That sums up the XTERRA Panther Creek race in one sentence. O.K., I may be getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s back-track a bit.
XTERRA Panther Creek
Aug 2, 2009
800 meter swim, 16 mile mountain bike, 4.5 mile trail run
Andrew and I loaded up the truck and headed for Ashville. We were both pretty stoked about this race as we both knew it was a fun one. Andrew had raced Panther Creek back in 2007 as his first triathlon ever. Even though he missed it last year (due to a conflict), I was lucky enough to race it and have fun doing so (although I had a flat tire during the race). From our discussion of the course leading up to the event, we quickly discovered that the course he had raced in 2007 was quite different from the one I had raced there in 2008. This year, Andrew was looking forward to re-visiting the site of his first triathlon, and I had a vendetta to repay (race without flatting a tire).
Another reason that it would be a fun: we would be meeting lots of friends there. Some of them we had known for years, others we had met along the way racing different XTERRA venues. We stayed overnight with our friend, Ching in Asheville and she introduced me to several awesome restaurants in Asheville that only locals would know. Saturday morning, we went for breakfast at the Sunny Point Cafe and afterwards, we packed up the truck with our gear. Another friend, Brad, decided to drive up from Charlotte to spend the weekend at the race, as well. Although Brad and Ching weren’t racing, all four of us loaded up in the truck, complete with Tybee (Ching’s friendly black lab), and headed for Panther Creek.
Andrew, Ching and Brad had decided to camp out at Panther Creek State Park. Being a light sleeper, I had decided to stay at a local hotel and not chance a noisy campground. Once we arrived to the campground, I became insanely jealous that I had done so. The campground was gorgeous and not another camper in sight. When we had discussed camping, I had envisioned the typical state park campground with everyone on top of each other, noisy, crowded, etc. However, the folks putting on the race had secured a private campground just for the race participants. We dropped off a load of stuff, setup the tents and headed for a pre-ride.
The weather was perfect. The trails were fast. It had rained in the previous days, so the course wasn’t dusty and the tires were hooking up good. While Andrew, Ching and Brad had plans on riding one lap of the two lap bike course at an easy pace, my intent was to only ride about 20 mins of it, with the last 10 mins or so with intervals of near race pace and recovery. So I’d take off on a short sprint then wait for them to catch up. During one of my short sprints, I came around a corner that looked flat, smooth and fast. Taking the curve, however, produced a nice little crash. The perfectly smooth curve was actually perfectly smooth clay. The remaining moisture from previous rain left it just slick enough that I skated right across and low-sided. Once off of the slick clay, the remaining part of the trail that I chose to slide across was small bits of rock and gravel. This produced a half-dollar size of road rash accented with a nice bruise from where I landed. Shortly after the crash, I proceeded back to the truck to do a short run and swim brick while the rest of the gang rode the rest of the course.
Later that evening, we met up with Crom and Dave for some good eating.
I woke up around 4:45 which seemed way too early after Crom, Dave and I hung out way too late the night before. I had mostly everything ready to go, but wanted to hit the shower and get a meal in. When I walked out of the hotel, I was greeted by rain. A smile came upon my face as I knew the day would be interesting. I called Andrew to let him know I was on my way, wondering how well they slept with the rain.
Andrew, Ching and I loaded up the truck and headed to the transition area. We were the first to arrive and was greeted by a friendly race director and park ranger. We setup our transition and I took off on a warm up ride. Not wanting to chance a spill, I stuck to the pavement. After a warm up run, I headed down to the lake for a quick warm up swim. Before no time, it was time for the race to start.
The swim course was setup as a 400 meter, almost perfectly square, course. We had to do two laps around the course and then exit via a boat ramp. The water temperature was perfect for a swim. We took off and I drafted off of Andrew as we stretched out in front of the main pack. After turning the first buoy, I lost track of Andrew as he picked up the pace and I settled into mine. As always, the first lap I intermingled with other swimmers occasionally getting bumped or doing the bumping. By the time we rounded the last buoy to start the second lap, either they had pulled ahead of me or had dropped back, allowing open water to swim.
Andrew came out of the water in second place and I came out quite a few spots back. He must have had a smoking fast transition time, as he was already gone by the time I came into transition.
My transition went fairly smoothly. Earlier I had debated going sockless, but with the mud, I figured it was a blister waiting to happen. Also, since the trailhead within 5 feet of the transition area, it didn’t allot any time for doing things on the fly. Therefore, I had to spend a little extra time in transition to put on socks and gloves. Again, I could have done without the gloves, but I’ve found that in wet, muddy conditions, gloves are a must (for me anyhow).
~16 mile mountain bike course (two ~8 mile laps)
I dove into the trail and began a pretty fast pace. As a matter of fact, it was a bit too fast. I came flying around a corner and my mud-caked rear tire slid on a root, causing me to crash. It was fairly uneventful other than the fact that I came to a stop. Before the guy behind me could pass, I jumped back on the bike and took off. Proud that I made it rolling without getting passed, I picked the pace, only to crash again under similar circumstances. Again, I jumped back on as the guy behind me approached. Within 30 seconds or so, I went down AGAIN. This time, he passed me. Now keep in mind, this all happened within the first mile. Not a good sign.
OK. New game plan. Ride hard and fast, but a bit more cautiously. Kind of an oxymoron, right? The bike course consisted of a two-lap ride, so my thoughts were to see how the course would pan out (given the rain) on the first lap and then decide where I could push it and where I should pull back.
I kept up with the guy in front of me for the next few minutes and we, too, passed someone who had just crashed. It was like a war zone with riders down everywhere. We dumped out onto a fire road and I took the opportunity to pass him back. Shortly after, I came upon a relay team member. He asked if I wanted to pass and I told him that I did, but when it was safe. He signaled for me to pass and yielded. For the rest of the first lap, I would remain alone on my ride until, Bence Roemer passed me on a climb. I had spun out on a wet root, and he came riding up the hill, somehow maintaining vertical. By the time I got back on my bike, he had gone around the corner and I couldn’t seem to catch back up.
Coming through the transition area at the end of the first lap, they informed me that I was in 5th place. Having seen the course once, I had a game plan of where to try and make up ground. I felt as if I may have played it a little too cautiously on the first lap, but after 3 crashes in the first mile, I was a bit gun shy.
Towards the end of the second lap, my quads started to cramp up something fierce. I guess it was mainly due to my attempt to make up time. During one of my cramp sessions, a relay team member caught up to me and passed just before we dumped out of the trail. I headed into transition and attempted to be as quick as I could with two cramped quads. Attempting to take off my shoes by using the toe-to-heel method proved to be impossible. On the way out of transition, I grabbed a cup of water and headed into the muddy trail. Shortly after entering the run, I passed a relay team member.
4.5 mile trail (aka mud) run
It took about a mile to run through the cramps, but they eventually gave way. It seemed to coincide with the single-track trail turning into fire road. It was then that I decided to try and make up for lost time. I picked up my pace the best that I could but without it causing further cramps. The fire road ended at the edge of a park road where a park ranger was sitting, I ran past her and a water stop that began a lolly-pop loop section of the run. This section consisted of rolling hills of single track. Even though the hills were not steep or long at all, each uphill resulted in more quad cramping. I shortened my stride and reduced my pace in an effort to reduce the cramps. The only thing that seemed to help was getting the hill over with. Once starting down hill, it seemed manageable. Coming out of the lolly-pop section, I ran by someone who was heading into that section. “If he’s the 6th place guy, I should be able to hold him off,” I thought to myself. From there on out, my goal was to climb the hills the best that I could and just hammer the down hills. This continued throughout the run with much teeth gritting towards the end.
I finished in Panther Creek fashion which meant running all the way down the boat ramp and into the lake, where I was greeted by Tybee, the friendly lab.
Overall Place: 5th
Age Division Place: 2nd
Sorry, but I don’t have splits (yet). I’m still trying to run them down.
HUGE CONGRATS goes out to Andrew for winning the race, 1st place overall, securing him in number 1 spot for his age group in the Southeast and currently (as of this writing) also the number 1 spot nationally for his age group. Way to go, Andrew!!
After the race, we headed straight to Asheville and non-stop to the Wedge for some hard-earned cold ones. Later, we headed over to the Admiral for some food you would not believe.
Thanks to Ching and Brad for taking these awesome pics!