XTERRA First Coast equals valuable lessons

Race: XTERRA First Coast
Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Date: July 24, 2011
Distances: 750m swim, 13mile mountain bike, 5k run
Result: 5th place in division, 11th overall
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Synergy Syn-Skin, Maxxis Ikon TiresCobb SHC DRT Saddle, Jamis Dakota D29 Pro, Rudy Project helmet, Scrub Brakes, Crank Brothers Candy Pedals.

I had originally planned to race at the Offroad Assualt on Mount Mitchell, complete with paying my entry back in March.  If you’re not familiar with it, just think of an mountain bike race that includes over 65 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation change.  Dan Kimball and I (as usual) both decided to have at it with something a bit different from our usual triathlon season.  We had the schedule all laid out, including several pre-rides and training plan.  We had it all figured out…  except…  the fact that I had also scheduled family vacation the same week.  Ugh.

Since Alba and the fam put up with my racing, training and other escapades all year long, the LEAST that I could do is not screw up their family vacation.  With regret, I decided to forego ORAMM.  Long story short, we ended up settling on vacationing at Tybee Island just off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.  A couple of days before leaving, I was feeling pretty bummed about missing the race and after some discussion with Alba (with some internal debate of my own), we decided that I could squeeze in racing XTERRA First Coast without much ill-effect to the fam vacay.  We arrived in Savannah Saturday evening and after about 3 hours of sleep, the two of us left the kids nestled in their beds and headed out for the 3 hour drive to Jacksonville.

Upon arrival, I setup transition and saw many of my XTERRA family such as Frank Fernandez Posse, Dave Hadden, Justin Stewart, Dan Arnett, Casey Fannin, Charlotte & Kevin Mahan and more.  We all greeted each other and set out to get our “chores” done.  Before we knew it, we had to head out to the beach to start the race with a 750 meter, point-to-point ocean swim.

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The swim started off fairly violent with not only the competitors throwing the usual elbows, kicks and what-not, but when combined with waves, it just exacerbated the violence.  Once I reached the 2nd buoy, things had thinned out a bit and I settled into a grove.  I came out of the water in 6th place for my wave and headed to transition.  I hadn’t even gotten off the beach and already had my Synergy speed suit down to my waist.

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After a speedy transition, I dove into the “Tightwad” trail for the first of 3 laps.  It wasn’t long into the first lap when Frank Fernandez Posse caught up to me.  We chatted a bit and he mentioned us working together to push each other along.  I stuck on his wheel for a while but had an issue with an obstacle or two and he pulled out of sight in the switchbacks.  I knew he wasn’t far ahead of me as I could continue to hear his rear hub rat-tat-tat as he coasted in spots.  I just kept him within an ear shot hoping to catch back up.

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After each lap, we had to dismount, run through transition, and remount before re-entering the trail.  Coming into transition, I executed a rolling dismount, ran through transition and remounted, almost running over the lady sitting at the trailhead jotting down bib numbers.  Early into the second lap, I kept hearing someone’s squeaky brakes every few seconds and couldn’t seem to tell if they were in front of me or behind me. With all of the switchbacks, the noise kept coming from behind me, then in front of me and then back to behind me. I couldn’t tell if I was catching up to someone or if someone was catching up me. Before the end of the first lap, I realized that it was Dan Arnett’s brakes. I had caught up to him.. and Frank.

Dan told me to pass and I took his offer. We shot around the rest of the first lap with me slowly pulling away from him through a couple of technical sections. I’d lost earshot of Frank’s hub and was beginning to get a little frustrated that I wasn’t catching up.  What I was catching up to was the tail end of the previous wave.  Most of the racers were very nice and pulled off to one side as soon as they heard me coming.  I thanked each one as I passed.  I came upon one racer and asked for a pass.  He pulled over to the right side and I passed him on the left.  Just as I passed him, he grabbed a big ole’ handful of front brake and performed a beautiful endo.  As he flew over his handlebars, his rear wheel came down and hit my right arm, taking me out in the process.  As we lay in the trail trying to untangle each other, Dan Arnett caught back up.  As I pounced back to my feet, Dan yells, “Go! Go! Go!” and we took off down the trail chit chatting about the crash.  Dan and I rode the rest of the 2nd lap together off and on.

Coming back into transition at the end of the 2nd lap, I made a technical error.  I swung my right leg over and poked it through between the bike and my left leg.  This is very typical for a rolling dismount, but usually done so with my feet OUT of my shoes ala the pic taken at Pelham below.


Since I wasn’t transitioning to the run just yet, I still had my shoes ON.  Even worse, I hadn’t unclipped my left foot.  So when I stepped off onto the pavement with my right foot, I quickly realized my dork move and that my left foot was still firmly attached to the bike.  As I slid on my backside across the pavement towards the two ladies manning the dismount point, they both screeched and then quickly asked if I was ok.  “Yep.  Just a stupid mistake.” I exclaimed.  I ran through transition and back on the bike for lap 3.

As soon as I got back onto the singletrack, I heard Dan Arnett behind me through the man-high palm bushes (which by the 3rd lap, I was tired of brushing against).  “You still with me, Dan!?”  “Yep, I’m still back here!”  We weaved, zigged and zagged through the tight singletrack as if we were attached by an invisible rope, making comments here and there about the trail.  It wasn’t very far into the last lap that my rear end started swaying back and forth.  It felt like my rear end was loose and I kept looking at down at it trying to figure out what was going on.  Dan saw me looking and asked what was wrong.  “I think I’m getting a flat.  Can you tell?”  “That sucks, Marcus.  It does look like it’s going flat.”

I pulled over and tried to quickly find the leak.  I couldn’t’ spot any sealant nor a hissing sound.  I grabbed my can of Big Air and squeezed it back to life as other racers swooshed past me.


If your recall my race report from Richmond, you’ll remember that Dan Kimball loaned me a used Maxxis Ikon to run as my rear tire.  It served me well during that race.  In fact, I rode that tire quite a bit over the next few weeks, including marking the course for XTERRA Whitewater on July 2nd.  During that several-hour ride, I cut the sidewall of said tire on a section of the Whitewater trail that I have personally dubbed “The Oyster Garden.”  I call it that because it’s filled with jagged quartz rocks sticking out of the ground.  Anyone that has ridden that trail more than once knows exactly which section I am talking about.  Anyhow, I received a pretty nice sidewall gash on the tire and even though the sealant fixed it, I still had to pump air into it off and on over the duration of the ride.  I had to make several trips back to the truck, anyhow, to get more arrows and marking supplies.  Each time I did, I took advantage by hitting the pump with each return trip.  Funny thing is, after that ride, the tire held air, with no problems, over the next few weeks.  This included a trip to the mountains to preride the ORAMM course.

Regardless of it holding air, I knew better than to actually race on it.  What a stupid mistake.


As I rode for the next mile or so, I remembered why I was having an issue with the tire.  I passed many of the riders that had passed me while I was stopped.  As I reminisced back to the flat at the Whitewater Center, I felt the same wobbly sway from my rear end.  Damn it.  I stopped and put another shot of air into the tire and took off riding again.  Many of the same racers passed me.  Again.  A mile or so later, it went wobbly.  Again.  This time I let the air in the tire equalize with the pressure in the can.  The tire was WAY over what I would have normally inflated it, but I figured it would hold air longer preventing me from having to stop.  I took off.  With about a mile left to go on the last lap, the tire was getting squishy and I would bottom out on my rim when hitting roots.  I tried to gingerly hop over them while keeping my butt off of the seat.  I felt like a Nascar driver riding on fumes and debating a whether to pit stop or try and finish the race.   Should I waste the time to stop yet again to try and fix it or should I just ride it out?  I took the gamble and decided just to ride it out.  As I exited the trail, I made a left hand turn on the pavement and felt the tire completely fold over.  I rode it into transition and switched to my running gear.


With the run being around 3 miles, I knew going into it that my chances of closing the gap with Frank (or many others) were not that great.  Three miles just isn’t long enough to make up much time.  Do the math.  If someone has a 3 minute lead, I’d have to run 5:30 pace vs a 6:30 pace.  That’s HUGE.  But, instead of crunching numbers in my head to figure it out (ala Dan Kimball), I just decided to run my ass off.  I finished with the fastest split of the race, but it wouldn’t prove to be good enough.  Frank still finished a good 5 minutes ahead of me, as did 3 other guys in my division.  They’re all very fast guys and ran an awesome race.


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So the one question a couple of friends asked already is, “Are you not going to use those tires anymore?”  My answer is, “I already have two more on order.”  You have to realize that the problem wasn’t with the Maxxis Ikon tires, instead, it was my own fault.  I was using a tire with a known sidewall cut.  Not only that, but the jagged quartz I rode through could have easily cut anyone’s tires.  I was running a lightweight tire with a thin sidewall, typically used for racing only conditions.  My problem was that I didn’t change the tire when it was initially cut.  By the way, the tires I ordered are the same model (Ikon), but with thicker sidewall protection (EXO).

XTERRA First Coast was a blast of race and fun was had by all, including me with the flat.

Check out the results.


Be a Warrior!