Race: XTERRA World Championship
Location: Maui, Hawaii
Date: Oct 24, 2010
To everyone in Maui, Hawaii: mahalo. What a wonderful island. I took the entire Barton clan to Maui, not a cheap endeavor by any means, but it was worth every red cent. As I sit here on the flight back to home, I only wish I could have spent a few more days there.
The kids, as well as Alba, were super-stoked to go to Maui. The kids all earned it, too. Many of the out-of-town trips that Alba and I took over the past year were all prefaced with the same speech to the kids. The abridged version basically consisted of, “Be good, no parties, and no fighting. If you’re good, and Dad qualifies for XTERRA Worlds, we’re all going.” They always kept their end of the bargain. With that said, I had to keep up mine once I qualified.
We arrived in Maui on Thursday preceding the race after a grueling 12 hours of travel. With the 6-hour difference in time zone, we were like five zombies walking through the airport. We got to our condo and all of us pretty much passed out from exhaustion. Friday, we spent lazy-ing around the condo while the kids hit the beach. It felt great to do absolutely nothing.
Saturday morning, I hooked up with Dan for a quick pre-ride of the bike course and one lap around the swim buoys. The course was just as everyone explained. Quite dusty, lots of lava rock and lots of head-sized rocks on the descents. On the climbs, you just have to keep moving. Should you run into any obstacles you couldn’t overcome (including other bikers), you’d have to step off and push your bike quite a bit. On the descents, you just had to stay loose, let the bike do it’s little dance beneath you and stay off of the brakes. There were also kiave thorns EVERYWHERE.
The swim course was absolutely amazing. Swimming it was tough as I had trouble sighting the buoys. Not because they were small or anything, but rather I didn’t want to stop looking at all of the coral, fish and the occasional sea turtle. It was as if you were swimming through an aquarium. The water was crystal clear and you could see the bottom of the ocean floor the entire way. Not easy sighting a buoy if you never lift your head up.
Race-day, the weather was beautiful and perfect for racing. The sun was out and another gorgeous day in Hawaii. After a traditional Hawaiian blessing and ritual, we were off and racing.
Amazingly, even with 550 people racing, I seemed to find clear water on the swim fairly quickly. Looking to my left and right, there were swimmers, but the closest one to me was at least 3 feet away. “Weird,” I thought. My comfortable, little, invisible cocoon that I had around me was short-lived. About 20 meters from the first buoy was when things became pretty rough. Since everyone was so spread out over the first portion of the swim, it was at the first turn when everyone became condensed like pushing ketchup through a bottle-neck. The closer we got to the buoy, the more condensed it became. By the time I reached the buoy, we were all crawling on top of each other. Literally. At one point, I ended up on the bottom of the pile getting pushed a good meter (or so) under water. I gave out an underwater laugh as I clawed my way back up to air. “This is nuts,” I thought. Once around the buoy, things spread back out nicely and we were off again.
As I reached the shore, I had no idea that I was side-by-side with fellow MelRad teammate Tim Holland. As you can see below, I’m just ahead of him with a speed suit (black with red sleeves) while his MelRad kit is visible. (By the way, a huge shout-out to my good friend and doc, Josh Kollmann for loaning me the speedsuit. You should definitely look him up if you need help with injuries, PT, or general training stuff. Tell him I sent ya.) I ran along the beach run, smacking hands and high-fiving the lively crowd. As a volunteer stuck out his open palm pointing me back into the water, I gave it a smack as if he wanted me to “slip him some skin”. I don’t think he was expecting it as he looked a little wierd’d out. I dove back in the water for lap number two.
As I breathed to the right, I spotted the MelRad uniform. I did some quick process of elimination to figure out it was Tim. Alexia, Jo or Meiling? Nope, it’s definitely a guy. Fred? Nope, this person was taller. It had to be Tim. I followed along aside him until just before we reached the buoy. Again, things became a little jumbled up, but not near as bad as the first lap. Tim managed to slip away in the confusion and I was back on my own for the rest of the swim. Plus, I was probably paying too much attention to the scuba diver camera dude beneath us. I came out of the swim feeling pretty good and transitioned quickly to the bike.
There’s a bit of paved road from the resort to the trailhead. It provided ample opportunity to don my gloves and get some nutrition into the gut. It wasn’t long before I was on the dusty road with a gazillion other people making the initial climb. I’ve never been to Africa, nor do I know what the Serengeti looks like (other than what I’ve seen in pictures), but when we turned off of the road and onto the bike course, you’d swear we were on the Serengeti. The trees, brush, dirt, rocks, etc looked like something straight out of those same pictures. One thing that is amazing about Maui is that you can go from beach, to rain forest to desert within an hour or so. We were definitely in the desert part.
The hills were fairly short and rolling at first but seemed to get steeper and more technical as they came along. They all looked the same and I was having a hard time figuring out what was coming up next or how long I had before hitting some of the key points. Dave had given a race briefing the day before complete with photos and video. By the third or fourth (or tenth) hill, I had completely lost track, lost count and had no idea where I was in comparison to Dave’s pre-race briefing. Not knowing proved to be mentally tough.
I was carrying two water bottles in my Titec carbon cages instead of wearing my trusty Nathan Race Vest (product review forthcoming in a blog post soon). I debated this over and over and opted for the bottles to keep weight off of my back. I’m still debating if it was a good idea or not. At the first feed station, I decided to swap one of my bottles out for a fresh one. It would prove to be a mistake as about 5 minutes after the stop, I realized I had swapped the bottle that contained the bulk of my electrolytes for the ride. Adding insult to injury, I ended up drinking way too much straight water during the ride, thus flushing out electrolytes already in my system. More about that later.
I had so completely lost track of the number of hills I had climbed so far that I had no idea where the infamous heartbreak hill was or Ned’s climb. To me, there were all just a series of the 4000+ feet of climbing that I would have to endure over the course of the race. Towards the end of the course, with each descent, I would say to myself, “this has to be it,” only to be met with yet another hill. The descents were fun and scary. I think scary always equals fun, right?
Diving down the hills covered in loose lava rock with every size imaginable, from 2 inches in diameter all the way up to ones the size of your head, was a bit of a chore. The trick to it was staying extremely loose, using your arms and legs as shock absorbers, and just letting the bike do it’s thing. The bike just moved all over the place, dancing from side to side, jumping left and right and generally picking its own line. I just held on and stayed off the brakes as much as possible. Anytime I tried to brake, it would start fish-tailing like crazy and trying to head towards the worst possible place to crash. This was generally over the edge of the hill or towards suitcase-sized lava boulders with jagged edges. Brakes = bad. So I just let ‘em go. There were 3 or 4 instances that I felt extremely uncomfortable with the speed, flying over lava rocks and down jumps.
The descents started taking a turn for the worst on my quads at the end of the bike course. The lack of sufficient electrolytes started causing my quads to cramp. It didn’t help that doing the equivalent of a thousand squats while descending and using my legs to absorb the bouncing. I know my race reports have begun to sound like a broken record with me and cramping issues. It seems that as soon as I think I have ’em licked, they come back with any sort of mistake I make.
Coming into T-2, I did a pretty good job of removing my feet from my bike shoes while on the go. I also removed my Bellwether Scout gloves on the fly. This would allow for a faster transition by just stepping off my bike and leaving the shoes attached to my pedals. Having the gloves already removed also meant one less thing to do in transition. I came up to Andrew Marsh at the dismount line and hopped off my bike. Both legs said, “Ahoy, mate!” as they became pirate peg-legs with cramps. Guess they thought it’d be cute for Halloween to make me run like a pirate into transition. The short, steep downhill into transition didn’t help matters much either. I racked my bike, threw on my shoes, grabbed my TrySports hat and Nathan Booster Belt and ran, uh, hobbled out of transition. In case anyone is wondering (from my last blog post), I decided to wear the Avia Avi-Stoltz for this race. Alexia really, really pushed me to wear them. “I was right at Whistler.” she reminded me. Can’t argue with that logic. They proved to be an excellent choice for this race as well.
As soon as I was clear of transition, I tried to pop a couple of electrolyte capsules, but in classic, Marcus fashion, I only managed to get one in my mouth. The other one went flying across the nice, green, manicured golf course. The first couple of miles were painfully slow and I just tried my best to keep good form and not let the cramps get the best of me. After hitting a couple of water stops and getting some Gatorade down, I seemed to get my legs back a bit. It also seemed to be so once we started going downhill. I cut my pace almost in half as I descended, looking like a monkey flailing my arms as I literally fell down the hills. Not really falling as in hitting the ground but as in I was going so fast that my legs could barely keep up. I was in a controlled-fall descending.
I hit the dreaded beach and quickly got down on the hard pack, knowing the soft sand would slow me down and cramp me more. Just before we went through the spooky forest, I was passed by fellow 40-44 age grouper, Denilson Freita, from Brazil (he had “Policia de Militar” printed on the back of his tri-suit). Within a minute or two, Texan, Gregory Boyer, also in my age group, passes me as well. I tell him that the guy in front of us is also a 40 year old and encouraged him to reel him in. I didn’t have enough left in my legs to challenge either of them, as I was just trying to maintain my pace and MAYBE negative split the last mile or so. I passed numerous people through the spooky forest and over the sketchy lava section, but none of them in my age group.
As I turned up the final stretch of flags and the finish line, I took a quick glance back to see if anyone was on my tail. Since there was no one there, I took the liberty of having fun with the crowd along the finish line and I managed to find enough quad strength to jump up and tag the finish line. In the process I managed to hit the clock as well. Sorry XTERRA crew, I didn’t mean to do that. Of course, as soon as I was over the line, the pain came back.
I finished 21st in my division and 3:35 for a time. I missed my 3:30 goal by a little and my 3:15 stretch goal by a long shot. I was also shooting for top 20, but I missed that by letting those guys pass me on the beach. I’m still pretty stoked that I made it to Worlds and managed to finish 21st in what I think is the toughest age group on the circuit, among the best folks on the planet. Big congrats to Cal Zaryski for winning our age group, ahead of 10 pro men and 10th overall amateur despite some mechanicals with his bike.
For all of the XTERRA crew and volunteers, along with all the wonderful locals in Hawaii: mahalo.
Be a Warrior,