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Race Report: Xterra Southeast Championship

Sorry it took me three weeks to get this out, but with vacation, business travel, training for my next race, and writing my end-of-year review, I just haven’t had time.
June 8, 2008
1500 meter swim, 18 mile grueling mountain bike, 6 mile grueling trail run
Official result: 12th in my age group (horrible)
Official time: 3:11:10
Synopsis:  There were so many things that went wrong in this race, 98% of them within my control.  This means there were plenty of “learning opportunities” for me to improve my performance, race logistics, etc.   I’ll chalk up this entire race as an opportunity for me to improve.  The only thing I couldn’t control was the heat.  The race started at 9:30 am and I finished right around 12:30.  Check out this info from AccuWeather from race day’s actual measurements:





Wind Press














































I would have to completely concur with a quote from 3x Xterra World Champion: “I woke up not feeling great, couldn’t regulate in the heat, went nuclear early and I was going to be dead on the side of the trail if I didn’t stop and walk.” – Melanie McQuaid.
Due to family commitments on Saturday, we departed for a 6 hour drive the day before the race (problem number 1).  It was a very, very important family event, so it was a must that we stuck around town.  We arrived in Pelham around 9pm, had dinner, checked into the hotel and settled into bed around 11pm (problem number 2).  After a rough night sleep (problem number 3), we were up at 5 and out of the hotel by 6.  Breakfast which consisted of a bowl of oatmeal, a banana and two pieces of toast was complete at 7:15, well inside the 3 hour window of race start (problem number 4).
I setup my transition area near the end of one bike rack.  While setting up, my good friend, Andrew Jones (Rock Hill, SC), comes over and comments on the heat. 
Andrew Jones of Rock Hill, SC stopping by to say Hi.
It was only 7am and it already felt close to 90.  Everyone was walking around, sweaty, and the race wasn’t even close to starting.  All the spectators, family, friends, and dogs that had shown up were trying to find a shady spot near the lake to keep cool.  I could tell It was going to be a scorcher as I was waiting in line to get numbered.
Waiting to get numbered
The good thing is, at the regional races, they mark the back of your calf with your age group division number.  In the Xterra points series, you’re racing more against your age division than you are everyone else (of course, the Pros are in a league of their own).  When it comes to qualifying for Nationals, it’s all about where you stand within your age group division.  As always, it’s a motivator when you come up  behind someone on the trail, spot the number on their calf and see they’re in your division.  Instant motivation to push harder.
The Swim Course
The swim was two laps around a 750 meter, triangular course (notice the two yellow, 6-foot tall buoys in the picture above).  On the return lap, you have to come through the big arch, run past the flags and back into the water.  This is always a welcomed break from the swim and gives me a breather.
Getting Ready to Swim
The sea of triathletes lining up at the lake always makes me nervous.  It’s always the first chance you get to look around and see your competitors.   As we lined up at the lake, the announcer stated that the water is a balmy 82 degrees.  “It’d be like swimming at the YMCA,” I told myself.  They always have the pool uncomfortably warm.
My swim went fairly well.  No one kicked my goggles off, although a few of us did get tangled up at times.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting in a grove only to have it broken by someone running into you.  There were several times that I felt overheated (yes, in the water).  I would breast stroke for a few strokes to catch my breath, costing me valuable time.  At the half-way point, I was about middle of the pack.  Coming out of the water, I could get an idea of my position, which I was not happy with.  It was frustrating and motivating all at the same time.
Halfway through the swim
The second half of the swim went about as well as the first half.  I played a constant battle in my head if I should push harder and risk overdoing it too early in the race or whether I should stay steady and make up for it on the bike.  In past races, I’d made up tons of positions/time on the bike, with the exception of Fort Yargo.  I opted to keep the swim steady (problem number 5).
Running from the swim to the transition area, I was already evaluating my performance on my swim.  “I should have swam faster.  I should have gotten a better time. Man, do I hate running barefoot.”  Just many of the thoughts. 
Run from Swim to Transition
Once in the transition area, a lot my thoughts quickly subside into neatly organized steps that I needed to follow once I arrived at transition.  Feet.  Socks.  Shoes.  Camelbamk.  Helmet.  Gloves.  “Damnit these socks always slow me down.”
Sidebar: I’ve always wondered how the Pros do it without socks.  In my many tries during training, I always end up getting chaffed or blistered by the dust, dirt & grime from mountain biking. 
Unfortunately, they didn’t use the same timing methods as last year, so the splits included transition times and were hand tallied.  The only place they used a chip was one that they laminated into the run bib.  Very bad idea in my opinion.
Swim to bike transition
Transition went very smoothly with no issues.  This race was the first time I rode this particular bike.   The week prior, I broke a main pivot bolt on my normal, trusty steed.  I knew it was coming as the pivot bushing was already moving around a bit.  However, I put off taking it into the shop knowing that I had training rides that needed to be performed.  That decision would be another mistake (problem number 6) as it would break on the very next ride.  After finally taking it to the shop, they informed me that it would be a week before they could get the part.  I had already test-ridden this bike, so I decided to make the purchase in order to be able to race.
I was a little concerned with the stock, crappy tires that came on the bike.  They’re tons better than the stock tires you get on your average Huffy, but not as good as the tires I was running on my race bike.  Pressed for time, I decided to take the bike as-is instead of bothering the bike shop about swapping the tires (problem number 7).  The tires would prove to not corner as well as I was used to and the bike felt very loose as I slipped on just about every sandy corner.  This took my confidence and speed down a couple of notches on the switchbacks.  However, on everything else, the bike was flawless.  It especially handled well on the rocky down hills.  Every time I went downhill, a smile would appear on my face.
In an effort to mitigate cramps from the extreme heat and sweat, I had planned on taking electrolyte capsules about 5 miles into the bike.  The night before I had installed a capsule dispenser into the end of one side of my handlebars.  It’s a nifty little contraption that dispenses the capsules one at a time, making it possible to do it on the fly.  However, during one of my downhills, the edge of my handlebars clips a tree causing the dispenser to bust open.  All five capsules go flying into the woods (problem number 8).  I should have given this method a test run before the race.
The Bike Leg
The rocky 3 mile 700 foot climb at mile 6 would be my undoing. Twice I would have to get off and walk a bit as my heart rate exceeded acceptable levels.  Between the long climb and 106 degree heat index, “going nuclear” is about the only way to describe it (as Melanie McQuaid explained).  The second time I probably pushed a little too hard and too long.  This made me feel exhausted for the rest of the ride.  The long downhill was a welcomed relief.  I gained *super* speed, loosened up my arms and let the bike do its thing.  It was amazing how well it performed and I passed numerous riders as we approached Blood Rock.
Blood Rock.  Photo Courtesy: Bump.org
(Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers)
Blood Rock is a technical downhill section with some decent sized drops.  I was told by numerous folks that the best way through Blood Rock was to carry speed.  That doesn’t mean fly through it, but to go steady.  Just as I enter the rocky section, I came upon two riders who had come to a complete stop.  As I came to a stop, I couldn’t get unclipped and fell over. What a goofy newb move. The crowd of 50 or so people sitting around (watching the race at this section waiting for a casualty) applauded.   My new bike receives its first riding scar on one of the jagged rocks.  After picking myself up, I attempted to get going again, but couldn’t get clipped in quick enough for the next drop, causing me to step off of the bike again.  As I got back on my bike for a third attempt, someone in the crowd said, “Wow, he’s determined.”
“I’m gonna ride it!” I exclaimed.  I leaned against a tree, clipped in both feet and yelled, “Ready?!”.  Almost everyone in the crowd yells back, in unison, “Ready!”  I took off, riding the rest of the way down the next 4 or 5 drops to the applause of the crowd.  It was awesome and very motivating to have that little exchange with the crowd.  If anyone who was sitting out there reads this, I extend a warm thanks.
Switchbacks after Blood Rock
The transition from bike to run went very smooth.  I came in, racked the bike, yanked my helmet and camelback off, stepped out of my bike shoes and into my running shoes.  I grabbed my hat, belt, water bottle and took off.  Wanting a cold drink of water, I started to take a swig out of my bottle.  However, about the same time I decided to do so, I felt the heat of the water through my bike gloves (I always wear my gloves on the run in case of a fall).  On my way out of transition, I grabbed two glasses of water from the in-transition water stop.  One over the cap and one in the mouth.
I knew there was a water stop at the trail head, so while I ran up the road, I emptied the bottle into the grass.  Many folks have asked why I run with a bottle.  It’s a security blanket for me I guess.  I never end up drinking all of the water, but it sure is nice to wet the whistle when you want to, not when a water stop is convenient.  On my way to the trail head, I was still having problems dealing with the heat.  Although I usually keep the gloves on, they sure were uncomfortable and I wanted to shed them.  Where to put them?
As I approached the trail head water stop, a volunteer offered to fill my water bottle.  Simultaneously, I handed him the bottle and  grabbed a cup of water from the little girl that was manning the stop with him.  I noticed that someone had taken their bike gloves off and placed them on the water stop table just behind one of the jugs.  What a great idea!  I shed my gloves and placed them in the same spot.  Running away from the water stop, I pop in three electrolyte capsules since I didn’t get any on the bike.  I had stowed them in my water bottle pouch as a backup.  Good thing.
On the Run
The first couple of miles on the run is the same course as the first couple of miles on the bike.  It has some moderate hills, switchbacks and some technical rocky sections.  All-in-all not a bad run.  At about the 2.5 mile mark, you dive off of the bike trail and into a hiking trail that consists of nothing but hills.  As I became closer and closer to that portion of the run, my quads and hams are beginning to cramp something fierce.  “Damnit, this is going to be just like Uwharrie.”  I had fought this battle before and thought I had the problem nipped.  I started to think about the race and what could have caused it.  I surmise that it had to be lack of electrolytes as I had been getting plenty of fluid AND doing plenty of sweating.  It made sense too as I lost my electrolyte supplements on the ride.  I can’t stand Gatorade, so I had been avoiding it at the water stops.  “How in the heck am I going to run the hills with these cramps?!”
The Run Leg
The run is a “suffer-fest for a trail run that features eight climbs amounting to roughly 1,800 feet of vertical gain” as the XterraPlanet.com website claims.  Boy, they do not lie.  As I began to run up the first steep climb, my legs were killing me.  Knowing that I had many more climbs to go, I had no idea how I was going to complete it.  On the way down the first climb, my hams cramped so bad I had to come to a stop for a second and work them out.  It was very disappointing to see the person that I had been following, for almost the entire run, pull away.
However, at the second climb they began to feel better.  By the second downhill, the cramps had almost completely subsided.  This didn’t take away the pain from exhaustion and trauma from the cramps, but at least I could run.  By the third hill, I had caught and passed the person I had been following for most of the run.  By the end of the run, I was feeling pretty good and had passed numerous people.  I guess the electrolyte capsules I took at the beginning of the run helped.
I came across two hikers who were still surprised to see a race happening on their favorite trail.  “How much further to the road?”, I asked.  “About a half-mile”, one of them replied.  No sooner did he answer the question, I heard the sounds of the finish line (announcer, music, crowd, etc).  Time to pour on what I have left.  I finished up the last half-mile to the road very strong.  Once the trail dumped onto the road, I could see the finish line.  About 100 meters from the finish, they divert you off of the road and back onto a trail that follows the lake shore.  Coming into finish, I knew I hadn’t done near as well as I wanted, but finished strong.
Coming into the finish
As soon as I came across the finish, they had volunteers there to grab you (literally) and whisk you over to a cool-down tent.  By the time I came across, they already had folks in front of me pass out from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  When they grabbed me by both arms, I thought I was getting arrested for something.
I finished at 3:11.09, almost a full HOUR behind the first place Pro, Conrad Stoltz.  He was finishing up his third I.V. of fluids as I sat reveling in the idea of misting hoses mounted inside the cool-down tent.
I finished 12th in my age group and a horrible 93rd overall with an official time of 3:11:10.   Even with the terrible finish at this race, I still gained 37 points for the series.
For the points series, my standing is currently at 2nd place for the Southeast and 9th nationwide for my division.
Hopefully I’ll qualify for nationals.  :-)
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