Tuesday, May 19, 2015

XTERRA Pelham or "XTERRA Southeast Regional Championship" or "USAT Off-Road National Championship"

My title is an homage to that famous dark comedy "Dr. Strangelove." If you can name the second half of that movie title I will officially be impressed.

I don't want to bore you with a recap of my week but suffice it to say (so yea, I'll bore you actually) it involved some attempting to recover from the hard effort on Saturday while simultaneously getting in some nice work (is that paradoxical?) leading up to the Saturday race.

IOS has been particularly busy of late, so there was a lot of helping other people get ready to race while we all got ready to race in various formats, so to speak. I departed Thursday evening after work to drive to Jeremy's house in Atlanta where I stayed the night (and got majorly creeped on by his two cats who were obviously completely unsure of who the strange quadriped was in their house) before departing for Birmingham in the morning.

Don't look it in the eye
I managed to get in a pre-ride of the entire bike course on Friday morning and was left pleased with the state of the trails and the nature of the course.  It was going to be hard but not extremely difficult from a technical standpoint with one exception: Bloodrock.

Where's the line?
I decided rather than risk riding it I would plan on just dismounting about where the cyclist is in my photo and running it down the rocks. A creek runs through (or stream, whatever) and it makes the most difficult part the...well, the most difficult part.

There's a very long climb in the middle of the course that serves to separate some fitness related hangers-on and I knew that part would be a good place for me to try and walk away from some of the competition.

That thing in the middle was tough

I got in a loop of the swim as well, with nothing special to report there. It's a simple triangle and during the race we'd have to get out and then run back in after going through an archway.

I feel like I've seen this before...
Chad and Lori Williamson had graciously accepted my self-invitation to stay with them for the evening and after farting around for a few hours (I guess it's ok that you go to your job on Friday, Chad and Lori...ughhh FIIIIIINE) and consuming a great americano at Seeds Coffee (recommendation courtesy of Chad) I went over to their house.

Why yes, that is a picture of my coffee
We had a great meal and did a lot of chatting and I went to bed with lots of sleep time ahead given the 8:20am start time for the race in the morning.

After some quick morning ablutions the drive down to the race site was quite expeditious and there was even a Dunkin Donuts nestled right at the exit to Oak Mountain State Park. Now this is a race I can truly wrap my head around. I get my normal breakfast, I don't have to wake up too early...etc. Very choice.

I set up my transition spot and basically did a little warming up and walking around. I felt pretty normal, I suppose. I don't know anybody that's really FOP at a National level in terms of XTERRA so I was somewhat flying blind I suppose. It was kind of nice to do it that way.

Swim - 22:24 - 12th

I lined up on the front line kind of near the left and at the sound of the cannon (it was literally a 12 gauge shotgun shell that fired out of a little mini-cannon, kind of awesome) everyone started off expeditiously. As the first 100 meters passed it was clear that someone on my left was swimming fast and someone away on my right was swimming fast.  I should mention that they started all men under 49 in the same wave, so it was a pretty big field.

After a bit I scooted on over to the left to try and grab the feet of the guy closest to me but I lost him around the first turn as he and the other guy started to work together.  As we finished the first lap (exit and get back in) I saw I had a nice gap on the rest of the guys (we had already passed some of the pro women) and I got back in and swam pretty smoothly through the end of the second lap.  I ended up passing Lesley Paterson somewhere close to swim exit as everyone was cheering for her as I exited the water...

T1 - 1:00

My T1 time was generally slower than others I think because I took the time to put on socks. I ran out on to the road and hopped on my bike and...

Bike - 1:31:12 - 14th

My right hamstring cramped.  I was able to coast a little bit as we were on the roads and it was slightly downhill so I went ahead and put on my gloves as I hoped it was just a very temporary glitch but as it turned out the cramp wouldn't go away so I got off my bike and stretch it for real. I lost some spots and most of the gains I had accrued while swimming which was certainly frustrating but it was either stretch the stupid thing or quit and be all sad about poor little me.  I chose the former.

No hamstring, no! Bad hamstring!

I got back on the bike and managed to get pedaling again (no Andrew, not peddling) and caught up to some who had passed me pretty quickly. The trails were quite slippery as every wooden surface was damp from the rain the night before and earlier that morning which made every exposed root very precarious. There were also lots of wooden bridges on these trails and consequently there was a lot of slipping and crashing.

I tried to pass a girl but then messed that up and kind of had to bail off to the side and two guys behind me passed everybody so I then had to catch back up to the girl and then catch back up to the guys. Unfortunately for those two the one in front wrecked going across a wooden bridge and then the guy right behind ran into him and they both fell over.  I had enough of a gap in front of me that I was able to cut around them and make the pass.

The ride continued uneventfully for a while and I came up on another pro woman who also crashed right in front of me as I was getting closer.  I managed to not run into her and asked if she was ok as I scooted around.

The theme here is pretty apparent...lots of wipeouts!

The next notable part of the bike ride was the long, long climb up to the top of what I can only assume is "Oak" mountain.  I dislodged one of the guys that had been sitting on my wheel (Greg Schott) and set a strong tempo up the first part of the climb.  The other guy that had been behind me left for a while and then ended up coming back before falling off again (he was in my AG) and I tried to keep the pace relatively tough to discourage any getting back on from anybody.

Near the top of the long climb a guy with "35" on his calf came absolutely roaring past me with the guy that had been with me in tow.  I accelerated a bit and jumped on the wheels, happy to take a tow over the last part of the climb. At the top there is a short flattish section with a very slightly downhill and near that the front guy attacked like I've never seen somebody attack on a mountain bike. I'm surprised leaves didn't start falling from the trees with the amount of watts this guy was putting out.  The guy in front of me managed to stay for a bit (I didn't even try) but then got broken and the lead guy had a little gap going into the downhill section (which led to Bloodrock).  I caught back up to "30" and as we turned off the fire road we came up on the lead pro female (Lesley P) and the guy tried to pass her but crashed in doing so (this is the second time he wiped out in front of me).  I managed to avoid him and pass Lesley right before Bloodrock where I hopped off my bike and ran down the rock instead of riding. It just didn't seem worth the risk of gaining a few seconds by riding it slowly and gingerly.

The last third of the race is a mix of technical bends and more bridge crossings.  Lots of twisting and turning so that it's hard to keep your speed up and maintain a rhythm.  I tried to continue to keep the pace high and towards the last bit started catching glimpses of a guy in a Colorado Triathlon kit up ahead of me. At this point I wasn't really sure what place I was in because I KNEW two guys had been off the front in the swim (and I couldn't really keep track of passings and being passed that easily at the beginning because there was so much of it) and I KNEW the only person to have passed me and stayed in front of me in the second half was that guy with "35" on his calf.

So I figured I was either in 2nd or 3rd in the AG race at this point and I ended up catching up to the UC guy right at transition.

T2 - :43

While I had one of the slower T1s I actually had one of the fastest T2s and made it out before Cole.

Run - 41:33 - 27th

The run had about 1/4 mile stretch on the roads at the begining that began with a slight climb then a decline before heading into the trails. Cole passed me like a freight train on the incline and I tried to just keep my pace steady (I was running sub 6min/mi pace) and hope he'd slow down.

We turned into the trails and as we progressed I noticed he was indeed slowing down quite considerably (at least, from his initial pace) and especially on the uphills I would gain some time back on him. On the downhills though, his fleet feet and surefootedness put him back ahead but eventually I got back up to him on a climb.

Unfortunately about in the last 1/3mi of the first loop we had to jump across a little muddy creek type of thing and my left hamstring (so the opposite of the one earlier in the day) locked up.  I had to stop and stretch, then try to run again...stop and stretch...run again. You get the picture.  After a little bit I was able to run continuously without straight leg running on my left side and got back to the roads and transition area. At this point the two male leaders passed me in a sprint to the finish (literally) so that was pretty cool to see them battle it out in the last 400 yards.

At the start of the second lap Greg Schott caught up to me but my stride had opened up a bit on the road section a bit so I felt pretty good.  We ran side by side through the first section of trails before the flat "dam" part about halfway through the loop. At this point Daryl came screaming by the both of us making us just look silly!

Eventually we got back to the difficult trail sections (the second half of the loop is much harder than the first half) and Greg departed from my company to try and find greener pastures up ahead. I was really struggling at this point, especially on the uphills. My hip flexors were screaming, my hammies were yelling...it was great.

I ended up finishing out the run, unsure of what place I was in but happy that I had left it all on the course.

1st M30-34
4th AG'er
13th OA

Full Results Here

I was extremely pleased with my race performance. Sure, I could've done without the weird cramping issues that would've had me a little further up the course initially but I handled them well so can't complain too much there.  I walked away with a National Championship title, a solid footing from which to build for future XTERRA ventures, a qualification spot to XTERRA World Championships in Maui, and a nice pair of sunglasses (XTERRA seriously kills it in terms of race swag for the most part).

This is easily the biggest XTERRA event I've done (Tsali and Clemson are great local events but this was a national level event with much bigger competition) and I am really excited about doing more in the future.

In fact, I've been researching trips to Utah...(but not Maui).

If you haven't gotten a mountain bike yet or rented one or borrowed one or however you have to get your hands on one, you really...REALLY should. I know most people that read my blog are road triathletes through and through so take note when I say:

It is the most FUN you can have on two wheels.


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