One of the beauties of racing an XTERRA race is the fact that anything can change on a moments notice. The majority of XTERRA racers just go with the flow and make the most of it while citing it as a fun aspect of this sport. The same goes for the majority of XTERRA race directors. Case in point:
I couldn’t have put it better myself. More about the course changes in a bit.
Before the rains, the course was in beautiful shape. Racers began showing up about mid-week in order to get some time on the course. I had the opportunity and managed to snap a few photos in the process.
As you can see it’s a fairly rocky course with loose pea-sized gravel over the top of hard-pack. This accounted for about 90% of the course (using my special formulated methodology for measuring percentages, also good for making Moscow Mules).
The trails are pretty flowy and very well-built. For the most part, they’re very fast and tons-o-fun. The XTERRA course was laid out so you got to ride about 20 miles of some sweet single-track. I even had intentions on putting together a little trail preview video, but alas, I ran out of time, and more importantly, daylight.
I ended up with very few, short video clips but decided to throw it together anyhow.
I even had an opportunity to head out the next day and check out the run course. Honestly, I didn’t care for the run course as much as the bike course. The run course that was planned (keyword: planned, a tip of changes to come) was two laps of a 3-mile loop, mostly made up of double-track and fire road. Although it wasn’t that technical, it was still tough as it had its share of climbing and lots of exposure to the sun.
Then, the rain came. It didn’t just come and go, but instead, it came and hung around all day and into the night. It wasn’t just a little sprinkle or gully-washer either, but a pouring rain that caused all sorts of flash flooding. The parking lot originally slated to be the center of the race, transition, finish line and more, ended up being threatened with said flooding.
These were taken with the water still rising:
Needless to say, the Army Corps of Engineers contacted the race director, Fred Phillips, at 3:30 in the afternoon, the day before the race, and informed him that the race compound area would be closed and that it needed to be vacated.
Fred and his crew at DLT Events sprung into action breaking everything down. They secured a new transition area on the other side of the lake and began to move. This had an obvious impact on the course, but we were just happy the race was still on (and not shortened like that silly Ironman race). The first change was minor: the swim went from a single, 1-mile loop to a half-mile one of which we would swim two laps.
The bike course stayed the same loop that was originally planned with two exceptions. First, where we entered and exited the trail loop changed to be closer to the new transition area. Second, in order to get to the loop from transition, we had to ride 2 miles on a very hilly road. We’re talking granny-gear hilly. This meant an additional 4 miles were added to the bike.
As for the run, the original course had to be completely scrapped. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we got to trade double-track for single-track, some of which was also part of the bike course. Preferring technical single-track, I had no qualms about this change and welcomed it with open arms. Of course, with the upside, there was also a downside which was the additional 1.2 miles we needed to run on the road to get to the single track. Round-trip, that added 2.4 miles EXTRA to the run. Since the trail wasn’t an easy course to map out (along with some last-minute guesswork), our 6-mile run ended up being 8.5 miles. Every racer I talked with welcomed the challenge.
Come race morning, you’d thought that the new transition area was the original plan. Fred would later explain that he didn’t have half of the amenities that he wanted (and had at the previous location), but I thought they did just fine. In fact, I think that given the curve balls that were thrown at them, they hit several home runs out of the park. Hats off to what they pulled off in such a short amount of time.
After some time hanging out around transition and catching up with some of my XTERRA family, it was time to race.
The swim was wetsuit legal although you probably could have swam without one. In fact, there were a couple of open water swimmers that were partaking of an optional swim-only race, sans wetsuit. We all lined up and waited for the countdown.
The first lap of the swim was fairly uneventful for me as I made my way up with the lead pack. I stayed away from the normal thrashing that happens and found clean water fairly quickly. At the beginning of the second lap, I felt someone touch my feet a couple of times which meant they were drafting off of me. Shortly after turning the buoy, he passed and I noticed it was one of the kids in the open water swim, evidenced by the fact that he only had on a pair of bikini swim trunks. I’ve seen a few triathletes in such garb, but never in an off-road tri. Because of how we went around the buoy, he ended up in front so I decided to draft off of him and take advantage of the benefits. I quickly scratched that plan after noticing he wasn’t swimming straight. At all. I corrected my course and headed for the buoy. I came out of the water in 12th place with a time of 20:43.
Again, like at Myrtle Beach, I had a bit of an issue with the wetsuit in T1, causing me to waste a few extra seconds. It was still a decent one, 1:02, with me heading out on the bike in 6th place, so I gained a few spots.
Despite the rain, the bike course was in very good shape. It had a bit of tackiness to it that I didn’t get to experience on my pre-ride and the Schwalbe’s hooked up really well. There was only water in the low-lying areas, which still added to the overall muddiness of the course, but was definitely better than full-on rain. Even with the splashing and sweatiness, I was also digging the new ESI FitXC grips even sans gloves.
I made my way up to third place and caught up with Chuck Sloan close to the half-way point. He would explain that his rear shifter broke early on the course and he was having to shift between the two gears on his front derailleur. The rear shifter still worked, it just wasn’t attached to his handlebar. He could shift it, but it required him to come to a stop to do so. We rode together off and on during the rest of the bike leg. I’d pull away from him on the flats and he’d catch up to me on the climbs. I saw Nate Youngs in the lead, already well onto the run as I approached the transition area, finishing the bike at 1:52:18. After a quick transition, I was on the way out as Chuck was on his way in. I had the fastest T2 of the day at 26 seconds and maintained second place going into the run.
The heat had settled in by the time we hit the run and I think everyone was beginning to feel the effects. Lots of folks had issues with cramping including me. I managed to keep mine in check enough to run without any pirate peg-legging.
After a 1.2 mile hilly run, Chuck caught up to me by the time we got off of the pavement and onto the trail. Pax Tolosi, whose better half is Beata Wronska, saw us at the trailhead, and told us that Nate had a 5 minute lead on us. Chuck and I hit the trail and set out to try and catch him.
Over the next mile or so, Chuck slowly pulled away and I completely lost track of him in the woods finding myself all alone. I knew that, at a minimum, Daryl Weaver and Josh Loren were hunting me down and if I didn’t keep a good pace, they would surely overtake me. I ran the rest of the run alone until I hit the road where I met many runners beginning their run. I high-fived every single one of them, hooping and hollering, seeing if I could get a smile out of them.
I managed to hold on to the spot, running a 1:06:24, and came in 3rd overall while winning my division.
Life is way too short to be so serious on the podium.
It was great to see all of the XTERRA family again and get to meet some new ones. Even better was listening to all of the war stories from the race like May-Li Cuypers who rode quite a bit of the bike course on this rear tire:
Also very cool was watching Eli Bodin run across the finish line with his dad, Matt who was racing his first triathlon, ever. Matt, you picked a good one for your first. Hooked?
And what would be a hard as nails race without some good celebration afterwards?
Huge, huge, HUGE shout-out goes to my training partner and fellow Timex Factory Teammate, Dan Kimball. He helped me hatch out a plan including both nutrition (I’m sure I’ll hear about the picture above) and training. Without his help. guidance and listening to my constant questions, I don’t think I would have done as well in this race. In fact, my next post will be about the importance of training partners. Dan, thanks.
Be a Warrior!
Race: XTERRA Gator Terra / USAT Off-Road Triathlon National Championships
Location: Arkadelphia, AR
Date: May 1, 2016
Distances: 1500m Swim / 20 24 mile mountain bike / 6 8.5 mile trail run
Result: 3rd Overall
Products used: GU Roctane Gel and GU Roctane Drink Mix, Inov-8 Terraclaw 220, American Classic MTB Race Wheels, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tires, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Marcus or Aba Barton