Sunday, February 5, 2017

Crowbar Backcountry Skimo Race - One Thousand and One Kick Turns!

“I discovered the middle path of stillness within speed, calmness within fear, and I held it longer and quieter than ever before.” Steve McKinney

Photo by Mark Trahan

What is Skimo? It’s actually the frozen, slippery way to say Randonee Racing which is actually French for “can’t telemark!”  When ski touring in the backcountry crosses over into competitive racing formats for skinning up, skiing down and booting all around mountains high; that is Skimo.  For others, Skimo, short for ski mountaineering, is scrambling high mountain peaks with ultralight technical equipment, packing the bare minimum, moving with efficiency and speed on snow and ice covered mountains delivering a surgical strike on some sacred, seldom skied, coveted line.... That is also Skimo. I prefer the Skimo where I wear a form fitting lycra skin-suit just to look fancy going fast up and down groomers in New England.

Skimo found me through my multisport friend Josh Flanagan who suggested to give it a try after a successful comeback to the Tuckerman Inferno in 2015 .  A comfortably advanced alpine skier, I considered backcountry skiing but never the motivation to pursue another activity that required plentiful amounts new gear.  

With blessings and support of my awesome wife, I began earning turns skiing uphill at local resorts with convenient uphill policies. Gained some experience both skinning uphill and most importantly, learning to ‘quickly’ transition between skin-to-ski and ski-to-skin. Started competing in the NE Rando Race Series directed by Jonathan Shefftz and joined his crew for summer turns off the summit of Mt Adams, WA and obligatory dawn patrols on the Mt Hood Palmer Snowfield.  Skimo was starting to take me places I previously could have only dreamed of visiting. 

Overlooking magnificent Sink Hollow in the Cache National Forest
Photo by Tyler King

Another one of those least expected places to visit was located in the Northern Wasatch Mountains of Utah. A 45 minute drive to the Northeast of Logan passing through scenic Logan Canyon was a place just far enough away from Salt Lake City that consistently remains an untouched, wintery paradise. Flying into SLT at midnight on Jan 28th and driving 2 hours North to Logan, 3 hours of sleep then off to race registration for the 2017 Crowbar Backcountry Skimo Race. So much for acclimating and resting up.  The price to pay for a 4-day whirlwind ski tour of the wondrous Wasatch.

 Race registration in the hollow. Single digits chilling an assembling crowd
 Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
Arriving in Sink Hollow, a wide open space nestled between Beaver Mountain Resort and the 9200’ lone summit of Beavers Envy in the Cahche National Forest. The lone summit is a backcountry playground and the prime location for a morning of mid-winter Skimo racing. The terrain is accessed via the trailhead at Sink Hollow on the way to the resort.  Crowbar is organized by the enthusiastic, high energy team from Nordic United, a Logan nonprofit that delivers on its promise to offer outstanding array or winter sports and recreation in the surrounding Cache National Forest.  From days leading up to the race, it takes an army of volunteers to pull off an event that starts and finishes exclusively in the backcountry, never crossing into resort grounds.

An army of volunteers out several days before the event setting skin-tracks, bootpacks and flagging the downhill runs.
Photo by Erik Syrstad
Photographer Wayne Wurtsbaugh and friend at a proper backcountry checkpoint during 2016 Crowbar

             Typical Backcountry Checkpoint at Crowbar
                                Photo by Tyler King
Temperatures were a stiff -3F and just trying to stay with no luxury, sheltered within the typical front side confines of a ski lodge; thus affected my time management.  Not to mention the distraction that comes from being surrounded in the hustle and bustle of an excited group of backcountry enthusiasts and competitors. This leads me to my worst start in my personal short history of Skimo.

Participants choose between a 10 mile long full course with over 6000' elevation or a short course roughly half that distance and elevation. The full course was broken into race and heavy metal division depending on the weight of the ski/binding combination.  Either way, any choice was going to be a big challenge and excellent time had by all.

Overheard rumblings that the race would start later than intended; I got too comfortable.  An announcement was called out that all backcountry checkpoints would soon be in position and the race would promptly begin in 15 minutes. I was not dressed or remotely ready and scrambled to the starting line with less than 30 seconds to spare.  I had not completely clipped into the binding pins on the right toe piece and lost my ski off the start. Passed by at least 40 people.... Embarrassing!

The always, heart pounding lead-off where everything fell apart underneath me.
Photo by Matthew Halton, Cache Valley Daily

Racers leading the charge, slipping into dual skin track lanes.
 Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
The event started with a long 2.3 mile ~16% grade approach, some 2000’ in elevation gain above the hollow, followed by several short, steep 700ft (26%) and 1300ft (31%) climbs and then one big push, summiting Beavers Envy featuring the more technical skin-boot-skin-ski transition. Had to produce a really hard initial effort through the calf deep powder along the edges of the skinning lanes, making moves between a dual tracks and finally locking into a steady 15th position, far off the lead pack. I was able to maintain a solid 2.6mph average on this opening climb.

Following each climb were bomber glade runs, weaving in-and-out of trees, floating through pristine powder meadows and occasionally breaking through the hard crust of the previous days ski tracks. The first descent, flanking ridge-lines to the foot of the mountain was outstanding.  The runs progressively got steeper and more challenging with already burning quads negotiating power stashes and dodging a continuous barrage of trees. Throw out any inclination for resembling anything remotely close to a performance turn when your skiing 65mm under foot on ultra light rando race skis weighing much less than 1000g each.  I was lacking anything in the form of control on the skinniest skis imaginable!

My personal hero, Ryan Choi showing us how to lay fresh lines in Skimo.
Photo by Amalgamated Photography

The rest of the race was as one would expect in Skimo. I exchanged places with a few people, back and forth little battles engaging each other in good camaraderie.  I was pacing myself strong and with confidence but that hard push off the start caught up with me and the altitude finished the job. Cameron Peterson, one of the original organizers of the event, made a move on me in a later section of steep skintrack where hundreds of  kick turns were getting in my way.  In fact, what’s a kick turn again?  We don’t have those back East! Next, I lost my right Pomoca race skin due to the frigid cold and second place finishing Emily Brackelsberg whom was hot on my tail pulled out in front of me.  A fairly quick exchange to backup skins tucked down, deep into the kangaroo pouch of my race suit and I was off. The gap further widened as I finally submitted to the altitude to ensure I would cross that finish line.  I was warned that it would happen, but did not know what to expect.  I was going strong, then a sudden shortness of breath and I could not turnover the pace, working harder, going slower.

Cameron ripping skins fast in transition.
Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
Emily "Utah Speed Girl" steadfast and efficient in transition
Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
High Altitude: Coming directly from sea level and at a base elevation of 7000ft I was advised not be too shocked about any decrease in aerobic performance or disappointed in the result.  What would a loss in performance feel like having never competed in high altitude? 

Learning to ‘quickly’ transition between skin-to-ski and ski-to-skin is very important in Rando Racing.
Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
I noticeably slowed down to a crawl on the final climb which proved difficult to maintain respiratory efficiency.  Short, rapid breaths ensued which required backing off the pace to comfortably manage a deep, diaphragmatic breathing rate. Pace slowed, while average heart rate still stuck at threshold but fortunate to be in complete control with no major spiking. Opportunity for short recoveries in transition were still in command as normally expected.  The loss in performance came on the final 1.4 mile, 1900ft (24%) climb I was only able to maintain a moving pace of 1.6mph at 171HR.  I just kept in control of my now slowly, progressing pace and was having the time of my life out there.

There is much to be said about living high, training low unless you were born low like me.....  Acclimation is important and based on my Hear Rate Variability results; it suggests that 48 hours minimum would be required for both resting heart rate and overall heart, respiratory functions to normalize.

Powder Skiing:  The views on the descents were delightful, I had few opportunities to briefly consume my surroundings; an awe inspiring landscape surrounding the hollow below, with nearby ridge lines and far away mountain summits covered in a white, wintery wonderland.

Skimo certainly requires plentiful amounts of new gear!
Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh

Skimo requires, without question, some of the lightest, most technical combination of skis, bindings and boots in the market today. When performance and efficiency in the uphill approach is utmost important, durability comes into question and being a weight weenie is an understatement. It was quite the challenge skiing through all that powder on these skinny rando race skis. My current kit features Atomic Ultimate 65 WC with Plum 135 tech bindings and Dynafit DY.N.A. EVO race mountaineering boots

I toppled and tumbled countless times. More fluffy, puffy wipe-outs in this event than I have in the last 50 days skiing combined! Dropping lines between trees with burning quads with little control made each run feel like that final run of a long day front side, lift serviced when you decide to drop the gladed bumps one last time. Despite a sense of helplessness, lacking control, I picked up the pieces and pushed on, through the respiratory wall and the beginnings of creeping tremors, cramping up in the inner thighs on the final 200ft skin ascent before the ski to skate into the finish line.

Viewed from an open meadow mid-slope capturing the racers dropping the upper section of the final big descent

Dropping out of the upper slopes, trying not to crash into this well positioned photographer!
Photo by Amalgamated Photography
Competitor Eric Bunce was working the race course hard at the top of the pack but broke a ski on the remnants of a snowmobile track hardened in a hard pack ice crust from snowmobile traffic down low. The durability of rando race skis is always going to be a variable.It is not uncommon to hear about a racer forced to drop out at the end of the days competition.  My result was 14th overall of 26 with a time of 3:30:11 about an hour outside of the top three competitors on the podium.

Nina Silitch doing what she does best... All smiles and Skimo!
Photo by Tyler King
Jason Boro in transition.  Pro styles!
Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
At the finish, I caught up with Jason Borro from SkimoCo who personally delivered an order of amazing SkiTrab Attivo goggles to my attention.  What first class service! Another favorite moment was catching up with America’s most decorated Skimo athlete, Nina Silitch whom I had luckily crossed paths with at some awesome events back in New England before relocating to Park City.  She is doing amazing things in the Skimo community and wishes to her ongoing success!

“Earning Your Turns” transcends skiing to new levels; it captures moments of peaceful solitude as you negotiate terrain and landscapes in your winter surroundings.  All heart and lungs on the way up, tapping into physical performance and then reap the rewarding experience of ripping the freshest lines, less traveled on the return trip.  Euphoric state of mind, unlike any other sport I have been involved.

Junior competitor reaping rewards. Well earned, hard days effort.
Photo by Mark Trahan
Daphnee, Nick and I at finish
Trade "Mark" Photo Selfie
Crowbar was nothing less than spectacular, showcasing the strength of Skimo racing in Utah from the top of the competition right down to the future generation of junior competitors.  Big shout-out to friends Nick Gottlieb and Daphnee Tuzlak in Logan for their invite and hospitality, making this trip a reality for me. To the University of Utah graduate students welcoming me into their inner circle for an overnight celebration at the Beaver Mountain Yurt very reminiscent of my college days.  

2017 Cache Regional Overland Winter Backcountry Adventure Race!
Photo by Wayne Wurtsbaugh
The Skimo community in Utah is an outstanding group of individuals coming together with unending desire to share their love for the outdoors in ways I never thought possible. I will be back (someday) with sights set to compete in the popular Wasatch Powder Keg, however, the Crowbar is going to be really hard to pass up.... Everyone should race the Crowbar at least one time for a guaranteed one-of-a-kind experience.....  

Three cheers to Nordic United; the race directors, volunteers and sponsors that consistently pull off a race of this magnitude.  You are all responsible for keeping the dream alive!

This photo is for Jonathan!
Burning the midnight oil in the Beaver Mountain Yurt with some much needed flag repairs.  Green flags typically get stomped and stepped on at kick turns in the skin tracks. The red flags tend to get wrecked in the downhills as racers hang the tightest lines against them.  I won't be there.... but those flags will be used at the Wasatch Powder Keg. 

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder

Surviving on Stoke Factor 100!
Photo by Tyler King

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Josh Billings RunAground

“It is a darned sight easier to find six men who can tell exactly 

how a thing ought to be did than to find one who will do it.”
---- Josh Billings 

Overlooking Stockbridge Bowl in the "Heart of the Berkshires" at Tanglewood.

The 2015 North Country Endurance Challenge was cancelled and my teammate John McCarthy was tentatively planning heading back to compete at The Josh. Plenty of energy to spare and green lights flashing, we turned our attention to the Josh Billings RunAground on Sunday, September 20, 2015. This would be my very first Josh Billings and instead, I would be going head to head with my previous years teammate in the same division!

Opening the Fall multisport racing season with the Josh Billings, one of the country’s oldest continually run multisport triathlons! Putting a twist on the modern triathlon, The Josh starts with a 27 mile mass start road cycle, a not to be taken lightly 5 mile flat-water paddle, finishing with a net uphill smack in the face 6 mile road run.

Team "Accidents Happen" became Team "Babies Happen!"
It’s truly an action packed multisport event. The top teams delivering epic athletic performances, competition from first to last place are buzzing with stratospheric amounts of energy.  Almost 500 competitors across 40 divisions all making their way from Great Barrington to the spectacular venue of Tanglewood in Lenox.

Sharing in the race experience as a family and with friends is unique. Good friends John, Crystal and our little daughters alongside us for a wonderful weekend in Western, MA found the perfect balance and placed our racing addictions in perspective. In the photo above, John and I with our 20lb packages the day before the event exploring some wilderness trails locally. I still think his secret plan was to tire me before race day. So much for tapering the day before but I conceded, handing the ball full of joy off to my wife for the final 5km... it was all downhill from there!

Weather can be unpredictable in the Berkshires. Much chillier that morning than anyone anticipated with a nipping wind chill and certainly Stockbridge Bowl was likely going to be a torrent of head and cross winds.  A race is not without its challenges, but stage was set and the framework for an amazing bluebird day with plentiful spectators and racers alike was about to begin. We were almost go time!

The mass start began at Great Barrington Airport as an alternative location because roadwork in the center of town moved the course. Typically the course sends you through town and hangs a tight left turn before taking another quick right turn up a steep hill slowing things down and separating much of the pack. On the new course, we would be starting under a cautionary controlled start for safety because much of the beginning was fast and flat.

I am on the left (long red sleeve, white helmet) getting passed by this huge pack. Final climb before the finish
(Photo by John Marran Photography)

There appeared to be about 50-60 elite and category riders sectioned off in the corral.  John and I positioned ourselves about 3-4 rows back in the sport pack.  Michael McCusker, organizer of the Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon, was adjacent to us in that very same starting pack.  High fives and friendly conversation ensued!

Riding out of the airport in a controlled start for overall safety of the 500 bikers would remain for ~3 miles at no greater than 15mph. At the signal, the controlled start ended and made a break for the front. In less than half mile the road turned sharply to the right and an immediate uphill attack ensued pushing the intensity separating the majority of riders into packs. Over the top of the hill the third pack formed and about 25-30 riders assembled.  I remained there until mile 21 feeling like an overall strong cycle but lessons in group riding was learned.

Over committing in the hills during several surges eventually led to getting dropped. Could not hang onto the pack and made a mistake letting off the gas a little too much and drifting off the back.  I was facing a headwind at the time and slowly watched the pack move away from me.  Was by myself for 3 long miles until the 4th very large pack caught me at the bottom of the final climb passing Tanglewood.  They moved past me with a ridiculous amount of energy. I must have been passed by 30 riders in less than 10 seconds.  I finished ~12 minutes behind the leaders, in other words, I got my butt kicked all over the place in the cycling leg.  After joining the massive third pack of riders, I finished respectively with a time of 1:20:06 and in 75th place overall.

Paddling strong is key to this event and historically, plays a huge role in finishing with top teams battling it out overall and at the top of your division. Iron competitors are allowed to use ICF classification of boats which is understandable because any handicap on the water puts the soloist at a greater disadvantage coming into the water tired and then into a long run.  It certainly keeps things competitive at the top of the solo field. I chose to use my Fenn Millennium Surf Ski which is 21 feet long and just north of 17" wide.  It weighs about 35 lbs.

The paddle requires two full laps around the perimeter of Stockbridge Bowl.  This body of water is the perfect oval.  Buoys mark the perimeter of the course and paddlers must stay on the shoreline side of the buoys.

Josh Billings would absolutely test my threshold racing this surfski, paddling with grueling head/cross winds and 20mph gusts. There were many capsizes along the short turn in the course, as paddlers were battered continuously by wind driven chop doing everything in their power to remain upright. Then came the challenge of paddling into the constant resistance of that head wind along the long stretch back around the bowl.  Both circuits in complete fear of breaking down, loosing control of my stroke or balance in the chop and hints of capsizing ensued.

Holding it together in adverse paddling conditions challenging and overtaking position that would send me into the run with an advantage of time. Moving up in the standings 40 places with a time of 56:00 and 35th place overall! Could I preserve this lead on my nearest solo competitors going into what presumably was my weakest leg of the event?

Stockbridge Bowl becomes a "sea" of paddlers stretching end to end, all the way around its 2.5 mile oval circumference
(Photo by Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

Kari Crowe competing in the 2015 Josh Billings
(Photo by Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)
Kari Crowe, women's solo record holder at The Josh, was out there in the massive crowd of cyclists. This year she was competing on a two person team where she was cycling and paddling, saving her legs for other fall events and no doubt trails not road running. I had spotted her in the bike coral earlier as I was working my way towards my buddy John and sent a 'high-five' her way and wished her luck.

The Josh Billings run is net uphill, nothing extraordinary but will be hard pressed to match your personal best 10km personal best on this approximate 6 mile course distance. I defended my position with a controlled and confident run in the hills breaking the 45 minutes mark.Nothing earth shattering but as a solo competitor this is a portion of the race that requires absolute proper nutrition and hydration prior to beginning this final effort.  Result was a 3:00:13 finish ranked 36th overall of 449, 16th of 248 kayaking and most notably 5th overall solo of 125 alongside two friends in John McCarthy of Ludlow (4th) and Josh Flanagan of Cohasset (2nd).  Other incredible competition in the top 5 were some "oldies but goodies" in Kent Lemme and Jack Morse.

Friendly faces of the MRA Multisport were also representing at The Josh.  MRA athlete Kate Egnaczak competed in the SUP division with a 2nd place category finish in 4:01 and Rich Victor who competed in his first Josh rounded out a solid performance with a 3:43 finish time.
Look who was waiting and cheering for us at the finish line!
Noelle and her little friend Rose absolutely enjoy all the sights and sounds around them. Must be that incredible amount of energy in the atmosphere surrounding the competition!!!

History was made at the 39th Josh Billings with the top overall team Pittsfield Health Food Center taking the victory with a 4 person team in the kayak class with a lightning fast time of 2 hours 23 minutes! Never before has a team taken the overall fastest time in the kayak category. With that said, surf skis will now be allowed in the team categories where before were restricted for use only by solo competitors. Perhaps The Josh was waiting for the moment a kayak team took that overall spot to announce dropping the surf ski restriction in the team based category. There is a huge following of surf ski racing and deep competition in the Northeast. This change could forever see the top teams battling it out in surf skis for years to come.

Team Allen Heights continued their achievements with a strong second place finish and top overall canoe 2 hours 27 minutes. This team also made history the prior year with a record 4th in a row overall title. Despite the surf ski announcement, Allen Heights remain steadfast and on "Any Given Sunday" could reclaim the champion title at The Josh. Vermont Sports Connection rounded out the top three with a time of 2 hours 36 minutes undoubtedly one of the top teams for many years at this competition.
Sweetest Finish Line Reward Ever!
Josh, John and I.  2nd, 4th, 5th overall solo finishes at the Josh!

All the hard work and preparation would not be possible without the unending support of our wives. Taking position on the starting line and knowing that when you finish they will be there to greet you never mind the result.   At the end of the day, Astrid and Noelle are my shining stars and seeing their shining, happy faces brightens my day.

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MRA Multisport - XTERRA French River

"June is bustin' out all over, All over the meadow and the hill! Buds're bustin' outa bushes And the rompin' river pushes, Ev'ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill!"

With the Summer Solstice behind me I tapped into this energy and momentum took me to the next level.  I signed up for a weekend of racing at the XTERRA French River in Oxford, MA hosted by none other than MRA Multisport! XTERRA racing takes the same format of the classic mainstream triathlons - Swim, Bike and Run but takes it off road. Off road racing offers a multitude of alternative racing opportunities, taking your favorite outdoor activities and putting those skills to the test.

Many multisport events change the order of the events and offer kayaking in place of swimming. Multisport distances can vary greatly, along with the terrain and all the technical disciplines imagined. Generally speaking, multisport is the gateway to Adventure Racing which requires solid endurance, strength and technique across multiple disciplines.

Off road racing challenges your body at every moment adding elements of intense variability, demanding constant change along every twist and turn in the trail. Variable environmental conditions, loose rock and gravel, rolling sets of short, sometimes steep hills, lightning quick burmed up and banked turns, river crossings, mud crossings and best of all, its catered to you layer by layer, a game plan that the organizer carefully and methodically designed unfolds in front of you.

Race Director Alex Rogozenski of MRA Multisport!
Northeast Race Photo

Alex providing necessary race instructions to the field of  57 competitors.
Northeast Race Photo

The Sprint course was held on Saturday offering several choice divisions decided by which opening leg you prefer; swim, run, or paddle. I figured I would save myself the pain and suffering of another swim and of course, joined the paddling division. Starting with a 1 mile paddle, 8 mile mountain bike and 3.5 mile trail run. This is a great introductory distance into the world of off road racing and yet still features a challenging course that will leave you breathless, gasping for more!  Here are the XTERRA French River Sprint results.

Tom Lamont , (red) Wilderness Systems Tempest, battling for position against his nearest rival!
Northeast Race Photo

Kate Egnaczak killing it out there on her racing SUP!
Northeast Race Photo

Scott Samuel paddling his very sleek and fast Perception Shadow 16.5
Northeast Race Photo

Just hanging around after the sprint event with race buddy Scott washing off the dirt, dust and sweat from the day.  I finally met Ben Kimball the photographer behind the camera from Northeast Photo who  just so happens to be quite the trail running extraordinaire.  He recently authored a book about "Trail Running Western Massachusetts."  There I was telling him about Seven Sisters Trail Race, blah blah blah and this is the guy that knows every square inch of that tract of land not too mention every other hidden gem in Western MA just waiting to be tracked!

Taking the Fenn Millennium out for a "spin" in the opening leg of the XTERRA Sprint on Saturday.

On Sunday, the long course featured a 12 mile mountain bike and 5.5 mile trail run.  I was nervous about getting on the starting line with a 1/2 mile swim ahead of me and judging by the difficulty on Lake Singletary the swim leg was not in my favor. A simple change in format from kayak to swim  as the first leg completely changes the entire strategy for executing a good race plan. The difficulty of an XTERRA off road triathlon is typically about the same effort as an Olympic Triathlon distance.

I just love the feeling of getting all nervous before a race, a good exercise in focus to remain calm, cool and collected. I was absolutely stone faced before the race began with typical race day nerves and jitters.... We were all shivering in 55 degrees, with wind and rain using up valuable energy just staying warm. Everyone showed up in extremely challenging conditions and some were dressed in very fashionable warm-up suits; the poncho!  Soon the race would begin and with fires burning bright its easy to forget about the cold crisp air, whipping winds and driving rain, focused on that one primary goal we all shared....the finish line!

Prime example of the XTERRA competition swimming strong!
Northeast Race Photo

The Low Hanging Fruit

I had originally planned to bounce much earlier and head home but being part procrastinator and socialite paid huge dividends. I happened onto the opportunity to attend  mini-clinic from XTERRA Ambassador Ken Robins. The clinic was offered Saturday afternoon during early registration for Sunday's main event. He focused much of the discussion on preparation, transition and nutrition but it was his novice friendly swimming suggestions I capitalized the most. Here are some of the pro tips and techniques.

XTERRA Ambassador Ken Robins Mini-Clinic
Photo by Alex Rogozenski
1.  Back of the pack. Do not start in the front of the pack. Start closer to the back  and ease into the first 100m of the swim.  Do not go out too fast. Slow things down on purpose. Starting close to the front of the pack is disadvantageous as faster swimmers approach they converge on your path. Bumping and grabbing gets really uncomfortable and can affect your rhythm, especially at changes in direction around buoys.

2.  Draft.  Find someone swimming at a similar pace you can  comfortably maintain. Get behind reach out and when you can just barely tickle their feet you know your on draft.  Back off a hair and hang on for the ride.  Using goggles you can keep your head sufficiently streamlined in the water and stay on the intended line working the draft. Even better if you find someone kicking, splashing with their feet.  The air bubbles will give you extra buoyancy and literally lift you out of the water.

3. Picking your head up.  Lifting your head lowers your torso and legs, increasing drag and loosing forward momentum.  This requires more energy to get moving again.  Trust your instincts and if your on a proper draft, generally the person in front of you knows where they are going. Follow the leader.

Ken working with Scott on the preferred water bottle hand grab
4.  Interval strokes. I chose primarily breaststroke accompanied by freestyle. In reality, any stroke will work as long as you go with comfort, can travel straight and keep the body streamlined.  During the freestyle stroke, Ken recommended keeping the feet just under the surface of the water and flutter kicking, nice and light nothing more than that to save the legs for the bike and run. 

5. Air stroking with Ken. Something about... reaching over the barrel, straight forward across the surface of the water and pointing in the direction of travel, Something about... cupping loose hands to work on a good catch and pull, Something about....driving  the forearm vertical but not the entire arm.  Something about...taking the arms out at the hips and repeat on the other side. Something about... adding body rotation and creating a pocket of air to breathe without picking up the head. Ken recommended practice, practice, practice and join a swim club/team. Perhaps I could entertain him and trade paddling for swim instruction!

Swimmers hitting the water with speed....
Northeast Race Photo
Explosive Competition!
Northeast Race Photo

Swimmers immediately go into transition mode coming out of the water

The results do not lie. In comparison to the 2:24 per 100m survival mode pace at the Summer Solstice a week earlier. At XTERRA French River the pace astronomically improved to 1:49 per 100m for a  14:30 time. One clinic, pro advice a dramatic improvement of 35 seconds per 100m taking 4+ minutes off my projected 1/2 mile swim. Putting these instructions into action setup the rest of my race that followed having filled my basket with the freshest fruits of the season....Thanks Ken!

Members of MRA Multisport have access to a beautiful beach and stretch of water at Marion's Camp on Lake Singletary in Sutton MA. There are multiple opportunities for group sessions and workouts in order to perfect your form and build confidence in the swim. I need take advantage and join some of these workouts.

During the mountain bike segment competitors would be tossed and turned, over and over by a slick, loose course through huge puddles with no knowledge of what roots and rocks lay submerged. You had to let it loose, lay it on the line, a true gamble at times.  This course literally ate me up and spit me out, eating dirt more than several times. Wiping out knee into the gravel and face first into monster puddles, I was getting beaten up pretty bad on course. I paid a price for attempting a pass at the wrong time and heading into a fairly tight, off camber and rolling, root strewn path. Speeding right along, I skidded, clipping my handle bars onto a tree and getting end-over, twist somersaulted.  So much for making that pass and having to work twice as hard to catch up. I wonder if there are extra credit points in the freestyle of XTERRA? Going off road unto itself is about getting thrown down and repeatedly, getting back up to claim some more dirt!

Whipping around the 'Wet and Wild' trail system at Hodges Dam in Oxford, MA

This weekend is prime example of how fast conditions change.  Over 2" of rainfall, cool temperatures and wind all on a flooded out, sloppy course did not stop anyone. Across the entire field of competitors, posted times were clearly slower than the previous year on the same course. Wet and sloppy conditions can added significant time on course and I was approximately 7 minutes slower than my previous days riding pace.

The trail run lived up to the hype of an XTERRA.  It had a good mix of single track and jeep roads including some surprises like a river crossing 1 mile into the race to "wash off" the body and then a mud flat 1 mile from the finish to layer it all back on! An additional 2 mile route added onto the previous days sprint course containing stout elevation gains that slowed down the pace and sent the heart rate soaring.  The downhills were equally intense, loose and slick, racers would have trouble gaining traction and must remain focused at finding both speed and sure footing. Holding back on the previous days trail run allowed me to keep the pace up and best my projected goal.

Charging across the river!

Embattled competition at the river crossing!
Northeast Race Photo

Brad Waterson getting his groove on DirtTV!
Northeast Race Photo

Off road racing brings you up close and personal with nature's obstacle course  just like stumbling across the most random river crossing. You never know what your going to get,  its the tapas of culinary delights.You thought I was going to say "box of chocolates didn't you! You will never get bored going off road with each and every twist and turn offering up a delicate balance of sustained and interval efforts.

I crossed the finish line in typical Trahan fashion all jazzed up, adrenaline rush that built up slowly, to stratospheric levels, just exploding into the finish.  I finished 13th of 57 with a time of 2:15:015 and 2nd in age group at my first off road XTERRA. In comparison, the top finisher in the 35-39 age group was a time 2:05:35 so I have some room to grow. Not too mention an impressive performance by Steve Croucher from Vermont 1st place overall in 1:54:27 whom is competing for nationally and eyes set on the World Championships in Hawaii.

Big shout-out to Alex Rogozenski at MRA Multisport and his awesome staff putting on the best event weekend EVA in Central MA!  The energy and excitement is very addicting.  Here are the XTERRA FRENCH RIVER long course results.

Checkout this fantastic video edit of the XTERRA French River from Thom Parsons of DirtwireTV. It speaks for itself just ignore everything the dude at the beginning and end has to say!  Okay but I will say it.  Every competitor on course that day had such outstanding character to grin and bear the conditions and finish this race.

Taking the river crossing in stride!
Photo by Ben Kimball
Culminating an epic month on the "Tour O' Trahan" ending in an incredible weekend of racing at the XTERRA French River in Oxford MA. Absolute 100% heart pounding action in the grit and grime with some outstanding results in the books. Throughout this one month stretch I have been surrounded by awesome friends, sharing new experiences with incredible competition from one event to the next.

I could not resist, adding another race to the schedule and pulled the trigger signing up for XTERRA Skyhigh on Saturday July 18, 2015 in Grafton Lakes State Park in New York. Another week of preparations!

Proud 'dirtbag' American!
Photo by Alex Rogozenski
Apparently the attempt to slow things down and come back to earth was abruptly halted by an impulsive decision to continue racing.  My current plan is to place the intensity on the back burner when I make travels to visit the family in Sweden. Well earned time to let the body heal, rest and recover...

I have exceeded personal expectations this season and certainly not possible without the encouragement and understanding of my lovely wife Astrid. I look forward to introducing that 'peaches in the pie' daughter of ours to the many active, outdoor pursuits we share with so many wonderful people.

Looking forward to some fun and festivities at events this Fall.....
Josh Billings Runaground in Great Barrington, MA Sept 20
Greenway Challenge in Blackstone Valley September 26
Great River Challenge at Northfield Mountain Recreation Area, October 4
Tully Lake Triathlon in Royalston, MA Oct 18

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder