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Rainy Dogs and Drafting-XTERRA Hickory Knob

XTERRA Hickory Knob always seems to fight with mother nature.  Last year it was a layer of pollen so thick on the trail it crunched.  The year before, we had brutal rain, freezing water and just all-around cold.  This year, although it wasn’t cold, she gave us more rain.  It had rained quite a bit leading up to the race, so much so that although it was warm and sunny the day before, the park rangers and race director made the call to limit the bike portion to the roads in order to prevent trail damage.  Besides, who wanted to clean up a mountain bike that would have surely ended up looking like this:

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The mere prospect of racing on the road, using a mountain bike (XTERRA rules) didn’t appeal to many, but we all respected the decision to respect the trails.  It was probably less appealing when we woke up to rain on race day.  In the end, we all had a blast of a time and many commented on the fun nature of a draft-legal mountain bike race on the pavement.

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The field was small, filled with die-hards that decided not to take up race director Andy on his offer for a deferment to 2016.  Instead, we all lined up in the cold water (mid 60s) and waited for the very informal “3, 2, 1, GO!”  The swim course was two 400 meter laps with a short, muddy jaunt around a cone on the shore.

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Everyone seemed to handle the cold water pretty well and XTERRA newbie, Katharine Welling was the first out of the water, followed very closely by James Haycraft.

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Above: Katherine Welling.  Below: James Haycraft

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Welling commented, “Going into the race, I had no expectations as I’ve never done an XTERRA and have not been in a wetsuit since 2010. Of course the weather and the course changes were not what anyone wanted. Aside from some chilly water, the swim was great, and getting out of my wetsuit was by far the most difficult challenge of the day.”

Haycraft echo’d the disappointment in the weather, “Despite being quite sad that the race didn’t get to hit the trails for the bike, I felt like everybody made the best out of a sub-optimal situation. I got out of T1 first and had a 10s gap on a pack but after a mile or two I decided to sit up and join them.”  That pack included none other than yours truly and my fellow Timex Factory Teammate, Dan Kimball along with Sebastian Binnemann.  We caught up to James and by the time we hit the main road, it was stacked up Dan, me, Sebastian and James.

As we raced down the road, we took turns taking the lead, all trying to actually see where we were going.  The rain, combined with spray from the mountain bike tires, made it nearly impossible.  If you had glasses, they were completely covered.  If you didn’t, you had to squint and really hard blinking constantly to keep your eyes clear.  I was leading the pack at the first turnaround and when we took off after it, I relinquished the lead.  It wasn’t a mile or so later that the pack surged and pulled away from me.  I kept catching up but the pack kept surging until they were out of my reach.  I decided to ride alone and save my legs for the run.

Sebastian recalls the initial pack and surging, “Starting the bike straight up the hill kept the heart rate nice and high. After about 5 min on the bike, a group of 6 or 7 of us [created the lead pack].”  Having road racing experience paid off for Haycraft and Binnemann as they continued the strategy throughout the bike leg and came into T2 together.  “I definitely didn’t want to get off the bike with everyone, so when I saw a gap behind me I attacked and tried to go with James Haycraft and another guy in our little group. The attack didn’t fully work as two of the guys behind me were able to stay on. After that we had a few more attacks but generally kept the speed up to let no one else latch back on,” Binnemann continued.

Another XTERRA newbie had road racing experience as well as she hit the roads on her mountain bike.  Representing Live IT Xtreme, newcomer to the wonderful world of XTERRA, Leyla Porteous recalls the race.  It’s been years since she’s ridden a mountain bike and only had a couple of rides prior to Hickory Knob. “Somehow I’ve been lured to the dark side, and competed at Hickory Knob.” commented Leyla.  She continued, “I was actually feeling pretty good about the bike leg. However the weather gods weren’t ready for me to hit the trails on the bike just yet, so I was going to get to utilize my road biking skills for this one – but on a mountain bike of course. The bike course was a simple out and back on the park roads and I just tried to keep my normal high cadence and not blow up on the hills.”

Katherine Welling recalls the bike leg like many other racers that didn’t have the advantage of a pack.  “I was not lucky enough to be one of the cyclist riding in a pack, so I pedaled solo and enjoyed the light rain,” says Welling.

I personally ended up in this predicament after the lead pack pulled away.  Passed by Travis Beam (owner of Live IT Xtreme) and Tyler Labelle, both of which tried to work with me, but I just didn’t have the biking legs to match these awesome riders today.  Was it my lack of bike training leading into the race?  Could it have been that extra cheese on the pizza the day before?  Was it the time trial I did on Wednesday?  Maybe it was because I didn’t shave my legs and arms like the road bike guys.  I didn’t know.

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Whatever it was, I ended up coming out of T2 in 8th place with someone passing me shortly out of transition.  Glad to get off of the pavement and onto the trail, I felt better once in my element.  I managed to pick off three people once on the dirt with my grippy X-Talons.

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Katharine Welling, after leading the swim and being first female for the duration of the bike agrees, “The run was great as we FINALLY got to go into the woods. The mud, the roots, the hills…it made my heart happy and reminded me why I wanted to do an off-road triathlon.”

When asked about competition on the run, Leyla Porteous stated, “I knew that the 3rd female (Tanya Houghton) wasn’t too far behind me.  I saw her on the bike leg coming into transition and then Travis gave me a shout across the trail that she was about a minute back.. That gave me some motivation to dig on the last lap and I hammered pretty hard on the road section hoping she wasn’t going to catch me.”

Like Katharine, once off of the bike, James maintained the lead.  Sebastian tried his best to catch him.  “Coming of the bike [at T2] it became clear quickly that the race is on between James and I. He had the better legs and towards the end of the run pulled further and further away. I lost about a minute to him,” says Binnemann.

James recalls, “I got out on the run quickly and paced well up the long hill to the trails where I opened up the gap a bit on him and the rest of the field during the two loops.  I crossed the line in the lead after a nice long downhill finish.”  You can find out more of the story at James’ personal racing blog.

Dan Kimball ran to a third place finish after riding and running with the lead pack during the entire race and had the fastest bike split of the day.  From what I hear, he also did quite a bit of the pulling out there.

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Despite the rain and being on pavement for the bike, everyone seemed to have a good time.  “I actually had a lot more fun in the race than I expected,” said Binnemann.  The rain continued off and on throughout the race making for some wet racing conditions all-around.

Wrapping up the day enjoying a post-race brew with friends and fellow racers, Leyla Porteous even commented about the rain, “The light drizzle had continued so the trails where pretty slippery and muddy in sections making for some fun sections on the run. It was a great first XTERRA race and I’m looking forward to doing more races in the near future.”

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Yup, Leyla.  You’re going to fit in nicely with the rest of the XTERRA family.  See you at Fort Yargo.  It’s a feisty race.

Final top three rounded out:

Male:
1. James Haycraft, Charlotte, NC
2. Sebastian Binnemann, Charlotte, NC
3. Dan Kimball, Fort Mill, SC

Female:
1. Katharine Welling, Spartanburg, SC
2. Leyla Porteous, Sherrlls Ford,NC
3. Tanya Zalansky Houghton, Charlotte, NC

I ended up in 6th overall and 1st place old guy.  Not too shabby, I guess.

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Race: XTERRA Hickory Knob
Location: McCormick, SC
Date: March 22, 2015
Distances: 800m Swim / 16 mile mountain bike (on the road) / 5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Masters Male, 1st in division, 6th Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Inov-8 X-Talon 190, Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Thunderburt Tires, Cobb DRT SHC Saddle, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V.

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