OK. So back at the beginning of August, I mentioned that it would be the busiest month of racing for me. There’s been a few changes, but alas, it was still a busy racing month. One thing about the sport of triathlon is that it is comprised mainly of “age groupers”. Yes, there are some really fast pros out there, many of them get the glory and are placed upon a pedestal. Like any monument, it wouldn’t stand very long if it didn’t have a strong foundation. In our sport, that foundation is the “age grouper”. These fearless warriors have day jobs. Permanent, full-time work that requires them to punch the clock at least (and I do say at least) 40 hours a week. A lot of these athletes also have families. Wives and children who love them dearly, kissing them goodbye as they head out the door at 4am to train. If they’re not headed out at 4am, then they are trying to squeeze it in after work, somewhere between soccer practice and dinner. A few of them pull “two-a-days” and head out in the morning AND afternoon. Their weekends are also filled with more training, usually longer, multi-hour rides and runs, juggled between yard-work and house chores.
Rarely will you get a glimpse of these weekend warrior age groupers in the magazines or websites that highlight the fast pros. Rarely will you see the age grouper, which makes up the vast majority of the racing “field” and pour their hard-earned dollars into the sport in the way of race fees, travel costs, equipment purchases and other sport-related money spends. It’s these very age-groupers that buy the sponsors’ stuff. The same sponsors that pour their funds into races and the pros. The same sponsors that, in most cases (along with age grouper race fees) pay the prize purse at races that are fortunate enough to offer them. So as one of those age-groupers, my hat is off to my fellow age grouper athletes that trudge through the training, not making a single dime, but instead spending it, for nothing more than the feeling they get when they’ve completed a race to the best of their ability. Maybe, just maybe, they might get a medal put around their neck. We do it, not for money, but for the right reason: for love of the sport.
With that said, like my fellow age-groupers, sometimes your life, work or other things have to take a priority over your racing or training. In those cases, you usually don’t just give up. Do you? So when other areas of my life threw me a few curve-balls last (and this) month, I adapted, improvised and overcame. Without getting into any boring specifics as to why, let’s just talk about some of the changes.
August 20 – My intent was to hit XTERRA Charlottesville as my last XTERRA points race for the season (outside of the big races). Instead, I made a last-minute decision to fly to Vermont and race in the USAT Age Group National Championships. I qualified at one of my training races and decided to give it a shot. Let’s just recap by saying: those boys handed my arse to me in a nice gift basket. I finished 67th in an age group of almost 150. Yep, my age group was that large. Still a fun race though, especially the opportunity to ride my bike down the interstate that the Vermont Governor shutdown so we could use it during the bike leg of the race. Very cool.
August 24 – Charlotte Mountain Bike Series, Whitewater Center Race – Another goodie. Managed to get third in my age group after starting in the rear of the pack (like Coach instructed). Me and the second place guy were duking it out right at the finish. Again, I was sneaking up on him until one of my buddies yelled, “GO MARCUS!”. If he wouldn’t have been tipped off, I could have taken him. ;)
August 27 – Run Wild Cross Country Festival, South Carolina – I intended to get to this race, but decided against it since the only guidance from Coach was hitting a 5k race on this day. Instead of driving 2 hours, one way, to race for ~20 minutes and then drive 2 hours back, I hit a local road 5k, the Yasaou Greekfest 5k. There were some crazy-fast folks out there. I managed to get 3rd in my age group and squeeze out a sweet 18:14.
September 4 – XTERRA Canada National Championships – This is one of those races where other areas of life had to take a priority. It was a mix of work-related things and the logistics that just didn’t pan out. I didn’t get to go to this race and was super-bummed about it because it is one of my all-time favorite races. Also, my training regimen was designed with the idea that I would “peak” for this race. That means for the past several months, my training has been geared specifically for this race. I didn’t get to go. Maybe next year.
In it’s place, I decided to race XTERRA Big Bear in West Virginia. Here’s the race report:
Race: XTERRA Big Bear
Location: Big Bear Recreation area, Hazelton, West Virginia
Date: September 11, 2011
Distances: .75 mile swim, 14 mile mountain bike, 6.5 mile run
Result: 1st overall, 1st in division
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Synergy Adrenaline Wetsuit, Maxxis Ikon Tires, Cobb SHC DRT Saddle, Jamis Dakota D29 Pro, Rudy Project helmet, Scrub Brakes, Crank Brothers Candy Pedals, Inov8 X-Talon 190 Shoes.
The race, which consisted of both a triathlon and a duathlon, was slotted to be held on September 11th. I thought it would be cool to race on such a historical day and to thumb my nose at the terrorists in my own way, all while honoring those who died that day. Going along with the adapt, improvise and overcome mantra, Alba and I decided at noon, on September 10th (the day before the race) that I should do this one. That may not seem like that big of a deal, but the fact that it was a good 6.5 hour drive away, we quickly packed the car and immediately headed that way. Online registration was already closed, there was no race-day registration, and the final registration closed Saturday (the day we left) at 7:30pm. We knew if we only stopped for gas, restroom breaks and food-to-go, we’d make it, especially if we did all three at the same time. We made it to registration with only 10 minutes to spare.
I had a great conversation with Race Director, Nathan Kile, about the course, what to expect, his thoughts on tire choice and more. You could tell he was just excited about the race as I was. I got all my race registration done and we headed to the hotel.
The next morning we showed up just as the sun was coming up.
The water temps were low enough that it was a wetsuit swim. We would swim one large, rectangular lap of a .75 mile swim course. It was basically an out-and-back course with a short leg at the turn back point. I slid on my Synergy Adrenaline wetsuit and went for a warm-up swim where the water was crystal clear and shallow. After a brief silence in honor of those who perished on 9/11, we were off on the swim. After rounding the turn at the farthest point, I noticed that there were a couple of people ahead of me. I didn’t want to waste any time with my head above water to get a firm count, so I just knew there were a handful. I did see that the lead swimmer was WAAAAAY the heck up there (I would later find out he was a relay team member).
I managed to get 4th out of the water, but didn’t know it at the time. I transitioned to the bike as quick as I could with relay team members watching on.
The 14 mile bike course consisted of some sweet, technical single-track trails. I endured my fair share of roots, rocks, boulders, climbs and descents as I made my way through the hills. Did I mention rocks? There were plenty of tough rock gardens to trudge through and even a couple of creek beds to navigate. One minute I would feel the rumble of a technical single-track and next thing you know, I was dumped out onto an old airfield. A short time later I made my way through a pine forest feeling as if I were at the battle of Bastogne. Here’s a good video of this section of the course. Let’s just say there’s plenty of different terrain for anyone. The Maxxis Ikon Tires were hooking up in all of the conditions and were handling all the challenges this course could throw at them.
Earlier that morning, our calves were marked with our age on one calf and a “T” (for triathlon) or “D” (for duathlon) to indicate which of the two races we were in. On the ride, I passed numerous people in both races, but since there was no indicator of relay teams, I had no idea if the “T”s I were passing were individuals or relay members. At one point, I passed a duathlete shortly after the airfield, which was about the half-way point of the bike course. I asked how many were ahead and he stated two that he knew of.
It wasn’t long before I came upon a steep, technical, downhill that consisted of roots, rocks and small head-sized boulders. As I descended (on the edge of out-of-control), I just held onto the bike and let it do its thing. Every split second or so, I would nudge it in the direction I thought might be a good line. In a way, I was suggesting to the bike that the path I wanted. Sometimes it went, and sometimes it didn’t. I just held on and knew that if I crashed, something was going to get broken; me, the bike or both. While descending this Pisgah-ish hill, I had a rider behind me GAINING ground. We hit the bottom of the hill where it took a hard left and dumped into a creek bed. At that point, I came to a screeching halt as I nearly missed the turn in what appeared to be an inevitable crash. Luckily, I stopped just before a big drop-off into the creek bed and as I came to a stop, 3 riders zoomed past me.
I eventually caught back up to the 3 riders, passing two of them and tailing the 3rd, who just happened to be the guy who almost passed me going down the technical hill. I asked him if he rode that much and he replied with “as much as he could”. He also mentioned that it was one of his favorite downhills. He further explained that he was planning to pass me during that descent, but decided not to so that he didn’t cause both of us to crash. I thanked him for making such a good decision and we rode on. He eventually pulled away from me with his home-court advantage of knowing the trails. He wasn’t in my age group, so I didn’t let it bother me. About the time he pulled away, another rider comes smoking past me that WAS in my age group. I would later find out that it was local, Marc Glass, a mountain bike racer. I tried to keep up with him and had no problem on the flats. But when it came to the hills, he would pull away from me. At one point he hammered it up a hill so hard that I made the mental note that it would probably come back to haunt him on the run (if he wasn’t a relay team member). Trying not to blow my legs up on the bike, I let him go and finished up the bike leg about 2:30 minutes back from Marc.
I hit the 33 second mark for T2 and came out of transition with Dominik Van der Veen only 11 seconds back from me. We ran across the Big Bear Lake dam, headed out for our 6.5 mile run, with him hot on my heels. Again, big kudos to Race Director and course designer, Nathan Kile, for designing the run course. I truly feel that it was one of the most interesting and fun trail runs on the circuit. It consisted of trails just as technical (if not more) as the bike course. I encountered even more rocks, car-sized boulders, roots, bridges and streams. At the two-mile point (or so), we came back towards the damn and crossed over the ankle-deep spillway just below the dam. As I exited the trees, I saw Marc crossing the stream headed for the water stop just ahead. He paused at the first water stop to take a drink and I grabbed a cup but kept on trucking. The next goal was for me to put as much distance between him and I as I could. I kept a steady pace and took in as much scenery as I could in the process. I felt like I was on a trail that had the rockiness of Crowders but the green, plushness of Whistler.
In talking with the Race Director the day before, he mentioned the “Crack” trail. I had no idea what he was talking about, but found out soon enough. The famous “Crack” trail is literally a three-foot wide crack in the side of a rock cropping. With walls on both sides from 10 to 15 feet high in spots. I meandered my way through the crack, while having to climb and descend several feet at times. Coming out the other side, I had to continue my trek along side the rock cropping through ferns and fertile soil. The run also had its share of climbs and descents as well. There was no time for mind wandering, as I had to keep my wits about me since the trail stayed technical the entire time. The Inov8 X-Talon shoes worked AWESOME in that terrain. In the loamy, rich soil, the knobs dug deep. Across the boulders, they gripped like claws. In creek crossings, they drained water within a few steps out of the water. Love them.
As I came into the second water stop at mile 4 (or so), I was wondering what place I was in. This water stop was a self-serve stop with a case of Gatorade and a case of water sitting on the ground. I noticed that a little past the water stop there were two used water bottles on the ground. If that was an indicator, I was in third place. About a mile or so later, I saw Dominik in the switchbacks. Since the trail switched back and forth a ton, I had no idea if he was 30 seconds or 3 minutes behind me. I didn’t take any chances and picked up the pace as much as possible. With about a half-mile left, I caught up with a biker since the trail merged with the bike course. He said I could pass him if I wanted. As I took him up on his offer, I told him thanks as I had someone right on my tail. A new goal was established: go fast enough that I didn’t a) throw up and b) hold the rider back at all. I met both goals and came across the finish upon which I immediately laid on the cool ground.
As I looked up, some guy comes over and shakes my hand. “You won it.” he said. I was puzzled on two accounts. Did he mean I won the race or my age group? Also, his voice sounded familiar, very much like the guy who almost passed me on the bike leg during the technical downhill. Sure enough it was him (him being Brian Menzies), but he was dressed already.
“How are you dressed already?” I asked.
“I was on a relay team.” he stated.
Still puzzled, I asked, “I won it?”.
“Yep, you killed the run.”
Sure enough, I won first overall, which I didn’t believe until I viewed the results. Apparently, the two empty bottles at the second run water stop were from relay teams: one triathlon and one duathlon. Not too shabby, huh? The prize was a SWEET clay urn with the placement inscribed along with the XTERRA logo.
Huge thanks to Nathan Kile for putting on a great race and all of the staff at the Big Bear Recreation area for welcoming us. It is truly a beautiful place which you should check out, even if you’re not racing. Gorgeous trails, lake and camp lands.
We headed home immediately after the awards and said goodbye to the West Virginia mountains.
Be a Warrior!