd decided to move. It was a bit too late and in a futile effort to avoid calamity, I ended up crashing hard. I managed to avoid hitting my head and as as result my knees and arms took the brunt of the fall. 

I quickly bounced up in an effort to avoid an inevitable stampede. Luckily I had enough of a lead on Josiah & Daniel that they were able to react to my fall and avoid falling themselves. As I sped/limped away, I heard the woman behind me yell, "OH well thanks for checking on how I'm doing!". Keep in mind, she didn't fall, and I didn't make contact with her at all. Perhaps she was startled as one minute she's listening to beautiful music through her illegal/smuggled headset and the next minute she's got this skinny, bag of bones runner crumpling to the ground just behind her. So naturally being the sarcastic guy that I'm, I yelled, "Oh yeah, stay put, we'll send an ambulance for you!". 

Adrenaline and frustration carried me back to the lead. I could feel the ache in my knee but didn't want to look down in fear of seeing bone or too much blood. About 1K or so from the end of the 1st lap, I came across a bridge just as I was over taking even more 10K runners. I was still in the lead and I guess the course marshall mistook me for a 5K or Marathon runner, as he instructed me to go the wrong way. It was only when I heard Josiah somewhere behind me (or perhaps Daniel) say something to them about us racing the 20K, did I realize that I had gone the wrong way. I turned around to see them crossing a bridge. "WTF!? This isn't my day!" is what I thought. Of course in a race, you must push out the negative thoughts that constantly bombard your psyche, so I had no choice but to soldier on. 

I turned around and sprinted to catch the newly minted leader(s). As I crossed the bridge I locked eyes with the marshal and thought, "well what's the point of us having different colored bib numbers?". Oh well, mistakes happen.... The end of the 1st loop saw me catching up to Josiah & Daniel. At this point I was filled with frustration -as I'm sure they were- and even more so, pain. I could tell the adrenaline was wearing off and the pain in my knee/legs was quickly settling in. Spread three abreast on the road back towards the start/finish area, it was the first time I could truly size up the two runners who were challenging me.

Chasing Daniel & Josiah after being lead off course and falling. 

Chasing Daniel & Josiah after being lead off course and falling. 

At this point my previous race plan went out the window. I was in too much pain and while a DNF (Did Not Finish) wasn't an option, I wondered how much harm I was doing by racing on it. I decided I would let Josiah and/or Daniel set the pace and merely track them and out kick them at the end. I was confident that if I could allow it to come down to a sprint finish, that I'd be victorious. Sadly, that wouldn't happen either. Sensing my predicament and clearly having seen me go off course and fall, Josiah did what I and any smart competitor would do. He aggressively set out on the offensive.

The entire last lap we put more and more distance on Daniel, who for a while hung on bravely. It became a fun(?) game of "hang on...hang on...HANG ON!!". Josiah would seemingly spurt around a tight turn or up a hill. He'd later go on to reference those tactics in his post race interview. I on the other hand would get dropped and then work on closing the gap. I would look while transforming into a mathematician. Calculating stride length, distance left to finish line, upcoming hill grade, anything and everything that would distract me of the pain in my knee and yet give me hope for a comeback. I refused to quit and kept pushing onward. Slowly but surely the downhills and turns took their toll of my battered legs. Still, I kept pressing, thinking, "maybe, just maybe he'll bonk or who knows...". To compound the pain and fatigue, we both still had to go through an impressive amount of 10K runners all the way to the finish line. This quandary + the wrong turn + the fall was just too much for me on the day. All in all, based on results of the 10K & 20K, I'd say Josiah and I probably lapped closed to everyone in the 10K minus the 1st 12 to 16 finishers(?). 

In the end, it was not meant to be. Josiah ran a smart and great race. I closed the gap on him once we got clear of the trails and finished 2nd by 7 seconds, with Daniel some 2 minutes behind us. I attempted to mask my frustration as I had friends/family there as well as the always supportive and positive XTERRA staff there. I hung around and waited to greet and congratulate Daniel before heading to the Medical tent. I had my wounds cleaned, my knee wrapped and hobbled over to do a quick post-race interview. I did my best to come across graciously and thanked the staff/fans/volunteers. Inside though, I was reeling with frustration, anger and even some sadness. 

Post-race with friends/fam. Left: fellow 20K runner Kate Andreasen. Top Right: Holliman family. Bottom Right: Momma Hope! 

Post-race with friends/fam. Left: fellow 20K runner Kate Andreasen. Top Right: Holliman family. Bottom Right: Momma Hope! 

I hung around for the awards ceremony, spoke at length with race winner Josiah, who was also in town from Colorado. We quickly got along and both demonstrated the spirit of competition. I thanked him for giving me such a great challenge as I genuinely enjoyed the battle. He expressed a bit of sorrow about my fall, as well as some frustration about having to deal with so many lapped runners. 

On my way out, I stopped by to see Janet Clark and thanked her for having me at their event. Despite my seemingly sore loser-ish rant above, I enjoyed the experience and could potentially see myself coming back next year. The XTERRA family/community is a close knit one, and one that has embraced me in a short amount of time. I told Janet I'd be e-mailing her with my thoughts/feedback. Being super friendly and wonderful, she thanked me as well, expressed her sorrows, we hugged and I departed the Oak Mountain. 

Top: David Christy, Josiah & I post awards. Bottom lef: leaving course w/ race souvenir. Middle: Race recap w/ Josiah. Bottom right: Masking race disappointment.  with the Hope & Holliman family.

Top: David Christy, Josiah & I post awards. Bottom lef: leaving course w/ race souvenir. Middle: Race recap w/ Josiah. Bottom right: Masking race disappointment.  with the Hope & Holliman family.

I'm now back in Boulder and the Doctor's verdict is that I've got a contusion in my right knee and a strained bicep femoral in the other leg. I received some treatment before leaving from the Military Doc at Fort Whitting, as well as this morning here in Boulder from Toby Marchand. I'll probably be out a week before I can resume training. 

Thanks heaps for reading and I truly hope that this entry didn't come across TOO negatively. I love to compete and always welcome the challenges of the course and other competitors. I'd also like to highlight both PowerBar & RecoFiT. They were great in supporting me with the running/fitness clinic I put on for the Military. Lastly, to Janet, Dayton Morinaga, Emily Mcllivine and the rest of the XTERRA family, I'd like to thank you for your efforts at all the XTERRA events. I hope my feedback isn't taken as criticism of your efforts. 

Till next time....

The Calm B4 The Storm(?) - Trail Workout @ Betasso

G'day & thanks for stopping by. This is my 1st entry since the XTERRA West Championships. I wish I could say the month between then & now has gone smoothly, but alas, that hasn't been the case. I've battled a few niggles to my soleus muscle (shin/calf area) as well as some fatigue from the training/racing/road trip.

That being said, I've managed to hold on to some of the fitness I built up this past winter and very much look forward to this weekend's XTERRA Southeast Championships @ Oak Mountain in Pelham, Alabama. I'll be racing the 20K distance & anticipate a great challenge between the tough course & competition.

Below is a video that was shot last Sunday at Betasso Preserve in Boulder, CO. The session was 3 x "Canyon Loop" which is about 3.20 miles per loop, with the plan being to get progressively faster per loop. I was pleased with the effort, especially since I've had a sporadic training week heading into the session.

Special thanks to Brian Williams for riding the Mountain Bike while recording the workout. Also to my training mate, Triathlete & Ironman Champion: Paul Ambrose for agreeing to keep me company on the difficult course while still adjusting to both jet lag & elevation.


Recap: XTERRA West Championships - Las Vegas

Well after a looong road trip, I'm happy to say I'm back in beautiful (and WINTERY!?) Boulder. This past weekend I competed at the XTERRA West Championships over 21 kilometers. It was held at the scenic Lake Las Vegas resort. Having never been to Las Vegas before, Molly and I decided to make a road trip out of it. We visited many scenic and touristy spots both en route and on the way back, but that'd be an entirely different entry. So without further ado...

-Arrival-

Arrived @ Lake Las Vegas Resort

After much driving, we made it to Las Vegas around Noon on Saturday and immediately headed to the XTERRA venue. That Saturday, they were holding the Triathlon portion of the weekend's racing events. On my way towards packet pick up I stopped by the PowerBar tent. There I spoke to Richard Burgunder, a PowerBar rep that I had met the previous week at XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain. He gave me some helpful information about the course, as I wasn't going to be able to see much of it prior to racing. Next, I went over to look at the course map for myself. Despite it being relatively straight forward, I struggled to envision where the monster hills would be on it. I had been told that there would be some long climbs throughout and more so in the last 2-3 miles. Afterwards I headed to the car to change and see how much of the course I could get on.

Many of the triathletes were still competing, thus I made sure not to get in their way as I got in a cheeky view of the course. I ran 3 miles out and 3 miles back, added a few strides and called it a day. My impression from what little I saw told me it was going to be a hot & exposed race. There was virtually zero cover on the course. I figured hydration would be paramount for this race, perhaps more than any other one in my career.

Partial Panorama

We finally headed to our hotel, where I took a quick dip in the pool to losen up my legs. The rest of the afternoon & evening consisted of me lounging in the hotel room and hydrating. If you've ever run a race you deem important, you know the day and hours beforehand can be some of the longest and most laborious moments ever. I wasn't feeling nervous, instead I was quite anxious and eager to get the show going. I had no clue who I would face the next day and still had limited knowledge about the course. XTERRA races challenge you with their diverse terrains, locations and distances. Factor in the reality that XTERRA is quickly becoming a destination for mountain/ultra runners as well as track/road speedsters like myself, and you can easily see why XTERRA is quickly becoming a favorite battle ground for many.

-Race Morning-

BreakFAST of Champions

I woke up, for the one millionth time in my life, without the need of an alarm. Apparently I channel my inner Kramer (Seinfeld reference) before important events, because my body just knows! Rising at 6:15AM, I quickly jumped in the shower, gathered my kit and headed out the door. Breakfast consisted of a PowerBar Cookies n Cream ProteinPlus bar. Leaving the hotel at 7:15 meant I'd arrive with about an hour before the 8:30 start time.

Once we arrived, I gave my bag to Molly and headed out for a slow jog over the course. It wasn't even 8AM and the temperature had already soared above 65F. I was immediately thankful that I had hydrated well in advance. Jogging the first 2K of the course (which was all uphill) I started to visualize the race and formulate a series of race plans. I think it's always great to come into any race with a solid plan, while also being open and flexible to several different outcomes and scenarios.

Not knowing who I'd face, I decided to focus on myself, the course and my specific strengths vs weaknesses. I certainly didn't want to risk blowing up in the heat or over the big hills. Also despite being in Las Vegas, I didn't want to "gamble" on having the infamous "second wind" come to my rescue as it did the previous week in at XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain. Once back, I did a few strides, stretches, grabbed more fluids and started changing into my racing kit. GO TIME was now a little over 15 minutes away.

"Business Suit"

It's during this window (at least for me) that you start becoming an award winning psychologist as you start dissecting each and every possible competitor you see from head to toe. "Those are flashy shoes, I wonder if he's fast?", "That's a pretty sweet race kit, I wonder if he's legit or just posing". "Oh he's pretty tall/short, I think that could hurt/aid him on the downhills/uphills", etc.. etc.. the list goes on and on. 

No sooner are you in one thought before another random one pops in. Nerves or not, it happens to many of us right before a race. Heading towards the start, I saw a runner I hadn't seen at all before. He was suave & speedy looking. I wasn't sure if he'd just stepped out of a Runners World cover shoot, or if he'd just spent the last 2 months in some remote location prepping just for this race. Regardless, I was excited by the prospect/challenge and decided to keep an eye on him.

-Canon Blast-

My fellow competitors and I were sent off with the loud bang of a cannon. Despite the prior warning, it still caught me off guard and I was a bit slow off the line. "No worries", I thought, as we had 21 kilometers to sort out the places. Well someone apparently didn't tell that to Mr. Suave, as he bolted off the line as if he'd been the one shot out of the cannon! My GPS said I was running the 1st half mile at a 5:20/mile clip, and he already had 30+ seconds on me. I knew with the first 2+ kilometers being uphill, that the pace wouldn't be sustainable. I wisely backed off and told myself to be patient. He'd either go ahead and set a World's Best for a trail/off-road 21K or eventually pay the price and commit seppuku for foolishly going out like a sprinter (let it be noted that I'm in no way making fun of Mr. Suave as a person. He was a great guy & we hung out and spoke at length after the race. He also agreed that his tactics had been a bit poor).

Cannon Blast! 

I felt well within myself and decided to just hold my pace and not panic. This wasn't 100% easy, as I'm still new to XTERRA racing, where it seems most people start very fast in order to establish their position in the occasional narrow trails. Heading into the first mile, which consisted of a mix of rocky trail and loose sand, I realize I had the 1st place woman right behind me. While unnerving, I decided to bide my time. I had originally planned to make it a race of two halves. The first 10K or so I would run within myself and not risk blowing up. I would make sure not to spot the leader(s) too much ground, while hopefully marshelling my resources. The second 10K I would then either race to catch the leader(s) or push to establish my lead.

Neither of these scenarios would come into play. To my surprise and I must admit amusement, I came around a corner as we climbed even more within the 1st mile and saw our early and fearless leader. He had slowed down drastically! I immediately thought that he was either being coy and waiting for the pack, or he'd come down with a savage case of rigor mortis. Sadly for our brave front runner, it was the latter. Of course I didn't know this at the time, so I hesitantly passed him while towing the other runners along. I hadn't envisioned leading so early and wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to be a sacrificial lamb. We were still climbing while facing a stiff head wind, so I made sure to REALLY run within myself. For races this long, it's my opinion that no race is won int he first couple of miles but instead, many races are can foolishly be lost during the early stages.

For the next half mile to mile (yup, still uphill) I snuck as many -not so subtle- peeks behind me to see what was going on. I felt light, powerful and springy running up the hills, but didn't want to risk going too soon or letting the rush of leading the race cloud my judgement. Around the 2.25 - 2.50 mile mark I snuck one more peek behind me to see (A) had my lead grown & (B) what had happened to our early leader? It was around this point that I hit the first of many serious climbs. A climb that would reward me with a beautiful panoramic view of the resort, which I would've been able to enjoy had my heart not been trying to jump out of its home!

Along the desert(ed) course

That 2-3 minute climb, which unbeknownst to me, I would face in the latter stages of the race reminded me how quickly things can go from "cruisy" to "ouchy!". Fortunately for me, I was having a good day and I had learned the lessons taught by professor XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain the week before. I was better rested for this race, as well as more battle tested.

My lead continued to grow with each passing aid station, where I would occasionally steal a look back. Never before had I hydrated so much during a race. I think I drank once or twice last year at the XTERRA World Championships and have routinely done 20 mile runs in Boulder sans water. Still I wanted to be smart and cover all my bases. The last thing I wanted, was to have the wheels fall off with 5K to go, give up my lead and hitchhike back to the start.

Around the 12K and later 16K mark, the course wound and looped in such a way that both myself and 2nd place could clearly see each other. We were about as close as 50 meters or so, only we had a body of water and a few hundred meters of actual trail between us. These were the only times during the race where I had any idea as to the extent of my lead.

With the victory seemingly secured, I allowed myself to BRIEFLY envision coming down the chute and breaking the tape. This thought was quickly interrupted when a race marshal instructed me to climb a hill so shockingly steep and long, that I was convinced it had been placed there in the last minute as a prop. I quickly fired back, "No, no, I'm on my way to finish the 21K", while pointing at my bib. I had hoped that he had mistaken me for the 5K or 10K participants. Surely the XTERRA Gods wouldn't reward nearly 21 Kilometers of running by placing a diabolically steep hill this late in the race, and so steep that it required crampons, right?

Heading into another climb

Well our exchange quickly ended as I realized not only was he right, but this was THE hill that I had been told about. I had somehow either forgotten it or just assumed that I had already crested it earlier and simply not been bothered by it...wrong! As I started to climb I had one last thought, "I hope EVERYONE has to do this, not just me!". Why anyone else would get a free pass is beyond me, but such was the clouded judgement that accompanied 21 Kilometers of hilly and desert trails. Climbing the hill I focused on form and taking small but powerful steps. As if the hill's incline wasn't bad enough, there was a considerable amount of sand on it. This made the footing quite challenging and I focused on moving forward without smacking my face on the hill itself - yes, it was that steep! My GPS had that portion at approximately 25% grade.

I eventually made it to the top, which was a welcome sight as I couldn't see the top of it from the bottom. I snuck my last look back to see how much ground I had donated to 2nd place. Fortunately I still had a healthy lead, although I couldn't figure out if it was 1 minute or several. The last 2 miles or so was all flat and downhill. This allowed me to regain any ground I had lost on the mammoth climb, and I started hitting a pace of 4:30 - 5:00/mile all the way to the finish.

Victory + Course Record!

I could hear the announcer revving up the crowd for my arrival from as far out as a quarter mile. I decided to run hard and fast through the chute despite having an insurmountable lead. This would pay off, as I later found out that I had broken the previous course record by about 4 or 5 seconds, which was merely an extra bonus. I had come in to the race hoping for a win or at least top 3 (aka "Podium"). I wasn't aware of any course records. I feel I could've pushed harder if I had needed to, but was pleased to have a great experience and once again collect some much needed XTERRA Off-Road racing experience. This will all help later on this year if I do end up competing at the World Championships.

After crossing the line, I happily posed for a few pictures, answered a few questions and was greeted by Molly, who seemed even happier than I was about the victory. I changed into my Point6 compression socks and some dry gear and headed off for a bit of a cool down. Afterwards I hung out at the PowerBar booth, did a few Q&A with the other finishers and got ready for the award ceremony.

Atop the podium

For now, I'm back in Boulder and eagerly awaiting for Spring to arrive. It seems winter hasn't gotten the memo that we're almost a month into Spring! Next up, I'll possibly do a local trail half marathon in early May. After that, I'll head to Alabama for the XTERRA Southeast Championships. There I'll race the 20K and very much look forward to another positive learning experience.

Lastly I'd like to thank ALL of my sponsors for their support. Especially: RecoFiT, Plantiva and PowerBar's Richard Burgunder, who all outfitted me with the last minute essentials I needed before my competition. I'd also like to thank the XTERRA crew for putting on a great weekend of racing, both in Triathlon & Trail Running.

Thanks for stopping by & enjoy the gallery below. Till next time...

Recap: XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain

G'day & thanks for stopping by. If you read my previous entry, you'll know I was in the middle of a exhausting training week as I headed into XTerra Cheyenne Mountain. 

Despite my best attempts at getting a good night's sleep, I experienced what I'm sure many athletes go through the night before a race....sleeplessness! I didn't panic though as I've read numerous studies on the subject. The general consensus being that it's not the night before a race that matters most, but instead two nights before. That being said, one shouldn't sign up for a rave the night before an important race. So off little sleep, I awoke at 4:50 AM, quickly showered, gathered my kit, and with my lovely fiancee at my side, drove down to Colorado Springs. 

We arrived at Cheyenne Mountain State Park a few tics after 7AM and just in time for the sun to rise. This gave me just under an hour to get ready for the race. Race director Victoria Seahorn had generously comped my entry and arranged everything for me. I sought out a gentleman name Jessie, gathered my stuff and I was on my way. My first impression of the venue was, "This is going to be challenging!".

Still feeling a bit sleepy and definitely sore, I took off for my warm up. The course was well marked and I jogged the first 2 kilometers of it without the need of a map. This proved helpful, as in my opinion the first mile of a race is very important. I'd like to think that no race is ever won in the first mile, but many are or can be lost there. This being an XTerra Trail race, I knew positioning would be key, as often these races can quickly bottleneck and thus make it tough to pass people. I learned this lesson at the World Championships last December in Hawaii. That being said, I knew that the deathly combination of elevation (higher than Boulder) and uphill start, could be a cruel teacher to anyone who failed to respect them. 

Pre-race goofball

8AM and the gun goes off. As with ANY road/trail race, there's always someone or a few people who go off as if they were racing to the bathroom! I positioned myself in about 5th or 7th for the first half mile and focused on staying relaxed. My body was more alert now than an hour earlier, but I was still feeling a bit sluggish. Luckily my hip wasn't bothering me as much as it had been the previous days. The day before the race I had visited good friend & acupuncturist Toby Marchand for some much needed cupping and needling. 

About 1 kilometer in and there was still a large pack around me. I decided to stay calm and relaxed as we continued climbing. There would be a quick break from the climbing right around the 1 mile mark, where they would also have an aid station. I decided to reevaluate my positioning at that point. Fortunately by the time we reached the 1st mile (6:10 split for me) I started feeling great. At this point I was in 4th or 5th position, with everyone within 5-10 seconds of each other. I always like maintaining contact, but sometimes in these trail races, it seems it's best to spot the guy(s) in front of you some space as there is constantly a tight turn or a rock/branch etc around the next turn.

During the next kilometer, I kept looking ahead and down, ahead and down, seemingly giving my neck more of a workout than my lungs and legs. Approaching the 3 kilometer mark, I abandoned my conservative race plan and made a rookie mistake. STILL going uphill (tough way to make a hard move) I leap frogged 1st and 2nd place and darted into the lead. Instead of just settling in there, I pressed on and on, I was full of running and the relatively slow pace had become a bore. Within a matter of seconds I had broken clear of the other runners and had such a big lead, that I couldn't hear anyone's breathing or stomping. It felt great to be free and alone on this beautiful trail. Little did I know that I would soon regret that move.

Along the course

3K - 5K was a glorious run, I was full of life, at peace with my thoughts and the world was my oyster. I even allowed myself to start daydreaming about Las Vegas the following weekend...THEN reality came knocking at my door, or more like a tank came crashing through my door. 5.5K - 8K was a death march. It's amazing how even after all these years of racing, you can make such a rookie mistake. That's also the beauty of running, it doesn't matter if you're a hobby jogger or an Olympic medalist, if you don't respect the distance/elements/terrain/competition etc, you will all pay just the same. The mountain doesn't care about your credentials or resume. It's there to challenge you and challenge it did!

In a matter of seconds I went from a speedy trail Cheetah, to a rocking chair. At elevation, when you die, you die HARD. It only took a couple of minutes for the others to smell blood and close the gap. Bit by bit and around every turn I would steal glances behind me to see how much ground I was losing. I was also engaging in a pity party as I marched myself to the gallows. My breathing became labored and my quads and lower back tighter and tighter. I quickly started going through a mental checklist as to how I could've been so naive. In the end,  this was my own doing and I had to snap out of my one man show of self-destruction and refocus on the race. 

I was passed one by one, until I had gone from 1st place to 6th! I was passed by people I had never seen beforehand. I briefly wondered how this could be happening, as I expected to be overtaken by a clown juggling chainsaws or something. Eventually I got the much loved, mystified and talked about: "The Second Wind", and boy was it glorious. Little by little I started regaining life and resumed what I'd actually call running. 

I had now about 3 Kilometers to go and 1st place was still out of sight. Without panicking, I started picking up the pace while repeating to myself, "If you're hurting, they're hurting..." I also gained confidence in the fact (at least I told myself) that there wasn't a single person ahead of me that had worked as hard as I had the week leading into this race, therefor I could carry my badge of fatigue well and use it as a strength rather than weakness. 

It didn't take long before I saw my first victim. I was now the one doing the hunting, instead of the other way around. Checking back at the splits on my GPS, I managed to split a 3 min kilometer in between the 9th  and 10th kilometer. This brought me back into the lead with about 2K to go. It also brought me dangerously close to redlining again. I knew that if I died this time, I would't be making a comeback, in fact I'd probably have to establish residency up on the mountain, as I doubt I'd have the legs to ever get back down.  

Luckily this wasn't the case and I told myself over and over "2K, just 2K, you can hold on from here". My reward for a valiant effort was a rolling last few kilometers, without any major climbs. This allowed me to really tap into my track background and extend my lead all the way to the finish, which was a welcomed sight!

Finish Line

At the finish line, I was embraced by my fiancee and race volunteers. I felt surprisingly strong despite the mid-race catastrophe and was therefor pleased that I had taken up the Cheyenne Mountain challenge. I believe it served its purpose in giving me a tough challenge, some much needed trail running experience and lastly, allowed me to practice racing and tactics that as I've mentioned before, can't be duplicated in practice. 

Boulder based PowerBar Reps

I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple of the PowerBar reps who were also in town from Boulder. They hooked me up with the much desired Performance Energy Blends that I've been wanting to try for some time. They worked a charm and I'll look to get some more before Vegas or at least when I get there. 

I did a couple of interviews before embarking on a cool down as well as cheering on other finishes. The first interview being with Justin Felisko of the 'Colorado Springs Gazette' & 'OutThere.com' and the second with Tim of 'Pikes Peak Sports'.  My body was feeling quite sore from the effort and the manner in which I had thrown myself down those hills in order to recapture the lead. I attended the award ceremony and thanked the race volunteers before jumping back in the car for the long trek north to Boulder. 

1st Place man & woman @ XTerra Cheyenne Mountain 12K

Up next is XTerra West Championships in Las Vegas on Sunday. Looking forward to another challenge and another chance to hone my trail running skills. I'll be taking this week a bit easier in order to recover and make sure I'm a bit fresher for the longer distance of 21 Kilometers. I'm certainly glad it won't be at elevation.

Cheers for reading, til next time...

Spring Into Racing

G'day! Its been a few weeks since my last posting, so I figured now would be a good time to provide both an update and a look at what's ahead. 

Road Work

The week after my last entry consisted of some manic weather, which is quite typical of early spring in Colorado. The week of March 17th, I managed 3 workouts and my highest mileage (110 mile) of 2013. The workouts were 5 x 2 minute hill repeats at Mount Sanitas on one day and 2 x 4 mile tempo on the roads a few days later.

The week came to a close with a blizzard, which sent me to the dreaded treadmill. The final workout of that week was a shorter tempo of 5 miles. It closed out a weekend with 34 miles over two days on the treadmill. Needless to say, my hips weren't terribly pleased. C'mon SPRING, get it together!

"Spring" in Boulder

The following week, I decided to take it easy as I was feeling a bit tired. I've always liked the quote, "It's better to be 10 miles undertrained, than 1 mile overtrained". So with that in mind, I just logged easy aerobic miles all last week. 

Core buster w/ heavy rope

I also spent much of that week at Rally Sport, my local gym. There I swam between 1 and 2 miles per visit on top of my typical core/weight routine. I always enjoy heading to Rally. Their staff is very knowledgable and my fellow gym-goers are inspiring, from world class triathletes, runners and cyclist, to a new mom who's looking to get back in shape. 

So now that we're up to date, what's up next, you ask? I'll be racing back to back weekends. First up is XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain in nearby Colorado Springs, where I'll compete over 12 Kilometers. I'm looking forward to it, but also anticipating a very challenging course. It'll serve as a shock to the system and a reintroduction to racing. Workouts are great, but racing is an art in it of itself that can't be duplicated in training. 

The following week, I'll make the trek to Las Vegas for the XTERRA West Championships, where I'll compete over 21 Kilometers. I'm still quite a novice on the trail (RACING) scene. In anticipation, I asked a mate of mine: Joseph Gray, an XTERRA World Champion as well as a 4-time NACAC Mt. Running winner for some advice. On racing trails, this is what he had to say, "Depends on your strengths. If uphill running is your strength then plowing downhill will thwart your potential to use your strong climbing. Your legs get beat up from the impact and that will slow your climbing if you aren't used to it. It's a gamble, you have to decide whether to run mediocre on the ups and downs or run extremely well on one and not so great on the other. A lot of it depends on who you are racing as well..."

2012 Xterra Trail World Champ @ Kualoa Ranch. Oahu, Hawaii

This week has been purposely top heavy. The goal of Monday-Wednesday being to exhaust and overload my legs both on the hilly trails and in the weight room. Monday morning I ran a hilly trail 10K. In the afternoon I incorporated the usual 10 x 10 second hills into my 2nd run. Tuesday I ran a 2 x 4 mile tempo on the roads again. That evening I went to Rally where I purposely added an extra set to each weighted rep I did. This left my already tired legs, comically exhausted (picture the Tin Man doing a "Harlem Shake"). Yesterday I duplicated Monday's training and added a 2 kilomete swim in the afternoon at Rally. 

So this brings us to today (Thursday). I've accomplished the 1st part of my mission this week. I've exhausted my legs over roads, trails & the gym. I'll now take Thursday & Friday really easy and allow the body to recover some. I'm purposely heading into this weekend a bit over worked and tired. I hope to get a great blow out and some much needed trail running experience before next weekend's Championship race. Only time will tell if my plan over the past 2 weeks will pay off. Needless to say, I'm enjoying the journey and newfound challenges. 

Lastly, a big thanks to my nutritional sponsor, PowerBar, for keeping me upright. Don't know where I'd be without their Cookies n Cream Caramel Crisp Recovery Bar. I literally have a "Recovery" drawer filled with their stuff! Can't get enough of it! 

Cheers for reading, till next time...


A Day In The Life of Roberto Mandje

Posted 03/14/2013 via - RecoFit Compression

G’day and thanks for stopping by.  My name is Roberto Mandje and I’m an Olympian distance runner.  I’m originally from Spain but have made Boulder my home for the past eight years.  This is my first of hopefully many blog postings so I figured I’d take you, dear reader, through one of my training days.

A typical day (in this case, Monday) starts around 8 a.m., at which point my lovely fiancée has turned into a DJ and remixed her alarm enough times to warrant a Grammy nomination.  Exiting the comforts of my warm bed, I usually look out the window and at my iphone’s weather app to determine how much complaining and groaning is justified before the day’s training ensues.  I’ll normally head straight to the living room and have a small breakfast while catching up on emails, BBC World Radio’s live feed and, of course, social media. After breakfast, I finally take off my RecoFit full-leg sleeves (in which I sleep most nights, and especially after hard training days) and — depending on the weather — jump into my Ninja outfit – aka tights, beanie, gloves, etc.  and I’m out the door by 9 a.m.

Mondays are my easier days, and I’ll head out for eight to 10 miles.  I’ll usually do this via the Boulder Creek Path, as it’s nice and flat.  In the winter, it also provides the best footing.  I’ll break up that run with a short stop by the steep, short hill that leads to the University of Colorado football stadium, where the Bolder Boulder 10k finishes each Memorial Day.  I’ll run anywhere from 10-15 repeats at 95% effort, taking my sweet time walking back down.  (For more on the benefits of these type of hill sprints, read this article, written by my former coach click here )

Feet up between training sessions

Feet up between training sessions

Afterwards, I return home to grab a PowerBar and then shower.  I’ve been known to hop in the shower with food in my hand!  Most days, I’ll then plop down on the couch for an hour or two and recover.  This is also when I’ll catch up with my family overseas via Skype, write emails and maybe do some coding and programming, all while sporting my white RecoFit calf sleeves.  I reserve them for lounging around the house to keep them looking nice!

Around 1 p.m., I head to the RallySport Gym to minimize any and all weaknesses.  A typical gym session lasts from 45 minutes to two hours.  On Mondays and Thursdays I’ll work on core and upper body with some weights; Tuesdays and Fridays are hard running/workout/sessions when I’ll work on core and lower-body weights (squats, lunges, etc.).  Sometimes I’ll swim or spin after a gym session.

I’ll stagger back home around 3 p.m. and — wait for it — plop down on the couch.  During the dead of winter, from which we’re now emerging, I know I won’t have much daylight to muck around with, so after only 60 to 90 minutes of “down” time, I start my final run of the day.  Now it’s time for my black RecoFit calf sleeves!  These are my favorites for trail running, asthey don’t show the ridiculous amount of mud I end up painting my calves with.  If the trail isn’t overly covered in snow and mud, I’ll normally head out for eight to 10 miles via Wonderland Lake Trail, crossing Lee Hill Road (passing by Casa de RecoFit, aka owner Susan’s home),  and run to Boulder Valley Ranch’s Eagle Trail.  From my home it’s all uphill until the turn-around – and then all downhill back!

After racing the sunset home like some sort of reverse vampire, my training day is officially over by 5:30 p.m.  I often just sit on the floor, zone out, go over a mental checklist of the day’s training, take stock of any aches/soreness/niggles and think about what’s on my social agenda for the evening, and ponder the next day’s tough running session.

Being a Barcelona boy, I’ve always enjoyed eating a late dinner and watching some Futbol.  Just before bed I’ll review scores from La Liga, write more emails and get to bed by 11 p.m.  I’ll once again pull on my full-legged RecoFit sleeves and officially close the book on another day of training.

Cheers for following along on my typical day!  Until next time – Roberto