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XTERRA Nationals Race Report

My legs are officially spent.  I can’t remember a time that I have been this sore.  The trauma I put them through is coming back to haunt me some two days after racing at the XTERRA USA Championships.  Normally soreness doesn’t hit me until about three days after my hard workouts.  “Delayed onset of muscle soreness” they call it.  I call it hell.  Let me refresh my coffee cup (moan).

Alba and I flew into beautiful Salt Lake City, UT on Thursday.  We were both very excited to take the mini-vacation to the mountains.  She had never visited the Rocky Mountains and it had been some 18 years since I had a short visit there while in the Air Force.  Wow.  18 years.  Man, am I getting old.

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Flying into Salt Lake City

 

We drove about a half-hour north to Ogden and met up with two XTERRA buddies and fellow North Carolinians, Dave Hadden and Justin Stuart.   Dave would be racing the USA Championship race with me while Justin was going to particpate in the XTERRA Utah race which was the “Sport” distance race.  After hooking up with them, we drove up the very scenic Ogden Canyon Road to the Pineview Reservoir.  The four of us had decided to share a condo on the lake.  It ended up being MUCH cheaper than trying to find a hotel in Ogden and way more scenic.

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Driving up Ogden Canyon Road

 

After a quick break to wind-down from the trip, we began race preparations.  Step 1: reassemble the bikes.  Step 2: Relax.

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Friday morning I woke up before sunrise thanks to the 2 hour time zone difference.  My body clock was still on east coast time.  We had a quick brick of all three sports planned for the morning, so I decided to walk down to the reservoir to get some pics of the sun coming up.  It also allowed me to scope out the swimming hole.

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A few hours later, the three of us went for a quick wetsuit swim followed by a short pre-ride of a section of the course.  We decided to jump in at mile 4 and back out at about mile 8.  It was a section where we crossed over a paved road (old 226) twice and made logistics easy.  This section was after Wheeler Canyon and had a couple of decent climbs and a nice downhill at the end.  We took it easy not to blow our legs out the day before the race.

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Out for a little pre-ride

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Race Day

This race had two separate transition areas.  T1 took place near the water at Pineview Reservoir at ~4800 feet elevation.  After transitioning to the bike and climbing up to ~7300 feet (passing Snowbasin Resort), we would descend back down to ~6400 feet to Snowbasin for T2.  This meant that we had to drive up to Snowbasin, setup T2 and then drive back down to the Reservoir to setup T1.  The run course, again, took us climbing to above 7000 feet and then back down to Snowbasin for the finish.

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After driving up the mountain to setup T2, I setup T1 and went for a quick warm-up ride.  Everything checked out on the bike although the shifting was a bit different than I was used to.  During bike reassembly 2 days prior, I had decided to switch out my 11-32 cassette for an 11-34.  I figured with all of the technical climbing that it would be a better gearing ratio.  Even though I had pre-rode the cassette the day before, it was still taking a bit to get used to it.

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I re-racked the bike, donned the wetsuit and went for a warm-up swim.  There were cameras everywhere as the XTERRA folks were filming the event for XTERRA.TV.  They even had a helicopter flying and hovering around getting footage. During my warmup swim, a jetski with a camera guy on back pulled along side of me and was filming me with a lens on the end of a long pole.  I was pretty freaked out by it at first as they seemed to have come out of nowhere.  I came up to sight a buoy and BAM, there was this little lens in my face.  I just kept swimming.  It’d be kind of cool to see if it makes it to the video.  My luck, it’ll end up on the cutting room floor (so to speak).

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I love the smell of neoprene in the morning

 

SWIM

Before no time, the race was starting.  It was one mass start with both amateurs and pros together.  The swim course was a triangular course of 750 meters.  Since we had to swim 1500, it had to be two laps.  Normally there is a beach run in-between, but conditions and the venue didn’t allow for it this time around.

It was tough to site the first buoy as we were swimming towards the sun.  It didn’t matter much as almost the entire first lap was a constant washing machine.  During some of the local races, I can pull away from most of the chaos, but this was Nationals.  Since it’s Nationals, there aren’t any bad swimmers, so we stayed together.  I just stayed in the pack and received the normal elbows to the ribs and grabs at my feet.  At one point I kinda snickered because it was such a madhouse that you could actually hear the squeak, squeak of the wetsuits rubbing together.  I tried my best to stay just behind and off to one side of the person in front of me to prevent me from getting kicked in the face.  The really fast folks and pro men pulled out ahead by the time we rounded the last buoy and back out for our second lap.  I pulled away from folks that I was right in the middle of and also tried to find someone of similar swim strength and fell into their draft.

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I kept a couple of pink caps (pro women) in sight to my left or right which was telling me I was doing ok. I struggled with either going all-out vs. conserving energy for the grueling climb that I knew we had ahead of us.  By the time we rounded the last buoy and headed for shore, I had pulled back a little to conserve my energy.  It was painful to see the pink caps pull away from me, but I knew that I would need it later.  I kept a steady pace to the swim finish.

Swim time: 28:23

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As I came into transition, I saw my friend, Frank Fernandez-Posse (in the MRR jersey below).  I ran by him and gave him a smack on the butt.  It was hilarious to see the look on his face as he looked up trying to figure out what the heck was going on.  We both got our gear on and left transition at the same time.  Transition was a bit slower since we had to stuff our wetsuits and other items into a plastic bag for later retrieval.  The XTERRA crew gathered all of the bags up and moved them to Snowbasin.

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MOUNTAIN BIKE

You can see in the first pic below, from transition we followed the edge of Pineview Reservoir.  We started from the boat dock area, but it took a few minutes for my Garmin to acquire satellites.  When we reached the end of the reservoir damn, we began our ascent up Wheeler canyon.  Frank quickly pulled away from me as we reached the dam.  I decided to go the conservative route as we climbed.  It was tough to concentrate on the race as some of the scenery through the canyon was amazing.  To my right was the mountain and to my left was a HUGE drop down into the canyon.

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The majority of the bike ride was climbing.  We had to climb up from the Pineview Reservoir towards Snowbasin.  We climbed up to approximately 6200 feet before we would get a break.  That was 7 miles of solid climbing before a decent downhill.  Sure there were level spots and small sections that would give you a few seconds of a break, but nothing substantial until mile 7.  That break would be a really, really sweet 1.5 mile downhill that was a blast.  I hit the 20mph mark going down that single track.  It was so much fun I was grinning from ear to ear.

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After the downhill, it was back to climbing.  At about mile 9.5 (according to my Garmin) is when my problems began.  My legs had begun to tire and show signs of me pushing too hard on some of the hills.  I was already suspicious during those “stints” as my heart rate skyrocketed to the point I could hear the thump, thump, thump in my noggin.  I was passing my share of folks, but I was also getting passed.  Each person that passed motivated me to pick up the pace, but each time my heart rate would go through the roof.  I knew that going anaerobic would be detrimental and now I was finding out.  At about mile 9, my right quad started seizing.  I tried to ride it out a bit thinking it was temporary, but it didn’t let go.  I tried rubbing it when I could relax it, but with the constant uphill, my chances were far between.  I decided to hop off the bike for a sec and give it a rub.  It loosened and I quickly hopped back on the bike and resumed my climb.

At 11.5, I arrived at Snowbasin, made a right turn and headed up the ski slope.

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The toughest climbs were yet to come.  As we passed the Snowbasin Resort, we had ski slopes ahead of us.  The snow makers stood like towering trees lining the loose, rocky, ski slopes.  In the picture below, you can see the white, pointy tents of the finish line.  This picture was taken about half-way up.

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Can you see the pointy tents at the bottom?

 

I tackled the hill like everyone in front of me.  We all used the tactic of ride till you can’t, then push the bike up the really steep sections.  As soon as it was level enough to do so, hop back on and ride.  Then repeat.  At mile 13, with about another 100 feet of elevation still left to climb to make it to the top, I again had to step off of the bike to work on my quads.  Only this time, as I swung my leg over the seat, my hamstrings started to seize as well.  I worked them out and kept climbing.  Once at the top, the downhill was an awesome pay-off.  For the next mile and a half, the slope gave way to beautiful single-track with awesome views.  I had a hard time concentrating on my line and almost crashed twice while being distracted by the view.  You could see all the way back down to the reservoir where we started.

There were a few more climbs and very technical rocky sections with large boulders that took more effort in my quads to negotiate than they wanted to give.  As long as I stayed seated and pedaling, they were fine.  Each time I stood up to negotiate obstacles or to hit a downhill fast, they would seize up again.  It was quite frustrating as I knew that if I were to make up any time, it would have to be on the down hill sections.

I finally decided that it was late enough in the bike leg that I would just have to deal with the pain and frustration to hit the down hills with the speed that I was technically capable of riding.  In doing so, I passed numerous people that had either passed me earlier or had started to teeter out towards the end of the bike leg.

Bike time: 2:24:35
Elevation Gain: 5,601 ft
Elevation Loss: 4,130 ft
Min Elevation: 4,801 ft
Max Elevation: 7,228 ft

Coming into T2, I knew where my rack was and looked for my orange and white striped towel.  I used it, hanging over the rack, to mark where my shoes were on the ground.  I normally don’t mark my spot like that, but since there were two separate transition areas, I needed some way to do so.  I folded the towel length-ways twice, so I was sure not to take up more space on the rack as my bike would.  However, coming upon my rack, there was no towel on the rack.  Standing at the spot, my fellow competitors had knocked the towel off of the rack, and someone’s bike was right where it used to be.  My shoes were on one side of the bike and my hat/bib number were on the other.  I frustratingly squeezed my bike onto the rack and gathered up my stuff the best that I could and took off running.

TRAIL RUN

Here’s where we started inter-mingling with the Sport (Xterra Utah) racers that was not part of the Nationals race.  They started about 20 minutes behind us, but now we were starting to come back together.  As I was leaving T2, there was a mix of Nationals racers and Sport racers.  I didn’t mind at all, as we were all out having a good time.  However, it did make it a bit difficult to know if you were gaining/losing position as folks passed each other.

Coming out of T2, I squeezed by my buddy, Mike Miller (#274) and gave him a friendly elbow to the ribs.  “What’s up, brother?” I asked as I passed by.  We ran up the ski slope together and even power-walked the steep, steep section together conversing about our leg woes.  As we dove into the single track at the top of the hill, I said, “Come on, let’s go.”  He followed behind.  I picked up what felt like a comfortable, yet fast, pace through the beautiful mountain-side.

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Running out of T2 with a mix of Nationals and Sport racers

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Catching up to my buddy Mike.

 

I got into such a groove that I completely lost track of Mike.  I don’t know at what point he dropped off, but somewhere along the way I pulled away from him.  That was a little disappointing as we finished together at XTERRA Uwharrie, kind of coaxing each other along.  I was looking forward to the company, but quickly found myself alone.  There were several times throughout the run that I would have to walk, either to conquer a hill, work out my cramps or both.  Since starting the run, the cramps seemed to had moved from the quads to my hip adductors.  I kept the best pace that I could, a little under a 9 min pace which is unusually slow for me.

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Somewhere along the way, I began leap-frogging with Ryan Mortensen.  At one point, around mile 4, we passed through a water stop that dumped out onto a wide rocky ski slope.  It flattened out and we ran side-by-side talking about how we were both hurting.  The last steep hill came up and I slowed to a walk as Ryan kept running up.  About half-way up, he began to walk as well.

As I topped the last hill at mile 4.5, I knew it was downhill the rest of the way.  My plan was to run on the verge of out of control.  Like the bike, when running, I seem to do a lot better going down than going up.  So knowing that it was a strength, I decided to exploit it.  I begin to average about a 6:00 pace down the first long hill.  As I came off of the ski slope, there was a short single-track section where I caught up with a couple of guys and girls running together.  One of them was Ryan.  I knew from the preview that we took the day before that it would come out onto a wide ski slope.  It was then that I decided to use whatever else I had in my tank.  My thought was, if I crossed the finish line with anything left, then I didn’t run hard enough.

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I passed Ryan and gang with about a half-mile left in the run.  I continued to increase my pace knowing that if I slowed now, the couple of spots that I gained with my sprint would be for naught.  By the time I came down the hill to the finish line, I was in a sub 5:00 pace (or so the Garmin says).  It claims that I came down the last stretch of hill at 4:51 and across the finish at 4:24.  I have no idea how correct it is, but I do know that if I would have been running any faster, I would have had to use the “tuck and roll” method to running. If only I could sustain such a pace.

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Run Time:
Elevation Gain: 1,429 ft
Elevation Loss: 1,407 ft
Min Elevation: 6,382 ft
Max Elevation: 6,930 ft

Grand Total Finish Time: 3:47:31
27th in Division
177 of 279

As soon as I weaseled through the finish line workers, I found a nice spot on the ground which to collapse in full leg spasms.  Justin came over asking if I needed help.  I stretched them a bit and we conversed about the race waiting for Dave to come in.  My carbohydrate radar led me straight to the chocolate chip muffin and raisin oatmeal cookies.  I wasn’t pleased with my standings, but grateful to have had the opportunity to make it and race arm-in-arm with the best across the country.

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Quad spasms

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Even better than being able to race with the best was the opportunity to spend some quality time with Alba (my wife and your friendly photographer) and my friends.  We had TONS of laughs and great conversation.

 

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Justin, Me, Dave and Mike getting our
numbers off of the board at registration
while discussing the course.

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