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Southern Hospitality – XTERRA Southeast Championship Race Report

Race: XTERRA Southeast Championships
Location: Pelham, Alabama
Distances: 1500m swim, 35k mtb bike 10.4k run
Marcus Result: 5th place division, 15th overall amateur
Dan Result: 4th place division, 14th overall amateur
Products used: GU Roctane and GU BrewSynergy Syn-Skin, Maxxis Ikon & Aspen Tires, Jamis Dakota D29 ProRudy Project helmet, Scrub Brakes, Crank Brothers Candy Pedals.

The Southeast Champs race came a little earlier this year. You’d think it’d make a huge difference in temperature, but the difference is marginal.  If you recall my report from last year, you may recall my description about it being “Alabama hot”.  Even though it wasn’t as hot, it was still pretty warm when Dan and I showed up at transition some three hours before race start.

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After a quick stop-in at the marking tent, a bit of fun banter back and forth with Janet Clark, we setup transition and went into relax mode for a while.  The next hour or so was spent reuniting with our XTERRA family of regulars, Emma Garrard, Fred Smith, Frank Fernandez-Posse, Charlotte Mahan, Meiling Yee, Eric Hammond, Mark Hammond, but to name only a few.  Most of it was casual conversation and just catching up since the last race.  There were a few questions about Spain and some discussion of Richmond.  It was good to see the racing family again.  Before I knew it, Dan was flagging me over to the bike to do a warm-up ride.  We took off and rode for a bit.

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We headed down to the swim start where the Sport race was getting ready to start.  I looked around for my brother and Dad.  They both live in the area and make going to Pelham extra special.  Being able to see my family while in town for the race is awesome.  They both said they would be coming out, but I hadn’t seen either of them yet.

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Dad relaxing on the porch

After the Sport folks took off and swam their one lap of the 750m course, the Championship race started.  On the first of the two laps, I found myself on the right edge of the main pack.  Oddly enough, there was a pack of about 15 swimmers far off to my right.  “Where are they going?” I wondered.  I could see one of the pro men leading the off-shoot pack (by the color of his swim cap) and a bunch of amateurs drafting in his wake.  To my left was a pro female swimming at about the same pace as me.  “As long as I stay between these two, I should be good.” I thought.  Even though I had performed a warm-up swim, it still took until about half-way to the first buoy to get into a groove.  The course was setup in its usual fashion with a triangular course with the two longest legs of the swim being out to the two buoys and back.  The distance between the two buoys was relatively short.

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After round the first buoy, I managed to lose track of my two pros within the chaotic bottleneck that always happens at the first buoy.  By the time I made it around the second buoy, I found a couple of other swimmers moving at a pretty good pace.  I followed them all the way to the shore.  Hopping out for a short “beach” run and back into the water for my second lap, I was feeling pretty good.  For the second lap, I found myself in clear water without anyone to impede me, but no one to draft off.  Oh well, I was still feeling pretty good and glad that the shoulder was starting to finally come around from the surgery in December.  It was also my first race in the Synergy Syn-Skin suit.  It was comfortable, pliable and helped make me super-smooth in the water.  I’ll definitely be wearing it for EVERY non-wetsuit swim.

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Hoping out of the water and running to transition, I always am super focused with a million things going through my head.  At this point the swim is behind me, but I’m running through the transition in my head and the first couple of miles on the bike.  I’ve been told that those few seconds between the swim and T1, I visibly look like my mind is elsewhere.  That’s because it is.  While running to transition, I hear someone say, “Be a warrior! Be a warrior! Go get ‘em!” in a distinctive voice, complete with thick southern accent, that could only be my Dad’s.  It took a few seconds to register and I was probably out of his sight before I realized what had just happened.  I executed a pretty quick transition and was off on the bike.  He had been to races before, but usually wasn’t around for the start.  A smile ran across my face as I realized that he was there.

The bike course was fast.  You could tell the BUMP folks had been at work, performing maintenance on the trail.  Amazing job, folks!  It was my first race on the new 29er bike and it was performing flawless.  The Maxxis Ikon and Aspen tires were hooking up great.  My original plan was to ride an Ikon on front and rear, but I got a big gash in my rear tire the day before during a pre-ride.  What sucks most is that it was a brand new tire.  Oh well, sheeet happens sometimes.  We plugged it with a piece of a latex swim cap to get me off the trail, but that’s another post altogether.  Cahaba Cycles in Pelham didn’t have an Ikon in stock, so I went with an Aspen.  Major props to Cahaba Cycles for allowing me back in their maintenance area to swap my tire.  Talk about southern hospitality.  I digress, I’ll tell you the whole tire story with my tire review post coming up soon.

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I must have gotten out of the swim before Dan as he caught up with me on the bike leg.  My front tire skewer was coming loose (silly me for not tightening it enough) and I had stopped briefly to whack it in place.  While doing so, Dan comes up from behind me and yells out, “Get back on and pedal, old man!”.  I do so and we start tackling the rest of the trail in tandem.  During one of the switchbacks, I see Frank Fernandez-Posse who yells out, “Go Marcus!”  The three of us maintain our positions as we get to the long fire road climb.  It’s about 2 miles of solid climbing on a loose, rocky road.  Most of the rocks are about baseball size or bigger.  Venturing off of the beaten, smooth path usually spells trouble or a major energy expenditure.  During these sections, everyone settles into a single-file line and wait to do any passing.  At the top of the fire road, Frank and another person passes Dan and I.  “Come on guys,” Frank states as he wizzes by.

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At the top of the climb, there are a couple of really, really fast downhill sections with similar size rocks in parts.  You have to be careful flying down the road at 25+ mph.  Again, picking a non-smooth line could cause a “get-off” (as my brother calls it, more commonly known as a crash).  I passed a couple of people as I was flying down the road trying to catch Frank.  At the entrance to the famed “Blood Rock” section, there was another rider taking the smoother of the two possible lines.  It’s about a 3 or so foot drop off of the fire road.  In order to gain the position heading into the single track (and thus the technical section of Blood Rock), I took the less straight line.  This would be my undoing as the line set me up headed straight for a tree.  Since I was attempting to gain a position, I went into this section a little too fast and hot.  I couldn’t make the left hand turn to avoid the tree and WHAM!  I slammed into the tree with my right shoulder like a football player hitting a tackle dummy.  The only difference is that a tackle dummy moves.  The tree didn’t.  Dan passed me and I did a quick assessment of my shoulder checking for broken, protruding bones.  I felt none and despite the pain, I took back off headed for several steep technical drops where having a messed-up shoulder wouldn’t be good.

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“The” Tree

I managed to get through the Blood Rock section without any problems at all.  There was the usual crowd of spectators all sitting around up on the rocks cheering the racers on and shouting out encouragement.  It’s funny how having those folks around really motivates you to roll the whole thing without dismounting.  If there wasn’t a crowd of people around, I think more racers wouldn’t think twice about walking it rather than taking the risk of end-o-ing on jagged rocks.

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Blood Rock

Following Blood Rock, there is another super-fast technical section where you can pick up some fun speed while hitting a few jumps.  I went into that section a little hotter than I probably should, riding on the edge of my level of ability in order to make up for lost time.  Plus, I was trying to catch back up to Dan and Frank.  It wasn’t long before I caught back up.  Dan got hung up in some slower traffic that he couldn’t get around.  I tailed in behind him and we passed folks whenever we could.  On the last couple of miles, we fought traffic on some tight single track.  Coming into transition, I executed a perfect rolling dismount and a fairly fast transition.  Coming out of transition and onto the run, I spotted Frank on the road ahead.

As soon as we dove into the trail, I passed Frank.  We exchanged pleasantries and he offered some encouraging words.  Always the sportsman, Frank.   The first 2 miles or so were pretty uneventful.  I was running alone with Frank hot on my tail in the switchbacks.  I tried to put as much distance between the two of us as I could, while trying to gain as much as I could on anyone ahead of me.  At the first steep climb, I see Dan at the top.  He looks back and spots me, waving me up the hill.  “Hurry up, old man,” I pictured him saying.  We ran three steep climbs and descents.  Once I crossed the paved road, I knew most of the large hills were behind me and rolling singletrack was ahead.  After about a half-mile of single track, I come out onto the lake dam and see Dan up ahead.  I increased my pace and gradually caught up to him with about a mile and half left in the race.  We chatted the rest of the way in and finished together.  Wow, that makes two years in a row that’s happened.

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Final standings:

Marcus – 5th in division, 15th overall amateur

Dan – 4th in division, 14th overall amateur

BIG CONGRATS goes to Dan for qualifying for XTERRA Worlds at this race!!

Parting shot:
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Hope to see all you North Carolina and South Carolina folks out for the triathlon clinics this weekend at Tailwind Cycles.  MORE INFO

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