1) Christine would be flying into Birgminham to give me much needed off-road triathloning advice
2) It was the first race of the year, and that always means excitement mixed with nervousness
3) A chance to prove myself against myself (from last year) and against others (this year)
So all in all a pretty solid set of motivation with which to approach a race weekend! I was looking forward to fixing some areas that were easy to improve from last year (pre race hydration, transitions, pacing) and stuff that's a little harder to gauge (technique improvement, race management). Last year Pelham was my first "big" Xterra race but I did well in the face of increased competition, winning my age group and coming in 4th amateur and 13th overall. I was ready to move up a bit, however...
I got into Birmingham on Friday morning and did a run along the first part of the bike course to familiarize myself with the "flow" of the trail after a year away from it. I chose to not pre-ride the whole course like I did last year as I didn't want that level of fatigue in my legs (it's a 1.75hr ride at a leisurely pace...) the day before the race. I also swam one lap of the course, then went and got some lunch
(as an aside, if you want a good place to watch people and encounter some of the things that makes America great you should have lunch on a weekday at a Cracker Barrel)
before heading back to the state park to pick up my packet. Once I did that, I went to the hotel and unloaded all of my crap before heading to the airport to pick up Christine. We went back to the hotel, dropped off her stuff, then worked on getting some pre race rocket fuel (ok, mellow mushroom).
Woke up bright and early race morning (but not too early, 8:20am start time ohhhhhhh yeaaaa), got ready and headed to the race site.
Set up for these races is pretty easy, the only exception being memorizing where you are in transition (nothing is really labeled or assigned, which I don't really get to be honest). I made note of which rack I was on when coming from the swim and from the bike and got suited up and ready to roll...
|Warm up finished, checking out my reflection|
Swim 1500m - 22:38 (12th)
I wasn't really sure if anybody from last year was returning this year as far as swim speed goes. Cole Bunn was the first out of the water last year (and won Utah amateur race as well) and I figured I couldn't swim with him. Turns out he wasn't, but I had the exact same swim scenario as last year...
I started on far left and as we made our way to the first buoy (2 loop triangular swim) I noticed three other guys swimming over to my right. I moved that way and got into 4th position about 100m before first buoy. The guy I was behind was swimming somewhat erratically, so I should've realized he was on the hairy edge. Around the buoy he lost contact with #1 and #2 and I didn't notice it right away and by the time I did there was a 10-15m gap, which I didn't feel like I could close quickly enough to be worth the effort. Nonetheless, I moved around can't-swim-straight guy and plowed into the end of the first lap.
|In between laps. 1/2 on the right and 4th on the left (white caps)|
|Done with the worst part of the day|
This was pretty quick and a nice improvement over last year. I didn't go with socks or gloves and have mountain bike shoes that have three straps (it's difficult, actually impossible, to find nice mountain bike shoes that don't have buckles or boas, so you have to go cheap for quick shoes) so that all added up to make T1 better than it was.
Bike 30k - 1:29:41 (10th)
I passed one more female pro out of transition and then got onto the road for the 1/4mi section that led to the trail head. Last year my hamstrings cramped horribly on this section, which has bewildered me since that point, so I eased up a bit on the effort level this time before hitting the trails.
Trails at Oak Mountain are awesome. Twisty, technical singletrack with lots of roots and a few big rock sections. They really are fun, and the course is definitely a "mountain biker's course" and not a "triathlete's course" (a triathlete course just requires fitness, not skill). I was hoping that my focus on trail riding over the past months would help me out and luckily it definitely did. I was much smoother through the first half of the bike course than I felt like I was last year, but this was also partially helped by the fact that there were fewer people on the course in front of me.
I passed one of the two lead swimmers pretty quickly and asked if he and the other guy had been together the whole swim, to which he replied that indeed they had, so I knew that #1 was somewhere not TOO far ahead. On trails like these someone could be less than 1-2 minutes ahead of you on time but you would NEVER know because you might never actually see them...
I made it to the long climb which would take us to the halfway point and still hadn't seen anyone ahead or behind but then ended up catching the lead female about 5 minutes into the climb and having the pro male I passed in the swim come by me at around the same time. I kept climbing at a steady effort (there are one or two sections that are granny gear rocky hard all out sections but luckily they are short) and towards the top was caught by another guy who ended up being in my age group. I stayed with him to the top of the climb (he made up the 2 minute swim deficit in the first 40 minutes of the bike...) and over the top of the ridge. We both ended up running Bloodrock and stayed together for the rest of the bike. It took a long time to catch the lead swimmer, who ended up being Dwayne Dixon. He managed to stay with us after we both passed him for a bit but luckily before entering T2 we managed to gap him by a minute or so. Dan (Molnar) and I came into T2 together and I was hoping to put together a good run...
T2 - 00:49
This was quick. I found out the night before that my ez laces wouldn't fit through the eyelets of my trail shoes so I ended up just tying them sort of tight and putting enough body glide on to choke a ... (not sure what to put here) ... and was able to smash my feet into them without any trouble.
Run 9.8k - 40:59 (16th)
|Dan in #1, me in #2|
Unfortunately after a mid length steep climb then a sharp downhill my right hamstring cramped up badly. I stopped to stretch it out, walked a bit, stretched again, walked/ran a bit, stretched again, then was able to get back to real running but in that time period (I traveled about 50' during that issue) Dwayne had caught and passed me. Once I was able to ease the cramping I caught back up to him and stuck on his butt through the end of lap 1. I could tell he was hurting pretty good so eased past him just after the end of the first lap.
|Dwayne and myself at the end of lap 1|
From that point on I tried to cruise pretty steady to keep any further cramps out of the realm of possibilities and finished up without any more issues.
|Yay, all done|
9th OA - 2:34:52 (2nd AG)
|The podium for overall amateur and M30-34 was the same! Tough AG!|
Oh wait, yes...I did say that didn't I. Yes, I am moving to Tucson, AZ with Christine in...ohhhh about two weeks. Adventure alert!