I know that I just did Swank 65 yesterday, but last weekend I raced the XTERRA Epic – Iron Mountain race. So, before I get ahead of myself and write the Swank report, I must first bring you up to speed with last week’s race.
Race: XTERRA Epic – Iron Mountain
Location: Iron Mountain Resort and Marina, Arkadelphia, Arkansas
Date: October 29, 2011
Distances: 1 mile swim, 34 mile mountain bike, 9.6 mile run
Result: 4th Overall, 1st in Division
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Synergy Adrenaline Wetsuit, Maxxis Ikon Tires, Cobb Plus DRT Saddle, Jamis Dakota D29 Pro, Rudy Project helmet, Scrub Brakes, Crank Brothers Candy Pedals.
Alba and I arrived in Little Rock looking forward to some quiet time alone and also a great race. On our way from Little Rock to the venue (and our accommodations), I needed to pick up a couple of CO2 cartridges and other items from a local bike shop (since you can’t fly with them). In the process, we also stuck to tradition and looked for a local coffee shop. We stumbled upon one called Dogtown Coffee and Eatery. WOW, they had some awesome joe.
We arrived at the Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina a little later that afternoon where we were greeted by a very friendly and helpful staff. Let me just say here that if you are in the area of DeGray Lake, you MUST spend a few days at Iron Mountain. You will NOT be disappointed. We had a sweet cottage with 2 bedrooms and 2 complete baths, kitchen and living room complete with fireplace (which we definitely took advantage of). What awesome accommodations. The cottage had everything we needed for a great stay, including the small stuff like a bundle of firewood and starter block. Heck, for 6 bucks, they would even deliver another bundle of wood to your doorstep.
The place even had an awesome deck overlooking the lake. I took advantage of the built-in sitting bench to put my bike together.
As soon as I got the bike together, I headed out for a course preview. The trails were fast and flowy. There were a handful of technical sections, mainly rock gardens, that you had to work your way through. For the most part, the course was just plain fast. If you could get into a rhythm and hold on in the corners, you would haul arse. Here’s a few pictures of the course and one of the rock gardens.
During my preview of the course, my bike started shifting really strange. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it was acting as if I had a bent derailleur hanger. Knowing that I removed it when I packed the bike, I didn’t think it was possible. I quickly dismissed it and tried making a few minor cable tension adjustments to smooth it out. All of my efforts were futile so I pulled over to investigate. Sure enough, it appeared that the hanger was bent. If you don’t know much about derailleur hangers, they’re usually made of really soft aluminum. On purpose. The reason they’re made that way is so that if you crash or bang it, you break the hanger and not your frame (or derailleur). Standing there looking at the hanger, it was only slightly bent. So I reached down to give it a GENTLE tug. When I did, I noticed the
tell-tale crack in the hanger. There’s the problem. I immediately got on the phone to David Booth back at Tailwind Cycles.
“Please tell me you have hangers in stock for our bikes”. (he rides the same Jamis Dakota D29 Pro)
“Yep. I have 5 of them.”
“Sweet. Can you please, please, PLEASE overnight me two?”
“Sure. What’s the address.”
(gave him the address)
“It probably won’t make it out today because it’s so late, so I’ll get it out first thing tomorrow morning.”
I rode the rest of the trail back to the cottage very gingerly as not to break it the rest of the way off.
Once back at the cottage, Alba and I hopped in the car and rode over to the run course to check it out and to do a short run. The run course was 9.6 miles of mixed single-track, fire road and paved road in a “lolli-pop” loop. The round portion of the lollipop you had to do twice before returning to finish. The first section consisted of a short, rocky section of single-track that carries you up the hill from transition and onto the main, paved road that goes across the dam. The course was very well-marked with plenty of arrows and tape. How many arrows can you spot in the picture (below, right)?
Once on the paved road, we had to run across the dam of Lake DeGray. As soon as we cleared the dam, we started our two-lap run onto single-track. The first section got us from dam height down to river level where it opened up onto a fire road. If you look carefully at the picture below, you can see the fire road on the left side of the river. Quite a descent.
Looking back up at the dam from the end of the fire road:
After finishing the fire road run, we had about a half-mile uphill climb on paved road before diving back into the woods for more climbing. At this point we were climbing almost all the way back up to dam height. There’s one descent along the power lines and then into one of the most technical, hand-over-hand boulder hopping section that eventually ends up in a creek bed. This was, by far, the most interesting, fun part of the run course. I shot a little video of the section after the race, but alas, I accidently deleted it.
After the really cool section of technical track, the trail opened up to a vast spillway for the lake. I suppose it was designed for flooding and should the lake flood, instead of spilling over the dam creating damage to the power infrastructure below, it would flow this way instead.
This spillway ended with a steep uphill that I had to walk on both laps.
Alba and I spent the entire day just lounging around by the fire. With the exception of getting something to eat and running a few errands, we enjoyed the quiet surroundings and each other’s company. I fretted all day and checked the UPS tracking info throughout the day.
The parts arrived from Tailwind Cycles and I was a mighty happy camper.
I quickly repaired the bike and went out for another short ride to stretch the legs and to make sure things were in order. In the parking lot, I pulled up to a couple of people just getting ready to head out for a ride. I stopped to say hello and met Lupe and her husband Bill. After some small-chat, we headed out for a fun ride.
We chatted along the ride and before long, we were about half-way through the course. At this point, the race course dumps out onto the road for about a mile and then back onto a long gravel road for another mile.
After the gravel road and a nice fun technical section, I bid adieu and rode on the pavement back to the cottage.
Saturday. Race Day.
Since we were staying at the Iron Mountain Lodge, we were literally footsteps away from transition. In fact, the run from the swim exit to transition went right past our door. Just before transition opened, I grabbed my bike, walked out in the 30 degree air and rode over to the transition area, claimed my spot, did some quick setup and then walked back to the cottage until about 30 minutes before the race briefing. Then I set out for a warmup run. When I came back from my run, transition was full and hopping.
After the race briefing, I walked back to the cottage, donned my Synergy wetsuit in the private warmth of the cottage and then Alba and I walked to the swim start.
We started the two-lap swim from the back of the floating marina store. The water temp was measured at 66 degrees while the air temp was in the low 30s. Brrrr.
After a few words from the race director, Fred Phillips, we were off. It was a fun, two-lap swim and after two laps around the buoys, we swam between the boat docks past onlooking house-boaters in order to reach the boat ramp. Coming out of the water at the boat ramp, I managed to stumble on the gravel and go down on my left knee. Alba met me at the swim exit where I quickly put on my shoes. Although it was a paved road run all the way to transition (about 500 yards), I didn’t like the looks of all the acorns around. The amount of time I lost putting on my shoes was negated by being able to run faster. I transitioned quickly and was in 3rd place overall coming out of T1.
The bike course was three laps of an 11ish mile course. I had ridden one complete lap on Wednesday and a partial one on Friday, so I felt confident knowing what was in store. I tried not to blow up by going out too fast and just concentrated on being fast and smooth. The Maxxis Ikon tires were handling the rock gardens and hooking up nicely through the turns, even in the loose stuff. They even rolled fast on the pavement. By the end of the first lap, I had caught up to Stephen Cole who had been in second and carrying a very fast pace. I completed the first lap still in 3rd, but hot on his tail. Due to the length of the race, they allowed hand-ups at the lap count area. Alba was there waiting for me with a fresh bottle at the end of the first lap. Prior to reaching her, I dropped my used bottle and attempted to snatch the fresh one from her hands. However, I was going too fast and couldn’t hold on to it. I grabbed two, big handfuls of brake levers and came to a screeching, sliding halt on the pavement. I looked back to see where the bottle was, but Alba had picked it up already and was running towards me. I grabbed it and took off trying to re-close the gap between me and Stephen.
Stephen would pull away from me, I would catch up and then he would pull away again. We continued this cat and mouse game until about half-way when we dumped out onto the road for the one mile ride. Along the road, we stayed side-by-side chatting the whole time about various things from Worlds, to the XTERRA I race direct, to you name it. We continued down the gravel road chatting and I hopped in front once we got onto single track. Stephen hung on my tail for rest of the lap with both of us chatting it up. Once we emptied out of the single track for the fire road back to transition/lap end, I slowly pulled away from him. I finished up the 2nd lap in 2nd place. Funny thing is, even though we were chatting the whole way, it would be the fastest lap for both of us. Again, Alba was waiting with a fresh bottle and I grabbed it without dropping.
Stephen gradually caught back up to me at the same point as I caught him before, which was right about halfway at the one-mile road-ride. He hopped in front of me, offered to pull and I drafted off of him all the way down the road. Once we hit the gravel road, he slowly pulled away from me. Just before diving into single track, I looked back down the long gravel road and didn’t see a soul in sight. As soon as we dove back into single track, I dropped my chain as I switched gears at about the same time I hit some rocks. DAMNIT. I slid to a stop and quickly put it back on. I know it only took a minute or two, but it was a minute I didn’t want to lose.
It was at this point that we started lapping some of the other riders. One had a flat and I slowed down and asked if he needed anything, but he said he had it under control. As I pulled into the long rock garden, someone wizzed past me. It scared the crap out of me as I never heard him, nor did I suspect him. It was Benjamin Schloegel of K.C. He apologized and said he should have called the pass, but I told him that it was more that I didn’t expect anyone rather than him not calling a pass. “No biggie. Go get em.” I said. I came out of T2 in 4th.
I headed out on the run feeling pretty good. I didn’t see a soul on the short trail section leading out to the road, but once I reached the pavement, I saw both Benjamin and Stephen just beginning to reach the dam. I passed Stephen as we went across the dam and he told me to get after the 2 guys in front of us. YAY! Back in 3rd.
At the trailhead after the dam, I was surprised to see Alba. While I was on the trail, she had driven over and beat me there. I dove into the trail and ran hard trying to catch Benjamin. I kept him in sight all the way down the fire road and up the paved road back to the trail head. However, once he was on the trail, I lost track of him. At the end of the first lap, just before the steep climb, Joshua Snyder caught me and ran past. Again, I kept him in sight as long as I could but it wasn’t long before he pulled away. Damnit. Back in 4th.
At then end of the first lap, Alba passes me a bottle at the water stop and trucked back down the hill. I would continue to run, not seeing anyone until I hit the dam. Running across the dam, I met lots of runners heading out for their first lap, but didn’t see anyone I could reel in. I finished up the race in 4th overall.
To give you an idea of the amount of effort involved, I finished the race in 4:46:16. About a month ago, I finished Ironman Augusta 70.3 in 12th place of my division with a time of 4:46:56. Considering the differences in distance, that should give you an idea.
Huge, huge, HUGE thanks goes out to my wife, Alba for being my support crew. She prevented me from losing precious time and kept me moving. Each time I saw her, she offered me many words of encouragement that meant so much more coming from her. I’m not knocking the volunteers or other spectators. Their encouragement certainly helps, but there’s something to be said about hearing it from your spouse that just takes it to the next level. I normally don’t get to see her that much during a race. When she was at the run water stop when I didn’t expect her, it was a special treat.
Also, speaking of the volunteers and course marshals, they all did a fantastic job. I joked around with a couple of them on each lap and they had a great sense of humor. Another big shout-out goes to Fred and his race crew from DLT Events. They did an outstanding job course marking and putting on a great event. You can tell that he has years and years of experience putting on events (it shows). His laid-back attitude was calming and contagious. Don’t let his laid-back attitude fool you, however, as he certainly takes his races seriously. If you have an opportunity to attend one of his races, even if it isn’t an XTERRA, you should certainly do so. You won’t be disappointed.
Last, but certainly not least, is a BIG THANK YOU for David Booth at Tailwind Cycles. Would it not been for him, my broken derailleur hanger would have prevented me from racing in the first place. He truly saved the day. Thank you.
Another race in the books.
Be a Warrior!