Monday, November 16, 2015

Making Memories at the Edaville Rail Run

There are many races where you have that signature moment when you ask: What the hell am I doing? That moment came in the very first mile of the 2015 Edaville Rail Run. A freezing twenty mile an hour wind barreled across the cranberry bogs and slammed into hundreds of runners who tucked deep into their sweat clothes. The wind was a constant obstacle at what was otherwise a flat, 5 mile trail run. But I must back up a little because the race itself was only one part of the journey.

I grew up in Massachusetts (25 years). My wife Terri and I lived there together for about three and a half years (Two years in Carver). We had good jobs and an active social life despite the weather. Terri competed in Dressage while my brother Kevin and I competed in mountain bike racing. Living with my parents was difficult, cramped into a single wide mobile home. We looked into getting a place of our own but the cost of living was just outrageous. We moved back to Florida in 2010.

Five years passed before my mother convinced me to visit. Terri couldn't make the trip so I went up alone but she insisted that I do certain things while I was there. 1. Look through my photo albums, to be reminded of where I came from. 2. Take a walk in the woods, enjoy the intoxicating scent of pine trees in Autumn. 3. Eat at Cosi. It was our favorite lunch stop. Their Turkey Stuffing Sandwich is to die for. It's funny how strongly food is connected to memories.

Number four was a big ask: Spend some quality time with the family. I've got a huge family and can't possibly see them all in one weekend. What I could do amounted to hours of coffee talk with Mom & Dad plus dinner with my sister Ginger and her husband Tim. I also got to hang out with my nephew Tyler and my niece Natalie, both great kids. That list also included hugging a bunch of animals. I followed Terri's instructions as best I could but there was one last thing to do.

Alex and his Mom
On Saturday morning it was time to race. Edaville is the oldest heritage railroad in the United States. Situated on a Cranberry plantation it was an active for decades before becoming a small theme park that is well known for its seasonal festivals. My first memory of Edaville was as a little kid climbing aboard the steam train during the Christmas themed Festival of Lights. Edaville can be a magical place for a kid and even more so in the future as they are rebuilding the park to include more rides. These changes will include Dino-World, a full section dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine plus the requisite shopping village and archway entrance.

In November of 2000 Edaville created the first rail run to benefit the long standing Dorine Merritt Memorial Fund which gives money to various youth causes in the town of Carver. The route is like no other (Route Map). It is a pure trail run on flat bog roads that circle the beautiful Atwood Resevoir. This would be the very first running race for my brother Kevin who bought brand new, watermelon colored running shoes the night before. He took on the 2 mile course while I huddled my way into the 5 mile race.


The last time I tackled a race of this distance was the 2013 Shark's Tooth 10K so my expectation here was merely to finish. While 46 degrees is not so bad, it was the wind that chilled us to the bone. At the start runners hopped in place and shook their limbs to stay nimble until the blare of the horn. Unable to warm-up before the start I merely had to shuffle my way through slow miles before my muscles agreed to kick in. People stood by the sides of the bog playing Eye of the Tiger on their stereos while holding up signs. The water stops were also friendly and encouraging. The first was worked by a particularly beautiful girl with long dark hair and a great smile, that will always get the heart beating a little faster.

I was probably passed by a hundred competitors and while motivation was difficult to maintain, it gave me time to develop a plan. At the 3 mile marker it was my turn to push. I widened my strides and started counting the people I passed on the way to the finish. Twenty-five runners later I charged up the ending hill and crossed the line. My brother, mother and niece were there to greet me.

You can't beat New England in the fall. This weekend was well worth the travel. If I have two tips for anyone wishing to go they are: 1. Use T.F. Green Airport (Avoid Logan) and 2. Involve your family. These events are so much more fun when you can share them with the ones you love.

Kevin Hutchinson (2 mile) Time: 23:51 - 15th in 36+ age group, Overall 82 of 161

Alex Hutchinson (5 mile) Time: 53:28 - 28th in 40-49 age group, Overall 280 of 352

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Daily Warm-up for Old Bastards

I tend to design the best warm-ups when I'm sick or injured. After another round of back pain followed by a pulled Latissimus dorsi and/or Serratus posterior muscle, not sure which is hurt, I have changed my starting routine. The logic is that if I can do a warm-up while I'm sick or hurt then I never have an excuse not to do it. As you can imagine this takes some creativity.

While I'm not yet an old bastard, I do sometimes feel like one. There are mornings where stiffness and ache threaten to ruin my plans. The truth is that when we get older we need more time to get the engine going so mobility becomes a bigger priority. They have a saying in Crossfit, "The shorter the workout, the longer the warm-up." Such logic applies to this cause. In this case the workout is your wake-up, that step into daily life.

All you need to do this warm-up is a piece of PVC pipe about 5 feet long and maybe 3 or 4 inches wide. This length/size/weight will allow you to do basic exercises like the overhead press, bench, squat and bent over row. Multi-joint exercises are preferred but don't be afraid to put curls in there. Just remember the most important rule: This is a warm-up. This is not a workout. This is not a shock exercise. The reason for using a PVC pipe instead of a weight bar is that it cannot be upgraded or plated. Stay light to get warm.

In addition to the PVC exercises you can also throw in one or two bodyweight exercises but with one qualifier: You must know your limits. If 50 reps worth of air squats causes you soreness the next day, then you can't use that exercise. Try PVC deadlifts instead. So here is the next rule: Your exercises must add up to 300 with a 50 rep minimum. In other words you can do 100 lat raises, 100 lunges, 50 air squats and 50 back extensions. Or you can try 100 bent over rows, 100 bench presses, 50 overhead and 50 box squats. There are a multitude of variations but I do find that this one works best: 100+100+50+50=300.

The magic number is 300. The exercises are up to you but you must stick with the PVC pipe, strick form and 300 reps. Why? If you do 500 it becomes a workout. If you use more weight it becomes a workout. If you misread your own limits it becomes workout. You want to be able to do this every day. There should never be a time when you are too sore or too tired or too sick to manage 300 reps. In addition I like to follow it with a short walk or run. I'm talking about 1 to 3 miles but no more.

My goal was to create something very basic, flexible and easy to follow. We all want to slow the process that turns us into old bastards. It's going to happen but we can fight it every step of the way.

Disclaimer: Alex is not a licensed fitness expert. He is just a crazy fucker who writes books, rides bikes and lifts weights. If you follow his advice then doom on you!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Stop Training & Start Having Fun

You know that instant when you get over yourself and start enjoy the moment? That finally happened to me. Two years ago I was an active runner competing in a race series and obsessing about beating my competition. I chose races based on how well I might place. How ridiculous is that? I was constantly suffering from injuries incurred during training and I was killing myself during the events. After one year I was beat down by my own efforts. I had missed the point entirely.

This time around I decided to stop training and start having fun. Instead of methodically building up to a race, I will sign up spontaneously. Instead of pushing myself to get faster, I will run at an agreeable pace. This is an attempt to stop the crash and burn cycle that has plagued all of my athletic endeavors. So far it appears to be working.

At the 2015 Trick or Trot 5k in Englewood (My Favorite Race), I threw all those unrealistic expectations in the garbage. In the spirit of Halloween I dressed up as The Punish Her. Nothing will make you smile faster than a tutu. I showed up early, posed for pictures and greeted friends. When the race started I took up a casual pace and just enjoyed the experience. It was about great trails, lots of smiles and physical activity in that awesome Florida weather. This is what it should be like. All of my runs will focus on fun from now on.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Edinburgh Cyclocross Challenge - Photos

The third weekend of FLCX took place at Highlander park in Dunedin, Florida and it was another hot one, at least for the first day. Saturday's races took place under a scorching sun which was ironic considering that Highlander is also a water park. Right next to the course was a full size pool and children's sprayground. If only there had been moisture on the course. A well timed rain would have made for a completely different experience. As it were, Edinburgh was mostly flat grass with a dust cloud sand pit, some shaded singletrack and a couple cement bike paths. These made for a fast race. Ryan Woodall held the Saturday record of 5:25 a lap which he took as part of his Pro win.

This was my return to racing after a disastrous start at Veterans park. There I overheated and had an asthma attack, here was I was determined to avoid those traps. It was not an easy task. Electing to take on the crowded category 4/5 race was a great idea. I found them to be a varied assortment of riding styles and skills. Despite entering the chase with a singlespeed I was able to cruise well in the corners but lost time on the straights. My asthma still caught me but not until the second lap and it wasn't a bad attack so I was able to keep huffing forward. I finished the race and had a great time doing so.

I need to thank some people for their support: Race Promoter Zach Fout for some nutritional advice, The Champ Ryan Woodall for cheering me on, Uber Heckler Michael Toth for lifting my spirits in the later laps, Patrick O'Shea for suggesting that I race Cat 4/5 and I want to thank the man I was chasing, John Tenney. I never did catch him, lol.

My lovely wife Terri was there to take some pics so be sure to check them out at the link below.
Feel free to tag yourself and others.

Thanks again to my sponsors: Bicycles International, 661 and Luksha Reconstruction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Racing with Exercise Induced Asthma

The whistle blows. I'm racing along with the pack, keeping an eye on the jersey in front of me, barely aware of the rider behind me. My pace is steady and the obstacles are manageable. Then suddenly I notice that my breathing is a little forced. I'm taking larger gulps of air and trying to calm them down by breathing through my nose. I ignore the discomfort and keep on. Half a lap later my gasping is so loud that spectators can hear it. Instead of cheering they pause and listen. They know that something is wrong. They might even spot the problem before I do.

In my mind I'm thinking: It's a race. It's supposed to be hard. There is supposed be pain. I'm pushing the pace. I'm focused on a goal. It is within this mentality that I am often the last to acknowledge what is happening, I was hyperventilating. My lungs were restricting, closing up, depleting the oxygen that my muscles desperately needed. I was growing weaker, getting slower. The obstacles became too much. I had to churn the pedals to make it through the sand and mud. People were passing me. Then I was off the bike, pushing it up a hill and suddenly I couldn't even do that. I couldn't take another step. It was over.

Exercise Induced Asthma is not uncommon among athletes, especially cyclists. Perhaps more than 10% of cyclists deal with the occasional attack. There are many theories as to why but the most likely is that cyclists breath in large amounts of pollen and pollutants from the air as they ride. These allergens narrow airways starting a negative reaction cycle. However, the true source of EIA is still largely unknown and its triggers vary greatly.

Of the ten bike races I have participated in this year, only two have been interrupted by EIA. Both of them were on particularly hot days so in my case that is the most likely trigger. As for treatments, there are many suggestions from Albuterol inhalers to corticosteroids to the Buteyko breathing method. The one that works best for me is running intervals. On the day of the event I need to open my lungs up, so to speak, to lessen the chance for an episode. Even so, it can come out of nowhere.

EIA is not a new development as noted in a article that came out earlier this year:
In a study published in 1998 in the “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,” researchers studying athletes at the 1996 Olympic Games found that U.S. athletes participating in cycling and mountain biking had the highest rate of asthma. A later study published in the June 2006 issue of the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness” tested the pulmonary function of a professional cycling team and found that 72 percent of the subjects had upper airway or bronchial symptoms.

Many great athletes have suffered from this condition and managed to move forward in their careers. The most notable in our sport is Katie Compton. She has suffered from a number of illnesses but most notably allergy induced asthma. Some attacks have been so serious as to land her in the hospital. Still, Katie has managed to perform on the highest level. How? Her response is, "I'm stubborn and I hate quitting." Thanks to her unstoppable attitude she has won the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships 11 times. We couldn't ask for a better example.

I wrote this to reach out to anyone battling the same challenges and remind you that you are not alone. Take the best steps available (Warm-ups, meds, breathing exercises), keep yourself educated and watch for the signs. Most importantly, don't give up. I put in three months of training and yet still could not overcome the effects of a particularly hot afternoon. It all felt like such a waste. My frustration was beyond words but I've been down this road before. It was only one race. My happiness depends, not on winning, but on participating. I'll be back and so will you. The season has only just begun.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Veterans Memorial Park CX Race Photos

The first race of the Florida Cyclocross Season was a hit. Veteran's Memorial Park in Hudson was well attended despite weather conditions that might have frightened less hearty sportsmen. On Saturday, Sept 5th, 2015 the heat was on. Literally, it was like 95 degrees in the sun. Around mid show there was a brief interval of rain to cool things off but then it went right back to scorching. Still, nothing was going to stop these riders.

Big thanks to Zach Fout of Cycology Coaching Solutions for crafting a fun course full of sand traps and mud pits with a few tricky off cambers bits to keep riders on their toes. Even the kids had an entertaining race with one ambitious young man who rode under the tape several times creating his own loop. While there I managed to get a few photos of the event and competitors then pasted them on Facebook. Feel free to tag yourself or friends.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Season is Upon Us!

The summer is almost over and CX Season is about to start! I have been training in a manner befitting someone who has to visit every five minutes to make future decisions. Regardless, things have gone smoothly. No injuries, no major mechanical issues. I was banging out the reps, running up my cardio and biking over everything that can even vaguely be considered an incline. For example: Hill repeats on the Venice bicycle bridge. It takes 20 laps of that 50 footer to make 1,000 feet of climb at 5%. That's about as big as it gets around here but results should follow.

I have always had trouble sticking with a training plan for very long. However, I have found the cure to that problem - Crossfit. I've been dabbling with CF for a while but this summer I decided to look more deeply into this phenomenon. I read a couple books (Inside the Box & Learning to Breathe Fire). I watched dozen of videos and got my wife Terri involved. We do solid warm-ups followed by WOD's (Workout of the Day) at home usually a few days a week. We scale down the weights and times but always use high intensity. The early results are encouraging and since it is a variable system I never get bored with it. Moreover, Terri enjoys the challenges.

On a related note, during July I was happy to take part in a CX gathering at Payne Park in Sarasota. There were about two dozen people who showed up to learn the ropes or just practice their skills. The meet up was run by Kate Adams of Liv Giant and taught by Florida Pro Josh Thornton. We chatted about the upcoming races and ran through a series of drills, most of which were a lot of fun. If this gathering was any indication, we should have a very active season.

Back to training. After a particularly smoldering morning slaving my way through a top speed 40 min grass circuit, I managed to exceed my previous distance. That means I scored a new PR! Yeah! Right? So why didn't I feel elated by this victory? Because I managed 3.90 laps over the previous 3.75. That is about a quarter of a mile further. This is a win! Right? So why was I feeling flushed by the effort? Why wasn't I excited?

This was what you call a hard gain. It is proof of improvement but in a small amount. Sometimes we'll look at a minor achievement and scoff because, well, it's minor. It is hard to brag about these tiny perks and easy to discount them. Still, it's a win. You have to let yourself enjoy these moments. They are steps towards the eventual goal. Small, steady gains are often better than big leaps because they represent gradual improvement, the building of a foundation that can be relied on for future success.

If I have learned anything this summer it is that since you are already hacking away at your soul with hot laps and voluminous reps, you might as well give yourself credit for that toil. Our trick was to buy a small wading pool and set it up in the shade to act as an ice bath for after workouts. This has been a godsend. While we all want to leave the competition in the dust this fall we can't do it if we are stressing out over marginal improvements so find a way to cool off. The great thing about amateur competition is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain just by showing up.

See you at the races!

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