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Cheetahs and Gazelles – XTERRA Fort Yargo

It’s been a couple of years since I hit the one-cow town of Winder, Georgia to race XTERRA Fort Yargo.  With the change in the XTERRA points structure, I figured it’d be another good race to earn some points.  Race morning, the temp and weather were perfect for a fun day of racing.  There was a slight threat of rain, but not until later that afternoon.  As we gathered at the water’s edge, you could see the low-water effects leftover from the park draining the lake for maintenance purposes.  The shoreline extended way out and you could see trees that were normally submerged.

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Photo: Nozomi Shinoda-Wade

The advertised swim distance was 750 meters, but looking at the buoys, I could tell it was a bit long for 750.  This was more than the normal, “Geez that looks a lot farther than 750” reaction that most folks have when looking at their first open water swim after spending the winter in the pool.  With at least a half-dozen open water swims under my belt already this year, along with a swimrun race, the usual, post-winter suprise had already been overcome.  I could definitely tell it was long.  I didn’t give it much thought beyond my first peering out at the buoys. Quickly dismissed, I got in ready to race.  After a short briefing, the ~100 person race was underway.

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Photo: Alba Barton

I managed, somehow, to stay out of the normal washing machine mess this race.  I didn’t feel like having any sort of punch fest this day, and I lucked out and found clean, calm water all the way to the first buoy.  The entire pack started out pretty fast but started to thin out as we rounded the first of three buoys.  After rounding the last buoy and heading for the shore, I felt that my pace was good, but had a few folks ahead of me.  I think I managed to get out of the water in 6th or 7th place and headed for the transition area to try and pass a few of them.

Coming out of the water, I tried my best to take off like superman, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get more than a few inches off the ground. (Actually, I was just unzipping my wetsuit)

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Photo: Alba Barton

I knew that a bunch of other fast bikers, such as Caleb Baity were not far behind and would be gunning for me.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Also in the race was Peter Lilly and Charlotte Mahan.  Peter always does a dance number coming into T1

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

I grabbed my bike off of the rack and took off out of T1. I was pretty upset because someone removed my wad of bottle rockets that I had duct taped under my seat.  I was going to attempt a rocket assist takeoff that I saw back during an air show from my Air Force days.  The Navy boys always showed off the procedure and I figured, “What the hell, I’ll give it a shot.”

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But, since someone removed them, I had to resort to just using my legs.  Oh well, I guess it was for the best since there was so much pine straw around.

As we headed out of T1, I was in third place behind Kevin Jett and Michael Loutzenheiser.  One of them had issues in the first mile.  I’m not sure if it was a crash, a mechanical, or both, but he was trailside working on his bike.  As I passed, I asked him if he was ok.  He said he needed a multi-tool, but I didn’t have one with me (only a tube and co2).  I apologized and kept on trucking.  A short time later I made another pass and gained the lead.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

It’s rare I get to truly experience the thrill of being chased.  Usually it’s a combo of chasing someone AND being chased, but at this point in the race, the feeling was 100% “get your butt moving, they’re coming for you.”  I felt like a gazelle being chased by a bunch of cheetahs and that at any point one of them would pounce from around the corner and take me down.

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As I got closer to T2, I kept catching a glimpse of someone through the switchbacks and twisty trail behind me.  Every now and then I would catch the sound of their rear hub whirring down the trail.  As I was finishing up my transition in T2, Josh Shaffer came in and threw his bike on the rack next to mine.  We exchanged winded pleasantries and I took off running out of T2 and the chase was back on.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

I didn’t know who else was behind Josh, but knowing fellow XTERRA Ambassador, Caleb and his fast bike splits, I knew he couldn’t be far behind.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

I knew if I could just turn out a good run split, I might be able to hold them off.  With each passing mile, I fully expected to see Caleb, Yaro or Josh to come up behind me and give me that virtual tap on the shoulder, but it never happened.  Coming into the finish I was elated to have stayed in front of some of the stiffest competition on the circuit.

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Photo: Shannon Kimoto

The final placement of the top 4 were (from right to left), me, Yaro Middaugh, Josh Shaffer and Caleb Baity.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Yaro coming into the finish strong
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Photo: Alba Barton

Josh coming in just ahead of Caleb

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Photo: Alba Barton

First overall female goes out to the super fast Christine Grant.  Great job!!

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Photo: Nozomi Shinoda-Wade

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Photo: Alba Barton

After the race we had fun times getting some awesome schwag from the folks at Gone Riding.  I sat on the can to contemplate life.

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Photo: Alba Barton

I must have been doing something right, as I was joined by Caleb and Jenna Hoover.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

It was great to see a lot of the “regulars” aka my XTERRA family at the race.  If you don’t know these folks, walk up to them and say hi.  They’re the biggest bunch of fun (and fast) clowns around.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Especially these two: Peter Lilly and Charlotte Mahan.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

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Photo: Me

After some great Mexican food and many, many laughs, we all parted our separate ways, with a promised gathering at the next race.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

If you’re not familiar with XTERRA, you’re missing out.  Not only is it TOUGH, but you’ll meet some of the best people on the planet.  I met Jonathan Woodford, a first-time XTERRA racer, in the transition area after the race.  We talked at length about his race and he mentioned that it was a lot tougher than he had anticipated.  He added that it was a blast and he was looking forward to his next one.  Lastly, he mentioned how friendly everyone was and how he hadn’t experienced that before.  Time and time again I’ve seen people make the switch over from other sports or from the pavement to XTERRA and they find the most laid back, fun-loving and unpretentious crowd around.  What are you waiting for?  I think Jim Dandro’s calf is a poster pic of how tough XTERRA can be, but the people’s hearts and attitudes are anything but.

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Photo: Debra Jean Goodnight Dandro

Race: XTERRA Fort Yargo
Location: Winder, GA
Date: Apr 29, 2016
Distances: 1000m Swim / 10 mile mountain bike / 4.5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane Gel and GU Roctane Drink Mix, American Classic Wide Lightning Wheels, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tires, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V, Hawk Racing Bottom Bracket, Hawk Racing Pulleys.

Be a warrior!

Marcus

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