Trail running

Race Report: Lory Xterra Trail Tri


Get out of your comfort zone: you'll almost definitely find something you didn't know you'd love. I did the Without Limits triathlon series last year, and I loved the atmosphere of those races: laid back, locally owned/run, open to anyone, but still with legit competition and serious athletes. This year I decided to try one of their races that DIDN'T take place at the Boulder Reservoir. I found Lory Xterra. 

The swim for the race was pretty simple: an out and back around a series of buoys (right around 1,000 yards). The reservoir was nice and calm, and the race location is situated so that the swim course is pretty secluded (and beautiful). The water temperature was 68-degrees. Race organization was really well planned out from start to finish. The first 3 waves of the swim left with only 2 minutes between them. Then they took a 15-minute break, and the remaining 5 waves left with 7-minutes between. I was in wave 4, so right after the break. They've developed this system so that the rest of the course is never too congested. In my opinion, it's pretty genius. 


My only complaint about preparing for this race was that I found out a week before that no CX bikes are allowed on an Xterra course. That's not explicit on the website. It also wasn't listed at all in the race announcement email. I purchased a Specialized Diverge last October, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to race with my new bike. I'm hugely grateful that I posted "Lory Xterra practice ride" as the title for a workout on Strava. A friend saw it and told me to check the status of CX bikes. I contacted Race Director, Lance Panigutti, and sure enough: mountain bikes only. So...I had to rent a bike. Not a huge deal, really, but with a little more notice I would have planned differently. I'm mostly grateful that I got this information at all, and didn't show up on race-day with my CX bike! The course is for sure doable on a CX/gravel bike, but easier on a MTB...much easier.

I picked up a Santa Cruz Pivot Switchblade from University bikes. This bike was insane. Way more bike than I'm used to, but super fun. If I had a spare $7,000, I would totally buy it. This bike made everything on the course fun and easy. I still need some practice with my confidence, though. On the first loop, I got passed several times, but everyone was super nice. By the second loop, things were spaced out pretty well. Overall, the bike was my weakness, but by the end of the 12+ miles, I felt like I was finally holding my own. 


Early this year, I decided to do as much of my running as possible NOT on pavement, so I've really gotten familiar with this course and the other local trail systems. I still can't believe that so many people who do triathlons, but especially trail triathlons, dread the run. There were SO many people walking and giving up. This run course is AWESOME. Pretty much straight up for 2.3 miles, and then down. The overall elevation gain is right around 600-feet, and all within the first half of the (5-mile) run. The views of Horsetooth and the entire area are amazing. And the trail is so nice: single-track, switchbacks, packed dirt, and some fun rock areas. In other words, everything you should love on a trail run. It's pretty exposed, so I was thankful that we had a lot of cloud cover. (The weather was really perfect: 60s and mostly cloudy). I seriously love this run. And the fact that I got to pass everyone who had killed me on the bike! 


Overall, I recommend this race, especially if you're new to triathlon or new to Xterra, or just love off-road. This is a well-organized race in a beautiful setting. 


Gear: Altra Superior 3.5


When I lived in Brooklyn, NY, I worked at a (then) locally-owned running and triathlon store. It was like Cheers but with gear instead of booze. The manager had been there for 9 years, and was king of the neighborhood. Kids stopped in on their way home from school. Loyal customers brought cookies on holidays. Regulars showed up for group runs in the pouring rain. Even though I had been teaching higher education for more than a decade, I learned more in the running store than I had since I bagged groceries at the local co-op during graduate school. Everyone should be required to work retail or an otherwise low-wage job as an adult: humanity might be saved. 


I specifically remember when we were introduced to the Hoka One One (pronounced oh-nay oh-nay). I took a picture of a quarter next to the height of the cushioning, and rolled my eyes for months. We were at the tail end of the minimalist craze, and I felt embarrassed to even have it in the store. I treated the Hokas as sort of a joke: whenever I brought it out for a customer to try on, I said something like, "And then there's THIS!" Other employees made a note of telling us all if they sold a pair. We'd wager bets on how soon a customer would return them.


Fast-forward...I've been wearing nothing but Hokas (Cliftons) for at least 2 years. After finally breaking down and buying my first pair, I couldn't get over how light they were, and how 100% injury-free they made me. Now they're everywhere. I even saw a photo of my cross-country coach wearing a pair! (Go Tigers). 


But, when I started getting serious about trail running a few months ago, I started tripping on rocks. I know this is largely (if not entirely) human error, but I wanted a new shoe: something with a low drop and more traction. I found the Altra Superior 3.5. Like the Hoka, this is a unique shoe, and certainly not for everyone. It is "minimal" in that it is zero-drop, but it's nothing like a racing flat. The cushion is perfect and the grip is incredible. I haven't tried the rock plate that can be added because I love it as-is. My foot doesn't move around at all, despite the "foot-shaped" toe box.  


Altra is built on the ample-forefoot room (their motto is "embrace the space,") which I love. I recently put this shoe to the ultimate test. Horsetooth Mountain in seriously muddy, foggy, slick, rainy conditions. I ran a little over 6 miles with 1,600 feet of climb and descent. This shoe was amazing. Even thick mud didn't stick to the lugs on the sole: it transitioned well from mud to rock to grass. (For a long time--like, 7 years--the Mizuno Wave Rider was my shoe; but my main complaint with that shoe was that "stuff" constantly got stuck in the wave plate: snow, mud, rocks...) With the Altra, I went through puddles and streams and even scrambled up some rock, and never slipped or collected the trail in my shoes. While the upper isn't waterproof, necessarily, I never felt uncomfortable despite being covered in mud and rain. At the end of my run, I sprayed them off with the water fountain at the trailhead and the grime washed right off. While mud and rain haven't ever been my ideal conditions for running, they might soon be with the Altras.  



Something I Learned: Slowing the Pace


Trail running has always sort of intimidated me. But, anything I'm not really good at intimidates me. I tend to be a one-pace person. That pace has changed over the years, but generally I go x-minute miles with only about 20 seconds difference. Ever.

I grew up running with no devices and never really worried about numbers. When I went to college, my father got me a Timex watch that had one feature: a timer. I went out for between 40 and 50 minutes each morning during the week, and 80 to 100 minutes on the weekend. I ran every day and didn't even know how fast I was going. I drove routes in my old Chevy Lumina, in order to have some idea what the milage was. When I started running cross-country, everything was new to me. Tempo, fartlek, repeats. The only "speed" work I did with my father was sprinting to the end of each run: maybe 100-200 yards. 


Because speed work wasn't how I was born into running, I feel like I always sort of dreaded it. Each first day of practice after a break from school, my college coach would have us run a timed mile. I never stopped running during breaks, so it wasn't a big deal for me. But my teammates (whether they did their own conditioning or not) would run so hard they'd vomit. I never got that: I never went that hard. 

I've given trail running a few chances here and there, but recently I think I'm finally GETTING it: like being a kid again. Pace doesn't really matter. Or, not like it does on flat land. There's zero consistency. Get up the hill (or, mountain), recover, and fly down the other side. It's. So. Much. Fun. I've been getting up earlier and earlier to be the only one at Devil's Backbone in Loveland, Colorado. The first-light sun on the rocks is always stunning. There are several different trail options, and all give way to views of Rocky Mountain National Park--namely, Long's Peak. 


I like the concentration of being on the trails: it's actually freeing. There's so much to think about (rocks, foot placement, climbs, mud, grass...rattle snakes) that you can't get wrapped up in anything else. Nothing can clutter the mind except the trails. And I'm totally fine with my miles spanning at least 3-minutes on the trails: it all balances out.