Monday, March 23, 2015

XTERRA Hickory Knob

Well, it is time for that post. That post everybody knows and LOVES at this point. I've been blogging quite regularly for many years now and each year has started off the triathlon season in a similar way. Sure, the races themselves may be different and the time of year may be different but the end result is that a first-race-of-the-year-blog always gets posted.  And this is that blog.

There are a couple of things to note about this race, XTERRA Hickory Knob:

1) It was pretty expensive ($90 for a 1.5hr race at my time of registration, which was admittedly somewhat late)
2) It is contained entirely within Hickory Knob State Park
3) Behme and Binny were both signed up as well

If you live in the southeast, you also know that rain has been an ever-present factor in your trail riding plans over the last 3-5 weeks. Even if it only rains 2 days a week that can mean an entire week of no riding as the trails dry.  Otherwise one risks destroying the trails, especially during a race (see the last race of Winter Short Track Series as an example of what a few people can do to a 1+ mile section of trail done repeatedly...).

So with that in mind, the weather leading into HK was questionable and the RD actually made the decision on Thursday to not hold the bike portion of the race on the trails.  This was quite disappointing especially when factored into the weather forecast for Friday-Sunday (sunny, really sunny and 80, rainy and 50 degrees).  With the additional factor of cold water (race morning was stated as 57 degrees) it was not looking too great for a fun race on Sunday.

Be that as it may, we headed down south and even got to spend an hour on the FATS trail system, which have now become the best trails I have ever ridden. We only got to do the north side of the trails, but holy cow. We will be back, FATS. 

Ready for ACTION

We got to the race site in the late afternoon/evening and went to our "cabin" at the State Park. We then looked at the venue a little bit.

Swim start/finish

Transition areas aren't quite as big in this world
Race morning dawned bright and relatively early and with rain pattering on the roof of our cabin. Fantastic. We headed over to the race site, got set up, and installed ourselves in our wetsuits.  Luckily Binny had lent me a light long sleeve shirt to wear under my tri top and wetsuit otherwise the bike would have been a miserable experience for yours truly...

We got some more instructions at the start of the swim (this bike WILL be draft legal) and away we went.

Swim 800m - 9:32 (ok so maybe it wasn't 800 meters...), 3rd

I started off quickly but then quickly faded.  I was out of the lead by the second buoy (swim was a two loop out and back where we had to exit the water at the end of first loop) and on the way back in to the beginning I noticed I was consistently swimming to the right.  Hard.

Realizing I now kind of suck at swimming I settled in and let the cold water give me a wake up call. Making the turn to go back out was interesting and by the time we made it back out to the turnaround I was moving back to third place. I exited the water in third, happy to be done with that swim.

Moral of the story: I have not been swimming more than once a week or so (and low yardage when I do) since October and, guess what? It shows.

Transition went quickly and I ended up leaving my booties on for the bike and run.  I was first onto the bike despite being third out of the water, so that was nice.

Bike 16.5mi - 50:02, 5th

I pushed the long uphill out of transition nice and hard and made it out to the road (course was basically on one road and we did two "loops" of the road, sort of a "T" with a very long top section) and turned right to head out for the turnaround. I took a couple of glances behind me and noticed that there was a pack of guys (XTERRA has NO provision for a bike being moved to the roads and therefore, no matter what, for a race to "count" in XTERRA it has to be "draft-legal." Most off road races this isn't considered "draft legal" in the way we road triathletes think of it, it's just normal) in a train about 8-10s behind me.

I decided that discretion is the better part of valor and instead of forging my own way I sat up and joined the pack. We made it out to the turnaround and there were somewhere between 5-7 of us. I couldn't really keep count because I couldn't see ANYthing in the group.  Water was spraying everywhere.  At least my bike would get a nice cleaning I suppose.

After the turn we dropped one or two and headed back into the park at a decent clip. Some of the people in the group seemed to be willing to take a lot of pulls or pull extra hard or they would attack up hills.

The first rule of riding in a group in a "race" is don't work if you don't have to.

The second rule of riding in a group is: don't be stupid and work if you don't have to.

The third rule of riding in a group is: it doesn't matter how hard you work in the group.

So I stuck my nose out every now and then to see if we could drop anybody but after a lap and a half it was clear that those that were there were going to stay there.  We kept taking pulls (group of 5 of us including Binny) and trading off decently well as we certainly didn't want to get caught by anybody riding solo behind us, as that would simply be embarrassing.

I figured Binny would be confident in his run and not be worried about anybody in the group other than me and I felt similarly. I knew we were both in good shape for that and I wasn't particularly worried about anybody else around us.

There was one more attack from the group leading into the road back down to transition and once he slowed I countered and Binny came with me and we both made it into transition first and second (me 2nd).

Run 5+ mi in 34:35 (2nd)

The run began with a nice long run back up the same road we biked on and I moved up to Dan and Binny who had both beat me out of transition. I felt pretty good and settled into a comfortable pace that was nice and hard up the hill.  Once we turned right on the road I glanced back and saw I had a little gap on Binny and Dan wasn't visible anymore.

We popped onto the two loop trail portion of the run and settled into the rhythm. It was pretty fun and well marked with a good bit of climbing and a little descending with a very sloppy back side section that would've been extremely sketchy on a bike (it was sketchy enough as-is with just trying to run it).  There were several sections that looped back on themselves so it was easy to get a gauge on how close someone behind you was.  Binny looked strong and wasn't far back so I knew I had to keep the pressure on through the run.  Luckily my legs felt quite good.

By the end of the first loop and beginning of the second I knew I had increased my lead by a fair margin.  I continued to press and ended up catching up to some people on their first loop so by the end of my trail race I felt good and confident that I had the race in the bag.  I got back out on the road and headed down the long section to the campground and crossed the finish line in first.

Full Results Here

All in all it was a really fun experience. I didn't have high hopes late in the week with the weather forecast and the prospect of a draft-legal mountain bike ride on the roads but it actually ended up being surprisingly fun.

I'm always a fan of "pack" style racing because you can be as fast as you want on the bike and put in as much work as you want, attacking and leading and all that. But the ONLY result that matters is the one at the finish. Having the fastest bike split is mostly meaningless in a draft legal race if you were in a pack (Travis Beam rode completely solo and had the fastest bike split anyway, kudos Travis).

Good racing!

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