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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

New XTERRA Point System – Good or Bad?

If you haven’t heard by now, XTERRA revamped the points system for it’s various tours across the globe.  I started writing a post about the new points system and before I knew it, the post was pages long, complete with a history lesson in the old rankings system.  I came to my senses and realized you probably didn’t want to read that much and would prefer I just get to the meat of the matter.  Well, here’s the meat.  Believe it or not, this is the short version.

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First, Kahuna Dave explained it very well in a short news release, but I want to cover a few points from an athlete’s perspective.  Keep in mind that this is my opinion and for the purposes of this post, I am focusing on amateur athletes.  Let’s start with the “WHY”.

Simplify: The old point system had some cool aspects to it.  It made for an interesting race season and you definitely needed to put some strategy into it.  But, that’s also its downfall.  It was complicated (more about that later).

Standardize: The point system we had here in the U.S. for the America tour differed from the other tours around the globe.  This was AMPLIFIED with the introduction to the Pan America Tour for 2016.  You had two points series with differing rules which encompassed some of the same races.  Having the same rules makes it easier for folks that want to compete in multiple tours.

More competition: This reason is not the quickest and easiest to explain.  Some of you may even argue with me on this one, but when the rubber meets the dirt, it results in more competition.  Allow me to explain by getting into the “HOW”.

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What HASN’T changed is the basic premise behind the points system, within the America tour, is to become a regional champion within your respective age group.  The other tours aren’t broken down into regions, so each age group encompasses the entire tour.  So for the purposes of explanation, we’ll just say “champion”.  You still race against others within your age group and in order for you to become a champion, you have to end the season with the most points in your age group.  That part hasn’t changed.  Becoming a champion is also one way to qualify for the XTERRA World Championships.  That’s still the same as well.

The other part that HASN’T changed is how points are awarded.  Some races have the designation of a “Gold” race while others have a designation of “Silver”.  Gold races have a 100 point value, so if you win your age group at a gold race you will receive 100 points.  Silver races have a 75 point value if you win.  From there, it goes down in points as your placement goes down and points are awarded down to 15th place.

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In the past, under old rules, you only counted your top 4 races.  This means that you could race as much as you wanted, but only the top four counted towards the points.  Another old rule was that if you raced more than one Gold race, you could only count one of them at the 100 point value.  For example, if you won your age group at one Gold race and three Silver races, you’d max out at 325 points (100+75+75+75).  That’s the most you could earn.  Period.

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So how does this equal more competition?  The downside to only counting the top 4 races meant that someone could “lock up” the regional title early in the year, effectively shutting out anyone else from having a shot at the title.  Under the new rules, the most points wins.  Race as much as you want, and ALL points count.  Furthermore, there’s no cap on the Gold races.  In the U.S. there are currently only two Gold races.  Race them both, and if you win your age group (at both), you get 200 points.  By not limiting the number of races that count, this effectively puts more people in the running to become champions and keeps the competition going all season long.  If you think about it, the premise is that anyone can get to the top.  It’s not just about the fastest anymore.  Granted, being a fast racer will definitely help, but you also have to be loyal.  If the fastest racer only does 4 races, but someone who’s not far behind him does 6 races, guess who might come out on top.

Some folks are quick to say that this favors the ones with the deepest wallets, meaning, as long as you shell out enough cash to race a ton of races, you don’t have to be fast.  I can see how some may perceive it that way, especially if you are on a very limited budget.  While this definitely has different implications for pros, who are racing for dough, for amateurs, it’s really just about a title and Maui slots.  They would go on further to say that it doesn’t guarantee the fastest athletes get those Maui slots and go to Worlds.  This is just not true.  Maui slots are awarded at Gold races for the fastest athletes and overseas this is also true for Silver races, so you still have a chance at Maui without winning the champion spot.  And, at the end of the day, the fastest athletes will be crowned World Champs.

I really think this is a good thing.  Although I liked being able to pick the races I wanted, knowing it only took 4 really good races to secure a champ spot, having it be unlimited points adds another level of interest to the points series and puts anyone in the running.  Now, time for a new strategy.

See you on the trails.  As always, continue to be a Warrior!

Marcus

SwimRun in North Cackylacky USA

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this..” was the only quote that came to mind going into the SwimRun NC race.  Despite my best efforts to be prepared, with previewing the course, training pretty consistent and everything else I could do, it only took a sprinkling of real life to get in the way and attempt to derail things.  Life can be funny that way, throwing you curve balls and all.  Heck, sometimes it can be downright cruel.

Right after the SwimRun VA race in Richmond, VA, I headed home to be with Mom as she went into surgery.  I won’t go into too much detail, but I HAD to be there, because it’s family.  You know how that goes.  Even though sleeping in a hospital chair off and on over the next 10 days (not to mention all the driving) and the stress of worry put up a huge brick wall approaching the final days before the race, I don’t regret it for a millisecond.  Quality time was spent with all of my family, and frankly, sometimes that has to take a precedence over everything else.

So, as we all gathered at the Green Heron Ale House for the race briefing, the butterflies began to start.  There was nothing I could do now but give it my best shot.

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SwimRunNC, if you read their website, was the brainchild of Jan Kriska and Jeff Beckelhimer.  Although this is true, Herbert Krabel had his paws in on it, too.  With those three minds together

Continue reading

SwimRun Connects Nature to the Concrete Jungle

One of the primary premises behind the sport of swimrun is connecting the athletes with nature.  If you ask Michael Lemmel, race director of OtillO, he’ll be quick to tell you that it’s about the athletes moving through nature and becoming one with it.  I’d have to agree with him.

So, when it comes to having a swimrun race, most folks wouldn’t think of having one right in the middle of a large city like Richmond and if I hadn’t raced XTERRAs in Richmond before, I would probably have thought the same thing.  When I stumbled across that there would be the SwimRunVA race held on some of the same trails of the XTERRA, it took me all of about 2 seconds to make a decision.  I had to do this race.

I reached out to Jim Fisher, local Richmond athlete and an XTERRA friend of mine to see if he was interested in teaming up for the race.  Being an avid racer and lover of adventure, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.  As the race approached, I received bad news that Jim tore some of those important tendons around his knee and would need surgery.  Of course, this knocked him out of the race, for sure.  After some further searching and pleading with folks on social media for someone as crazy as us, Keith Schumann, another XTERRA athlete stepped up.  With zero time training together we found ourselves at the start line before you knew it.

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The race course looks a little something like this:

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I’ll spare you the turn-by-turn details, but it was 6 separate swims and 7 runs totaling 3.37 miles of swimming and 15 miles of running.  We started the race at Continue reading

I’ll Tumble For Ya in the Woods–XTERRA Whitewater

It was slated to be a hot one and with the torrential downpour the night before, it was also a slick one.  Hot.  Steamy.  Slippery.  Take those ingredients and mix it with a hard course and you have yourself one tough-as-nails race.

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Photo by Deb Dandro

Showing up race morning, not only had it rained, but the winds had blown everything out of whack.  Cones were strewn, transition had taken a beating and pop-up tents were completely missing.  The folks at the Whitewater Center had their work cut out for them.  They quickly got things squared away and before you knew it, transition was beginning to fill up.

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Photo by Deb Dandro

I knew that Caleb and Dwayne would give me a run for my money to get on top of the podium, with Dwayne being favored for the win.  My only chance was my intimate knowledge of the trails, knowing just about every root and rock out there.  With that said, we saw Continue reading

Adapt and Overcome – USAT OffRoad National Championships

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:

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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.

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As you can see it’s a fairly rocky course with loose pea-sized gravel over Continue reading

Hulk Got Some Upgrades XTERRA Myrtle Beach

One of the beauties that makes XTERRA so much fun is the change.  How boring would it be to go do that same road triathlon, with the same boring course, that never, ever changed? Again.  And again. And again.  One thing that keeps me coming back to XTERRA, year after year, is the fact that some races are constantly evolving.  Take XTERRA Myrtle Beach for example.  The first year it was held, the swim course was a rectangular course in the intercostal waterway.  This meant that if the tide was on the move, you’d be fighting it on one of the sides of that rectangle.

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Rear from left: Danny Pagan, Pete Dizon, Ornela Vazquez Rivera, Jim Dandro
Front from left: Caleb Baity, Marcus Barton

The next year it was a one-way swim.  Last year, I raced Myrtle Beach for the first time and I thought the trails were a blast.  I wrote about them last year, so I won’t rehash that over again, but the run was Continue reading