…at the Jeep Adventure Race Series # 4 which was an off-road triathlon held at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on September 13th. It was the first off-road triathlon held at the there and the first off-road triathlon managed by the NCARS group. There were a few snafus (as to be expected with any inaugural race), but overall, an outstanding event.
I showed up at 7am and there was only a couple of cars in the parking lot. After unloading the bike, I rode it down to transition which was on the other side of the Whitewater center near the flatwater trail access. First one in transition. Sweet. Pick of the litter when it comes to transition spots. Unfortunately, no bike racks (I didn’t expect any). I dropped my stuff off and headed for a warm-up ride. On my way out, I crossed paths with Neal. He runs the Charlotte Mountain Bike Series and was headed to transition in his truck. We said our pleasantries and I asked if there were going to be bike racks (since he was headed to transition, I didn’t want my stuff to be in his way if he was going to setup racks). He confirmed that there wouldn’t.
As I dove into the trail head from the parking lot, I was eager to see what the trails were like. Several days earlier in the week had produced rain and there was even a threat of rain the day prior (which luckily didn’t materialize). Not wanting to wander too far, I decided not to ride the actual bike course as it would have taken me away from transition. Instead, I decided to dive into the south trails which would take me towards transition. The trails were just as I suspected, wet and soft. There were puddles of water in the usual low-lying areas. I made a tire selection the day before with the help of Matt at Ultimate Bicycle and opted for a configuration that would prove to be better in wet and slippery conditions.
After coming out of the trails near the rapids (and right next to transition), I rode the gravel path around the man-made rapids to the restaurant. This provided me an opportunity to fill my water bottle and a quick ride around the rest of the facility allowed me to get back to transition to setup my area.
Other racers began to show and mull about the transition area. One of my co-workers, Will Hirst (who would be racing his first triathlon) showed and began to setup his area as well. There were numerous other racers I knew, including XTERRA champ, Peter Lilly and good friend, Marshal Livingstone. It was great to see them again. I often wonder if I follow Peter or if he is follows me. I see him at every XTERRA I race. It’s probably the former, as he has done more XTERRAs than I have. I also met numerous other folks that had done XTERRAs as well. With so many great people around, I knew it was going to shape up to be a fun race.
Soon after setting up my area, I threw on my shoes and dove into the trail for a quick warm-up run. Since the run course would cross over the flat water access trail (that we would use to get from the Cawtaba river to transition), it was an obvious choice to warm up and get a preview of the trail conditions. A quick out and back proved the run would be very similar to the bike: muddy.
I’m hesitant to really call it "muddy" as I think back to Uwharrie both this year and last. Now THAT course was a wet, sloppy, mixture of mud and horse manure. Yes. We shared horse trails. Just think: water bottle in a bottle cage covered with that muck. Want a drink? The Whitewater Center on this race was more like "soft" with mud/clay in the usual wet spots and on hill climbs. All-in-all, not too terribly muddy, but slippery enough that my choice of tires needed to change.
Returning to transition, I continued to setup my area area, got checked in, numbered and continued the friendly conversations with the other racers. The conversation of the morning seemed to migrate to whether folks should place shoes next to the water. The run from the water up to transition was very short, but fairly steep. At the top of the trail and into transition, gravel awaited. Not only could this be uncomfortable, but it could produce injuries since you would probably be on your toes to climb the hill. The race director confirmed that it not only was allowed, but suggested.
The swim was a triangular course of 750 meters on the Cawtaba River. Luckily, we didn’t swim in the main channel, but instead we would swam the flat water channel between the Whitewater Center and Sadler Island. The entry and exit was laden with stumps, roots and boards used during the launching and recovery of kayaks (obstacles not uncommon to other off road triathlons). The water was exceptionally muddy. Throughout the swim I would laugh to myself as my hand went out of sight during the stroke. I could barely see my elbow with my arm outstretched. I swam a one of my better swims and came out about 10th out of the water.
Smooth except for one thing: I forgot to lay my gloves out. I wasted a good 30 seconds digging them out of my bag. Lesson derived: If I forget something that I could potentially do without, just go. The bike course was short and I was very familiar with it. I didn’t really need the gloves. There was no marked mount/dismount line from transition, nor was there anyone at the race telling you where to mount and dismount. It was a bit confusing with some first-timers riding into and out of the transition area.
The bike course was ~10-12 miles of mostly singletrack with the usual technical sections. It was a two lap course of the north trails (marked in yellow on the map) which also included the "Weigh Station" and "Toilet Bowl" trails which are usually optional. By optional, that means that during a normal ride, you can skip these trails to reduce your mileage The optional trails extend from the main trail whereas their entries and exits are usually fairly close to one another. By taking the different optional trails, you can extend your ride and add some more difficult sections. These sections were chosen to keep the race interesting for the experienced racers but still keep it open for first-timers. The race organizers made good choices.
My bike went really well. The tires were hooking up and I was handling both the technical sections and climbs. About half-way through the first lap, I dove into the Weigh Station trail noticing the almost hidden arrow painted on the ground and the lack of tape that used to prevent missing the turn. "That can’t be good", I thought.
As I came out of the Weigh Station trail (fairly close to where I entered) I headed for the Toilet Bowl trail. My fears were confirmed. Two riders came riding by, completely skipping the Weigh Station trail. My half mile lead on them was just reduced to zilch. That meant that if they missed the turn marker, then riders in the lead ahead of me could have too. And since the course was two laps, that also meant that if someone on the lead lap missed the turn the first time, then by the end of the race, they’d have over a mile lead on me. I picked up the pace to try and counter the problem.
I passed numerous people, but had no idea what position I was in, as several people I passed twice. I decided to just ride hard to try and make up for any marking mishaps by the folks I was trying to catch.
As I came into transition, there weren’t many bikes around, which is always a good sign. Transition went flawless. I ditched the mountain bike, the helmet and my bike shoes. After quickly getting my trail shoes on, I was off on the run for an awkward first half-mile as my legs transitioned from biking to running.
The 5 mile run consisted of a quick loop around the Whitewater Center on a sidewalk before diving into the trails. Since there was a festival happening at the same time, we had to avoid kids, strollers and just about everything else that you could think of. Talk about making it spectator friendly. :-) The good part was that we also had to run by all of the booths that vendors had setup. They cheered us as we ran by. Very cool indeed. After the short stint around the Whitewater Center rapids, we dove back onto the trail to run the "Figure 8" and "The Point" trails.
During the Figure 8 Trail, my legs had to adapt to from the flat run around the Whitewater Center to that of a descending, technical, slippery trail. I was carrying a water bottle (as you can see from the picture) to wet my whistle if needed. It was a pretty hot, muggy day and I had no idea if there were going to be water stops or not. Being an inaugural race, I wasn’t counting on any. The water bottle felt like a brick and threw my whole mojo off. After the Figure 8 trail, I came across a self-serve water stop. I ditched the water bottle, which was hot water by now, grabbed two swigs from a cold one and kept on trucking.
Losing the water bottle was a great idea. I don’t know if it was just in my head, but it seemed my pace instantly increased. I felt more balanced and could descend with confidence. I passed several people on the run, but was still very concerned about the trail markings and how much it would affect the outcome of the race. All-in-all, the run went very successful with only one spill.
As I rounded the bend from the parking lot, I could see a runner ahead of me. As I rounded the storage building (in the distance of the picture below), he was running by the pedestrian bridge. I tried my best to reel him in, but just couldn’t. Overall, I finished in 5th place and 4th in my age group. That means 4 out of the 5 top finishers were in my age group! ;-)
My co-worker, Will Hirst finished his first triathlon, and my friend, Marshal Livingstone took second place in his age group (and 3rd out of the water)! As always, Peter Lilly wins his age group and then raced in a mountain bike race later that afternoon! What an animal.
I look forward to this event next year! Thanks Andrew Jones (2nd Place, Xterra Southeast, M 25-29) for taking all the awesome photos!