Monday, September 28, 2015

XTERRA USA Championships

It's not often that I travel to exotic locations to swim, bike, and/or run.  Well, with the exception of New Orleans, Cozumel, Park City, Tucson, Santa Barbara, Miami...etc.  Other than those times, I don't often go cool places to race or exercise.  I wanted to buck that trend this year, especially when I raced down in Alabama back in April and qualified for XTERRA World Championships (in Maui) and XTERRA USA Championships (Ogden).

If I hadn't committed to racing Ironman Louisville way back in December of 2014 I would undoubtedly have built my season around racing Maui.  But, for better or for worse, I signed up for Louisville and in that moment my focus for 2015 became that race.  Still, I didn't want to give up completely on racing another national level XTERRA event and so, after careful calculation and negotiation I signed up for XTERRA USA in Ogden, UT.

I have really only been riding my mountain bike consistently for the past year or so, but I had the opportunity to ride it in Park City, UT back in 2013 as part of a Scott Bikes dealer event.  So I had some idea of the terrain that I could expect for the Ogden race: hilly, loose, rocky.  Riding out there is VERY different when compared to east coast trail riding.  Over here we have lots of roots, short/steep hills (in the "foothills" anyway), grippy "dirt," etc).  Out in Utah the climbs are LONG, the surfaces are slippery, and there exists an abundance of rocks (but very, very few roots).

For the past couple of months my training has been extremely specific to my goal race of the year.  That is not a pre-excuse, but it gives you a good idea of what I've been doing and what I am "used" to.  Being good at XTERRA is - in many ways - the complete opposite of being good at IM.  Still, I am quite fit, and I was really excited to race.

Luckily for me, I proved an extremely competent negotiator/manipulator and managed to convince my friend Jeremy - who lives in Atlanta - to fly out to Utah for a long weekend.  So we met at the airport on Thursday and drove to the VRBO I had chosen, which was a "guest apartment" (essentially an above garage studio apartment, but very nice) on the east side of Ogden.  It was conveniently located with easy access to the race venue (about a 25 minute drive through a canyon to get to the resort) and downtown Ogden, the location of the expo and post-race festivities.

We didn't do too much that day other than recover from a day of flying and travel but on Friday we packed up the sweet, sweet Chevy Impala and headed out to scout the race.  I wanted to ride some of the course (preferably only the downhills, but that didn't end up being the way it worked out...) and we thought it'd be a good idea to kind of figure out a way for Jeremy to have easy access to several locations.

Parked, but ready to roll
Jeremy, LITERALLY, scouting the race course
The bike course views are absolutely stunning
Like I said...
 At the end of the day we had come to several conclusions:

1) I was not going to ride the time I "expected" to ride. This course is extremely physically demanding
2) Jeremy's day would involve a fair amount of driving
3) The course was gorgeous
4) Ripping the two descents at race pace was going to be...interesting.

Be that as it may, we finished out our Friday and woke up Saturday morning relatively early (but not too early, given the 9AM start time - did I mention how awesome XTERRA is?!?!), got ready, and headed over to set up for race day.  It was COLD (sub 40 degrees, but expected to reach mid 60s and be completely sunny) but not altogether unpleasant at the swim start.

I didn't have a chance to warm up, but felt ready to race.  They started the male pros at 9:00, female pros at 9:01, and age groupers at 9:04 (or something close to that).

Swim - 22:52 (27th OA)

I was on the front row and at the sound of the horn dove in to start the clockwise two loop triangle swim. The start was extremely chaotic.  We were headed directly into the sun for the first leg of the triangle and the buoy was only about ~250 meters away.  So that whole stretch was pretty much a mad house fight for position.

That theme carried on throughout the first loop and it was only on the second loop that I felt I was able to establish a rhythm of some sort and start passing people who started out much too hard.  I wasn't really swimming "hard" but I felt long and powerful, which any guy obviously desires...when swimming.

I exited the water with plenty of people in front of me but no real idea of where I was in the race.

T1 - 1:37

My T1 time was slowed by putting on socks. I definitely have some improvements I need to make when it comes to XTERRA transitioning.

Bike - 1:41:31 (49 OA)

I think this section needs to be started with a brief summary of how different these trails are than our east coast trails:

2) Rocks
3) Zero Roots
4) Slippery, loamy "dirt"
5) yea, climbing

I had biked most of the course the day prior but had excluded the first 4ish miles of the race, 1-2 of which was on paved road out of transition. I did not realize, however, that once off the paved road we'd essentially be climbing for the next 45+ minutes, including the trail section I had not "scouted."

I passed a couple of people and got passed by a couple of people (including XC Olympian Todd Wells, who was riding MUCH faster than me...) and generally set a relatively conservative pace up through this climb out of the canyon.

Throwing out the shaka for the camera

I reached the first descent and managed to "PR" vs. Friday's scouting ride which was pleasing to see in hindsight.  Learning a descent, especially a fast, loose one like this is generally paramount in XTERRA racing.  I made up some ground on some guys that had passed me on the ascent and we crossed Old Snowbasin Rd for the second time.  Jeremy was there but I did not see him as I was focused on not running into the guy in front of me.

And so began the long, long climb up to Sardine Peak. Going from the end of the first climb to the start of the second had taken approximately 5-7 minutes.  It was back into one of the two or three easiest gears on the cassette and the start of another 40 minute climb to the top of Sardine.  It was more strung out at this point and I got passed again early on in the climb. I didn't feel like I was going "easy" but I also had trouble making myself go any harder.  At this point of my training (from a long term standpoint) I am extremely proficient at holding 200-220 watts for 4-5 hours.  This is not really how you ride an XTERRA bike course...

I got to the top of the final climb and let someone go past me right as we started the descent. Unfortunately for this guy he almost went off the side of the mountain at a sharp right hander early on and I re-passed him as he stood precariously on the side of the trail having barely regained his balance after coming to a stop on the edge.  I really enjoyed this descent and was able to get back up to someone that had passed me about 2/3 of the way up the climb and we flowed through the rest of the downhill pretty quickly.  I did almost nail a tree at one point (seriously, NAILed a tree) but luckily managed some ninja-like contortions to save my body from that wear and tear.

As we climbed briefly back into some singletrack to get back into the resort area I lost contact with my descent buddy and rolled into transition.

T2 - 1:04

I actually had a bad T2. I could not find my spot for what felt like forever (though I was probably only "searching" for 15-20 seconds before I found it).  There were no labels anywhere and you had to just kind of remember where you put your stuff... Once I located my shoes and run belt I managed to get out of there pretty quickly.

Run - 47:31 (45 OA)

My legs felt very loose and snappy as I ran through the parking lot and I am pretty confident that if this had been a road run I'd have done quite well. Sadly, however, it was not on the roads.

I came around one of the resort's buildings at the edge of the pavement and saw an absolutely terrible sight up ahead.  We were essentially going to run up a ski run to get to the woods. Yuck. It was about a 6-7 minute climb and I actually walked a portion of it because it was simply that steep. I had caught up to a guy (and passed a few others) and I was walking alongside him at the same pace he was "running."

We crested the "top" and continued onto singletrack that was still going uphill but at a slightly less steep grade.  As I rolled into the downhill portion my right hamstring flared and then grabbed quite tightly. I was forced to pull off to the side of the trail to stretch it several times before it loosened up again.  This was a bit disappointing but I can surmise that it was due in no small part to the enforced short stride that steep uphills impart on your gait.  Your hamstring, when running that way, is under a lot of tension throughout the gait cycle and has basically no chance to "loosen."  So when it all of a sudden did...well it didn't like it very much.

I lost all the spots I had gained but was able to get back running again and carried on pretty normally for a while.  The course gradually climbed for about 35 minutes (with a short descent early which is where I had to stretch) before starting to level off and at that point I actually had to stop and stretch a cramping right hamstring again.  I had gained back most of the spots I had lost (but had gained before losing) but now lost them again. (confused yet?)

But luckily I was able to mitigate the issue and get rolling again.  When working, my stride actually felt quite good.  I finally made my way back to the guy that I had originally paced alongside up the first climb and as we descended I prepared myself for a little sprint off.  We were not in the same age group, but I will never forego the opportunity to place one spot higher overall.  Luckily, I managed to edge him out in a nice sprint across the line.

2:54:35 (5th AG, 35 OA)

I was pleased with this race.  It was an incredible opportunity to go someplace gorgeous and do a spectacular and difficult event. I am also surprised - being so used to road triathlons - at how difficult XTERRA purposefully makes courses.  It's like if they encounter two options as far as course design goes, one is easier and one is harder, they will ALWAYS choose the harder one.  That is great and a welcome change from the monotony that can become road triathlon.

I would love to do this race again after preparing specifically for IT.  I am excited to toe the line at Louisville but a race such as an IM requires such specific preparation that you tend to lose a lot of the non-IM related abilities and fitness.  While I'd obviously prefer to place higher in my AG than 5th this was a national championship level event so the best of the best (and the best of the WEST, more importantly) come out to play..

Next year...

No comments: