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Root Beer Swimming and Big Green Guys – XTERRA Myrtle Beach

The water was dark, almost black. It looked like coffee or soda that had been sitting in a cup until it was flat. You could peer through the first inch or so and see a brown tint towards the surface, but the deeper you looked, the darker it got.

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Of the five or six pontoon boats that ferried us out towards the ocean for the swim start, I was on the first one along with XTERRA fam, Josh Schaffer, Jim Dandro, Sam Chalk, and power couple, Jim and Tanya Houghton among others. I jumped into the canal for a quick warmup and someone shouted from another boat, “How’s the water, Marcus?” I have no idea why, but I responded with, “It’s like chocolate milk.”

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I stuck my face in the water and looked down to where I thought my feet were, but I saw nothing. Between the black wetsuit I had on, coupled with the darkness of the water, it appeared that my body just disappeared into infinity. My feet could not be seen. The water temp was perfect, almost too warm for a wetsuit. Sleeveless for sure. Race Director, Pete Politus had us carted off on boats in an effort to prevent us from swimming against the tide current, one of many improvements he implemented from last year. He’d taken lots of feedback to heart, kept the good stuff and tried to improve the other. It showed.

The swim start was quick, happening almost instantaneous to the last person departing their pontoon boat. Our point-to-point 1000 meter swim came with very little need to sight as all you had to do was stay in the middle of the canal. I tried to keep my head down as much as possible and just put forth a good effort to get to the lead pack. Breathing to my right, I spotted Eric Milam’s drone hovering over the canal, taking video. Here’s a little snippet and some really cool pictures.

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With about 200 meters left to go, I was in the lead which was a new experience for me. The water ahead of me was like glass which made sighting easy and the strokes smooth. Before I knew it, I was running for transition, first out of the water. Someone on the shore later told me that we didn’t beat the tide and it started flowing against us just after we left the docks. No biggie, it was still a fun swim. A quick transition and I was off on the bike in the lead.

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I tried my best throughout the bike to maintain said lead, but I knew Josh and Sam would be hammering this course. The folks at the Myrtle Beach Tri Club have put tons of work into this plot of land and it’s amazing the technicality, climbing and pure fun that they’ve designed along with the help of SORBA.  The Horry County Bike and Run Park, commonly referred to as the “Hulk” is chock full o’ fun. You’d think that it being at the beach, that all you’d get is flat and sand. This is DEFINITELY not the case. The trails are marked with names like “Aladdin”, named for the plethora of strategically placed carpet you’ll find. You’ll also find trails like “Tarzan”, “Tall Pine” and it’s namesake, “Hulk”. Some names are easier to figure out than others, but it was clear that Tarzan got its name from its jungle-like greenery and vines. You’ll even find cool signs like this:

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All of the trails have their own personality and terrain features. The one that I found challenging consisted of twisty, switch backs that were difficult to navigate at a constant rate of speed. You were either going too fast or too slow. Through these type of sections, I spotted folks trying to catch me, but had absolutely no inkling as to how far back they were. Margo Pitts echo’d the difficulty about those tight sections, “The bike course was ridiculously fast with lots of twists and turns. My favorite was the short but steep screaming descents that quickly turned into flat sandy switchbacks. I was knocked off my bike and over taken by a friendly athlete during one of those tight turns.”

There were bunnies everywhere. I’d spook a couple out of the brush and they would dart across the trail and into the grass on the other side, only to find me coming around the switchback and spooking them again. It seemed like there were a bunch, but heck, it could have been the same two I kept scaring across the trails. There were a handful of straight-aways I used to get a glimpse behind me and see if anyone was there, but each time I looked, I didn’t see a thing. The course, being a 2-lap, 7-ish mile course meant that there was a possibility of catching up to the back pack. Sure enough, at the start of the second lap, we started catching folks. A little over half-way through the second lap, there was a long straight that I hammered down on the left side of a double-wide track. As I approached the end of it, I moved to the center and gave a peek over my left shoulder. No one.

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As soon as I was off the straight, I started a short, steep switchback climb. When I turned left, there was Josh hot on my tail. “Where the heck did you come from?” I asked. Josh smiled and let out a chuckle. He had tucked in behind me on the straight and when I moved to the center of the trail and looked over my right shoulder, he was in my blind spot on the left. “You made me work for it,” he claimed. I responded, “Well, you know me.” As soon as we cleared a few switchbacks, I yielded the trail and he hopped up front just as we dove into the Hulk.

It seems we weren’t the only two chatting it up on the bike course. Margo Pitts made it first out of the water from the female side and was in the lead on the bike when Amanda Frost caught her. “I passed Margo on the bike. We were riding together for a while actually chit chatting about other races and how much fun we were having,” said Amanda. She also enjoyed the bike course stating, “The steep downhills really got your adrenaline going. The tight turns and loose sand made the course challenging. It was true single track racing but gave you ample places to pass.”

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The Hulk trail begins with a steep drop, to which Josh threw a beautiful tail whip of his rear tire. Intentional or not, it was pretty. In the process, he landed just off the trail, but manages to recover it. I had flashbacks of my fun, little crash in Vegas one year and exclaimed with a laugh, “Dude, don’t do that.” He laughed as well and we rode on, enjoying the bridges and cool features. Going into tall pines, Josh was hammering it and managed to pull away from me a bit.

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Josh Schaffer

As I entered transition and threw my bike on the rack, Josh was just leaving, heading out onto the run. It wasn’t one of my quicker transitions, but I got out of there as quick as I could.

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The run course was a flat, out and back, with a good portion of it on a gravel road (about half of the total run). With water stops at 1 mile and 2 mile going out, coming back you had them at mile 3 and 4. Once out on the road, Josh had a 50ish yard lead on me. The road was hot with the light-colored gravel reflecting the sun from below. It took me until the second water stop to catch him. We ran side-by-side for a while chatting about the race, competitors behind us and what-not. After the turn-around, we were able to see who was behind us and in what order. Just before hitting the gravel again, I saw Margo Pitts running up. “First female!” I said as she passed. Spotting Amanda right behind her, I realized it was going to be a battle to the end for those two. Margo later stated, “Nothing like an out and back course with friendly competitors cheering you to the finish. That definitely diverted my attention from the heat and gravel. I wasn’t sure of my standing until Marcus so warmly yelled ‘you’re the first female!’”

Josh and I continued down the gravel road, chatting it up. I eventually decided to make my move and picked up the pace a bit. Josh matched the pace, then I picked it up a little more and began to slowly pull away. I maintained it for a first place overall finish. It was a tough race with some stiff competition. Margo held onto her lead and came in first overall female.

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I even picked me up one of ‘dem ‘dar Hulk trophies.

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Marcus Barton and Margo Pitts

“I’m happy to be back racing XTERRA and what an amazing first race of the season it was for me,” Margo told me. I agree. It was a fun, fun race.  Props goes out to Josh, a good friend, an excellent racer and all-around great guy.  Loved racing against you, my friend.

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(L-R), Peter Lilly (70-74), John Collins (50-54), Marcus Barton (45-49), Josh Schaffer (40-44) and Ian Davidson (60-64)

Again, I am very surprised at the great work done on the trails at the Horry County Bike and Run Park. They’re full of interesting features, fun riding and running.

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Jim Dandro hitting the trails

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Jim diving into the Hulk.

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Hulk smash!

If you’re on the east coast and thinking of a place to hit the beach on vacation, the trails here should be a reason for you to consider Myrtle Beach. Just be sure to bring your bike and running shoes. As for the race, you should hit it next year, it’s a great addition to the XTERRA circuit!

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Thanks to Sherry Stone and Eric Milam for some great photos!

Race: XTERRA Myrtle Beach
Location: Myrtle Beach, SC
Date: May 3, 2015
Distances: 1000m Swim / 14 mile mountain bike / 5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Inov-8 X-Talon 190, Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Thunderburt Tires, Cobb DRT SHC Saddle, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V.

Race With Your Inner GRRRR-XTERRA Tiger

Are you an Auburn fan or Alabama fan? Well, regardless of whether you yell “War Eagle!” or “Roll Tide!”, you can race an XTERRA near both of these colleges and their names reflect their alma maters. XTERRA Tiger takes place near Auburn whereas XTERRA Tide takes place near Tuscaloosa.

XTERRA Tiger is one of those races that I’ve attempted to make for the last two years but just cannot seem to work it into my schedule. Multiple things seem to come up both personally and professionally but needless to say, it hasn’t been doable. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to keep track of all the action, so this year, I had ultrarunner, XTERRA athlete and field reporter, Sunny Workman keeping me informed.

XTERRA Tiger is one of the earliest races on the circuit and in the southeast. Many come from all over to test the waters of how their training is progressing and to get that racing bug again. Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were well-represented. With it being an early season race, the water temps are low and usually wetsuit legal. As the racers lined up in the water, the temp was still dropping from the day before. At breakfast it was 63, but at race start, it was 56.

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Owen Workman

The swim looked longer than the advertised 750 meters, but no one was sure if that was truly the case or if it was the typical “oh crap, this is the first race of the season” coming out. The skies were cloudy and it appeared as if it could have rained at any moment with the sun trying very hard to break through.

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There were familiar faces all over the place. Owen Workman of Pelham, AL, and husband of our field reporter, Sunny was there representing. As were other fast folks like A.J. Petrillo, Mike Smith, Sam Chalk, Travis Beam, Jeff RIchards, Robert Strangia, and more.

After a thrashing around the swim course, young whippersnapper, Michael Loutzenheiser (15-19) was first out of the water with a 13:28 swim followed closely behind by birthday boy, A.J. Petrillo (35-39) at 14:01 and Blake Gill (30-34) at 14:43.

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A.J. Petrillo

The women’s battle was already heating up With Loukia Lili-Williams (30-34) ahead of the pack at 17:35 trailed by Christine Grant (45-49) and Kimoto Shannon (50-59).

Loukia, who had recently come off of a two year break from racing decided to make her first XTERRA as her first race back. Like many others, XTERRA Tiger was a race to test her fitness coming off of a hard training block. “I knew I was [going] into the race Continue reading

Rainy Dogs and Drafting-XTERRA Hickory Knob

XTERRA Hickory Knob always seems to fight with mother nature.  Last year it was a layer of pollen so thick on the trail it crunched.  The year before, we had brutal rain, freezing water and just all-around cold.  This year, although it wasn’t cold, she gave us more rain.  It had rained quite a bit leading up to the race, so much so that although it was warm and sunny the day before, the park rangers and race director made the call to limit the bike portion to the roads in order to prevent trail damage.  Besides, who wanted to clean up a mountain bike that would have surely ended up looking like this:

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The mere prospect of racing on the road, using a mountain bike (XTERRA rules) didn’t appeal to many, but we all respected the decision to respect the trails.  It was probably less appealing when we woke up to rain on race day.  In the end, we all had a blast of a time and many commented on the fun nature of a draft-legal mountain bike race on the pavement.

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The field was small, filled with die-hards that decided not to take up race director Andy on his offer for a deferment to 2016.  Instead, we all lined up in the cold water (mid 60s) and waited for the very informal “3, 2, 1, GO!”  The swim course was two 400 meter laps with a short, muddy jaunt around a cone on the shore.

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Everyone seemed to handle the cold water pretty well and XTERRA newbie, Katharine Welling was the first out of the water, followed very Continue reading

GU FOR IT

Whatever your athletic goal, there is a GU FOR IT.  Check out this awesome anthem video! For me, this video stirs feelings heading into the 2015 racing season.  Would love to hear what you think.

 

New to the Family: Inov-8

As you know, all of my sponsorships have been for products that I love and trust FIRST before I sought sponsorship.  I don’t believe in blindly towing a sponsors line simply because they chose to sponsor me.  I’m not a pro, nor do I profess to be the fastest guy out there and, yes, I am afraid of other fast boys in North Carolina and elsewhere (some of you will get that pun). But, I do profess to be someone who has a love of training and even more of a love for racing.  So, during my efforts of training and racing, along with sharing my experiences and lessons I’ve learned with you, I seek out sponsors who believe in my abilities as an athlete and ambassador.

I’ve raced for quite a few years now and I’ve tried all sorts of shoes.  For the past couple of years, I’ve raced with products from Inov-8 after I got a taste of their shoes.  When Dan and I began considering racing ÖtillÖ as a team, we both agreed very quickly that we’d be racing in Inov-8 shoes.  With any sort of planning of such a daunting race, everything must be well thought out and tested.  We’re still trying out several different pair and haven’t settled on which ones will be our secret weapons, but you can pretty much bet on them coming in a box that looks like one of these:

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Well, I’m happy to announce that Dan and I sought sponsorship with Inov-8 and we were honored when they said yes!  We promptly received the goodies above and we’re already breaking them in.  Expect some highlights and write-ups on some great gear in the very near future.  Every piece of gear they send me, I will be putting though the paces and will share detailed info about each of them with you.  Stay tuned!

10 Fitness Tips in 10 Days – Tip 10 – Never Give Up

This is one of the many reasons most people don’t stick to their New Years resolution of getting into shape.  Nothing is more demotivating than having to wait in line with 3 other people for a bench or a treadmill.  However, don’t let the high crowds in the gym end up being your downfall, instead use it as your motivation.

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Gym attendance always spikes in January with New Years resolutions and then vastly tapers off in mid to late February.  If you can last thru the crowds, you’ll find that most gyms tend to thin out around the mid-February timeframe making your workouts more enjoyable and include less waiting.  It’s actually a comical joke among my “regular” gym buddies.  “Yup, just a few more weeks and things will be back to normal,” they say.  But don’t end up like one of those quitters they talk about!

Here are some additional reasons many people give up: (some of these are recaps of previous tips, which means they’re important)

1.  Gym too crowded – see above.

2.  I don’t know what to do. – Get help from a “regular”.  If you have a friend or relative who is a gym “regular”, solicit their help.  But be careful, make sure your friend or relative have proven results.  Nothing like the blind leading the blind.  Alternately, get assistance from a trained professional.  Many gyms offer trainer services.  Hire one.  They are probably less expensive than you think they are.  Want to give a triathlon a shot (it’s a great way to have both a goal and a carrot hanging out in front of you to keep training), then think about getting a coach.

One additional thing you can try is to do the research yourself.  I did and dug through a TON of books and articles to figure out what worked and what was just a fad.  In a previous tip I gave you some examples of what’s in my library.  It’s only a sampling of what I used as research.

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3.  I don’t see results. – Folks, there are no miracle weight loss cures or magic pills that guarantee Continue reading

10 Fitness Tips in 10 Days – Tip 9 – Consistency is Key

Here’s where I struggle.  If you ask my training buddy, Dan the man, he’ll be quick to tell you that this is my biggest problem.  So what better way for me to face it head on than to offer it as a tip as to why it’s important and how I’m going to approach it.

Any level of success when it comes to fitness can be measured by how consistent the person was with their training.  Less consistent = less results.  Mildly consistent = mild results.  You get the picture.

Different people have different reasons for not being consistent.  Some are about being too busy, some are about traveling issues, others are just plain excuses.  Here’s how to fix them and the approach I take.

Create a Plan

If you are jumping into it day-by-day and thinking, I’ll do *something* today, without having a plan, you’ll come up short.  Even if you’re successful in dragging yourself (kicking and screaming) to the gym but have no idea what to do when you get there, not only will you look like a lost puppy wandering around, but you’ll also likely do things that won’t get you the best results.  You need to commit to your fitness by creating a plan and mapping your activities. This plan needs to be a a long term one with some real thought behind it.  If not, you may find that it is easier to to be inconsistent.

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When thinking out the plan, there should be clear, concise, measureable and achievable goals.  If your goal is weight loss, as mentioned in Tip #5, plan on losing a couple of pounds a week.5, 10 or 15 pounds a week may Continue reading

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