4am. That’s what time the alarm went off. Uwharrie is just a little under 2 hours from my house. It’s just far enough for me to briefly consider camping but close enough for me to want to sleep in my own bed. I opted for the latter.
So with a race starting at 9am, why the hell would I get up at 4am (you might be thinking)? I’m a firm believer of getting there when transition opens (6:30) and getting all the setup done with time to spare. Doing so prevents any frantic rushing to get things done. The final result is time to just relax and gather my thoughts before the race starts. So at 4:30, Alba and I, in a packed truck (complete with dog) were off to the race.
For those of you that don’t know, Uwharrie is a National Forest consisting of around 52,000 acres. What a fitting venue for an Xterra. It consists of some of the oldest mountains in North America. Even though there are only around a 1,000 feet today, they were once over 20,000 feet in height at their peak.
The course that we had to race consists of shared-use trails that are not only used by hikers and bikers, but horses as well. This makes my third year racing the venue and I’ve yet to encounter any horse riders during a race (knock on wood) although I have seen plenty during practice rides.
Alba and I showed up right around 6:30 and I began setting up in transition. I met up with lots of folks. Included in the bunch were Andrew Jones and Peter Lilly. Also present was Xterra first-timer (and 2nd triathlon), Dirk Wuensche.
There were lots of familiar faces from training rides, other races and friends in general that seemed to be popping up everywhere. Even folks I had met online from different social sites. It seemed as if every time I turned around there was someone else saying hi. Some I expected to see and others were a complete surprise.
Before you knew it, transition started filling up and people mulled about with wetsuits on waiting for the race briefing to start. The weather was shaping up for what would be an awesome day for a race. It was slightly cloudy and the temp was perfect for racing.
While the sport (half-distance race) was getting kicked off, Andrew and I found a bench away from the crowd to suit up. The water had been 58 degrees just days before, so we were not looking forward to the swim. However, once we were suited up and in the water, we quickly realized that not only had the water warmed up quite a bit, but it actually felt pretty good. The two-lap, 500 meter, triangular swim was off with a blow from an air horn.
I settled into a pretty good pace and made it around the first two buoys without issue. After rounding the second buoy, the water was pretty choppy. Every time I breathed to my right side, I would get a mouth full of water. Not needing to hydrate this early in the race, I chose to stick to unilateral breathing to my left side until the last buoy.
Shortly after rounding the last buoy, and thus starting my second lap, I realized that someone was drafting me. Every time I breathed to the left, I could see him/her out of the corner of my eye. Most of the lead pack had already put some distance on me, so there wasn’t really anyone that I could draft behind. I was content with just keeping what felt like a good pace: not so fast that I’d blow up, but not so slow as to put me too far behind.
As I was running to transition, I was notified I was in 9th overall out of the water. I saw Andrew in transition as I crossed the timing mats, so I decided to give him a smack on his back as I ran by his rack. He seemed pretty surprised. I’m not sure if it was surprise that I was done already or if it was one of those surprises that someone was touching him (usually followed by the reactive response of an elbow to the nose).
My transition went fairly smoothly, although I’ve definitely had quicker and smoother. The bike course was still pretty wet from the rain the night before. During a pre-ride several weeks back, the course was in much worse shape. Back then, it was very, very muddy and quite torn up from a recent horse riding event. During the race, it wasn’t quite as muddy in the usual bad spots. Instead, some of the sections that were normally dry and very fast were now wet and “greasy”. On several occasions during the race, I felt as if I was out of control. Not a good position to be in with as fast as I was trying to ride.
The climbs were a little more difficult than usual since they were sloppy as well. I would get going good on a climb only to have my rear tire gum up and start to spin. I could only imagine what some of the other guys were going through that had low-knob tires or other types designed for drier weather.
Towards the end of my first lap of the two-lap bike course, I was barreling down a hill with a nasty little dip at the bottom. No sooner did I mentally remind myself to bunny-hop over the dip, I spotted someone lying on the ground and someone else who had just stopped. As I bunny-hopped across the dip, I asked if everyone was ok. Usually when asking, someone replies back with something along the lines of, “Yep, we’re fine”. But this time, I didn’t get any response. I came to a stop.
I looked back to see Kenny Brown standing there over someone who had just endo’d on the nasty dip. From the look on Kenny’s face, I could tell something was wrong. “Need a medic?” I asked. Kenny nodded. I laid my bike against a tree and ran down to see what was wrong. The person on the ground, was holding one arm bent and wrenching in pain. I asked if he thinks he broke his collar bone. He didn’t say much, but pointed to the huge bulge on top of his shoulder.
“We need to get you off the trail, buddy, before someone plows into you and makes it worse,” I told him. Kenny and I helped him up. He let out a loud grunt/groan/yelp as he stood up. We very slowly helped him walk over to a downed tree to sit on. He asked how far it was to get out of the woods. Knowing that we were a looooong ways in, I told him it was too far for him to try and walk. “Sit tight and I’ll send the medics in.”
I hopped back on my bike and continued on the course. Once I dumped out onto the road, I notified the volunteers that a medic was needed. They said that they were already on the way as one of the previous riders that had passed while Kenny and I were helping had told them about the situation. Feeling relieved that they were already a step ahead of me and that someone was on the way, I commenced my assault to try and make up for lost time.
My second lap was a bit more intense than the first with my attempt to make up time and position. It was also faster than my first since I had already seen the course and knew where I could go fast and where I needed to be cautious. I seemed to be surrounded by crashes as I witnessed two more, although they were slow-speed “off-course events”.
Towards the tail end of the second lap, my quads began to cramp on one of the last climbs. I decided to hop off and hoof it up the hill on foot and to give me an opportunity to stretch my quads. It seemed to do the trick as they loosened up before getting to the top of the hill. I quickly learned that moving = no seizing. There were two others walking the same hill which made me feel a little better about doing it myself. (By the way, walking hills in Uwharrie is not uncommon). I made my way down the gravel road, through the parking lot and into transition.
Rolling into transition, I decided to attempt a rolling dismount, something that works pretty well in road triathlons. Although, the terrain leading up to transition didn’t allow me much time to get my feet out of my shoes, I attempted to do so with shoes still on. I unclipped my left foot, but left it remaining on the pedal. I swung my right foot over the seat brought it in between me and the bike, then stuck it out toe-forward as if I was pointing to the dismount line. When I stuck my toe out, my right quad immediately seized.
With my right leg stiff as a board, I hopped off the left pedal and hobbled the rest of the way back to my rack. I bent the right leg a couple of times to loosen it. The relief was short-lived. As soon as I attempted to take one of my shoes off, BOTH of my quads seized. I grabbed the bike rack with both hands, bent over with my head between my arms and tried my best to cover up the yelp I let out. As I stood there feeling like a pirate with two peg legs, I quickly remembered moving helped. I danced around a bit bending the legs several times. Somewhere in the midst of doing my little dance, I managed to change shoes and hobble out of transition. I ran down the short paved path towards the trail head, trying my best to regain control of my legs.
Upon diving into the single-track trail that ran along the edge of the lake, I almost immediately passed one runner that I had been leap-frogging with on the bike leg. We chatted a bit in between our panting and I slowly pulled away from him. Within a mile or two, I came upon another runner that went by the name of “Beach”. I ran behind him for a short distance but passed him as he cramped up trying to jump over a large tree across the trail. He said he was going to keep me company for a while and I told him that I welcomed it. We chatted about him being from Asheville, biking, the course, you name it. Anything to keep both of our minds off of the cramping. I kept giving him updates on what was coming in way of trail since this was his first time at Uwharrie.
After hitting the water stop at the boat launch and running through the camping area, we both had a few issues with cramps. I finally decided (no disrespect meant to Beach) that I needed to enter my own little world to work through the rest of the race. I picked up the pace a little and tried to make up for lost time on the downhills. The cramps seemed to subside and before I knew it I was alone.
In the final mile or so of the race, there’s one last hill climb that I had already decided that I would power-walk vs. run. Once I reached the top, I heard a noise that caused me to look down the hill. Low and behold, it was Mike Miller (fellow Studio-7 athlete). “Come on, Mike!” I yelled. He let out a groan of pain/exhaustion.
“Come on and pick it up or I’m gonna tell on you to Sonni! (his coach)” Mike picked up the pace and caught up with me. I slowly picked up the pace and occasionally he’d drift back and then pick it up again. I’m not sure if he knew I was doing that or not. He asked how much further it was to the end. When I told him it was only about a mile, I could feel the relief of tension from him. It helped me too just saying it.
As we exited the trail and into the parking lot, he passes me on the left headed to the finish. I stayed right behind him all the way up the hill figuring that the hill would take whatever was left out of him and I could pass him back. Sure enough, right at the top of the hill he started slowing down. I made a move to pass him back and the crowd started cheering us both on. Their sudden increase in cheering must have given him the clue that I was attempting to pass him, so he looked back. When he saw I was right on his tail and gaining, he sprinted toward the finish line. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t catch him and he finished one second in front of me.
I finished 14th overall and 2nd in my division. It was a tough but fun and interesting race.
Full results can be found here: Results
Big shout-out to my buddy, Andrew Jones for his 2nd place finish overall and first in his division. That’s 75 points for you, Andrew! Also, big congrats goes to Dirk Wuensche and Kenny Brown for completing their first Xterra!!
Special thanks always goes out to my wife, all-around race supporter and photographer, Alba. Her cheering gets me through races.