Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I wasn't sure I was going to do XTERRA Utah until maybe 3 weeks ago.  Logistically a lot of stuff is going on in this household in Setepmber/October so I wanted to be sure it would be manageable before making the trip.  I got to visit some friends from college who now live in Ogden and compete in a race that is certainly the most competitive in the mainland USA and consequently test my fitness again (over the past two years I've raced much less than in years past, so seeing how training is going is never a thing I'm upset to do).

But, do the race I did. I split the drive up from Tucson into two trips, spending the night in St. George (Utah), before arriving in Ogden/Snowbasin late morning/midday on Friday.  I did a quick recon of one section of climb and descend (the first descent of the race and arguably the more technical one, or maybe just the scarier one) and was pleased to notice that the descent seemed FAR less intimidating this time around when compared to last year.

Scouting the course

I visited packet pickup, got dinner with Christy and her husband Dave (both fellow WM '07'ers) before heading to their mountain house to sleep.

I didn't have to get up crazy early for this race since it started at 9am, which would give the air time to warm up (it gets down to upper 30's and low 40's in September in Utah it would seem...quite different than Tucson) and give all the racers time to complete the morning logistics.  The drive to bike dropoff (swim and T1) took about 35 minutes and I set that up pretty quickly before heading up to T2 (Snowbasin resort), which took another 20-30 minutes.  Once there I set up T2 and grabbed the things I would need before getting on a shuttle that took athletes back down to T1 at around 7am.

Unfortunately, once we got back down to the lake I realized I had left goggles and gels in my car. There was basically no way to get back up there and get those things, so I had to ask around to borrow goggles.  Luckily, a guy in front of me on the bus was willing to loan me a pair.  Thanks #282 for saving my race!

I got T2 situated again, did a short 15 minute warm up run, then began installing myself into my wetsuit. I did a warm up swim, and all racers were noticing that the first leg of the swim would be very difficult as it was essentially directly into a rising sun.  The goggles I had were relatively scratched (but not leaking!) so it was difficult to see out of them to begin with, and the section into the sun would simply involve following splashes that were in front of me.  The male pros went off, followed quickly by the female pros...until it was our wave's turn to start (all men under 49).

Swim - 22:13 (36th)

I started on the left side and got into a pretty good position immediately (based on my somewhat limited visibility).  After a few minutes I felt like I was in roughly the lead pack and we were roughly headed for the first buoy.  Unfortunately it was in these same moments that I began to sense a panic attack coming on, something I had not experienced for a few years.  It was not fun.  It's an onrushing sense of claustrophobia and inevitability that crashes in on your mind like an unwelcome neighbor asking you why you ride bikes so much.

I popped my head up once to catch a breath, then got back down.  Unfortunately that didn't dispel the feelings and I had to pop my head back up again.  I got back into a rhythm but still couldn't shake the feeling of claustrophobia.  I decided to do some backstroke for a while and was debating whether or not I could even finish the race.

Luckily, unlike most triathletes I actually do stroke work and so my backstroke wasn't giving up too much to those around me.  Some had caught up to me but I was pacing off a couple of guys to my right and using them to "sight" for the time I was backstroking.

I eventually turned back over and felt fine after fact, looking back on the issue it feels so silly because it's like a sense of "how the heck did that happen?" But obviously hindsight is 20/20 and if you've ever experienced something like that you KNOW how irrational you are being but - unfortunately - the mind is an exceptionally powerful piece of hardware and exerts some small degree of control over your body ;)

I got to the first buoy quickly after that and made the turn back towards the third buoy and shore with a couple of other guys.  We ended up basically finishing the rest of the swim (the first buoy was maybe 500-600 meters out) together as I sat on one guy's feet for the remainder.  I was somewhat wary of experiencing another attack and so was content to swim "comfortably hard" for the duration remaining. I exited the water right behind that same guy, a little faster time-wise than last year but a swim that was in no way representative of my increased fitness.  Oh well!

T1 - 1:27

My transition was pretty quick; the more of these XTERRA races I've done (maybe 5 now?) the more familiar I've felt with the needs for each race and consequently the transition plan for each as well. I got out on the bike in roughly 10th place of my wave (according to a spectator, who seemed pretty certain) and headed out onto the bike behind another M30-34.

Bike - 1:37:36 (36th)

To be honest, there are not a whole lot of interesting tales to tell about this particular bike ride.  It is very arduous and demanding, simply because there is so much elevation change. You get a brief period of maybe 6-8 minutes where you are getting out of the transition area by making your way through a field on single track (you actually have to mount your bike on singletrack) trails before getting onto the road (well, technically the side of the road) where I put on my gloves and sunglasses, then finally you get to the trailhead.

For the next 30 or so minutes we would climb ~1400' in ~4.5 miles of pretty steady, slightly rocky singletrack.  I passed a couple of people and got passed by a couple of people.  I actually put "bar ends" on my bike for this race just to give my hands a different position to grip for some of the climbing.  One of the issues I've continually experienced with trail riding is hand numbness due in part to not really being able to move your hands around a whole lot.

Finally arriving at the top of the first climb was a breath of fresh air, metaphorically speaking, and a chance to finally take long deep breaths again.  The descent I was about to head down really intimidated me last year, but this year it went by relatively smoothly and easily.  The rocks that I remember writing about in my race report from last year that - at the time - seemed like massive boulders ready to eat up unsuspecting racers had magically turned into small, unassuming little bumps in an otherwise smooth and flowy path.

Thanks to uber rock garden central Tucson for that!

2016 XTERRA Pan American Championship from XTERRA TV on Vimeo.

For reference, if you want to see what the rocks can do take a look see at roughly 3:40 into that video...

That crash actually came on this first descent, if I'm interpreting the trail correctly.

Luckily I got down smooth and relatively fast with only one little brief mistake and had actually caught up with the guy who had put a little gap into me by the top of the climb.

At this point the trail went up again for another 35 or so minutes, this time climbing allll the way up to a wee bit over 7200' before making it's way down again.  Not to bore you with more of the same, but this climb - although not as steep/demanding as the first in some ways - has multiple switchbacks that really suck to get up towards the end of your bike split.

The descent is one of the best I've ever gotten to rail, and it is honestly the reason that I wanted to come back to this race.  I hadn't ridden this descent since this race last year, so I couldn't push it quite as hard as I would have ideally liked, but "Sardine DH" is so much fun it doesn't matter. Amazingly flowy, grippy dirt trail with a brief section of rocky climb in the middle of it with absolutely astonishing views in the first couple of minutes as a spectacular bonus.  It feels like you're descending through Fall (the season) as the colors in September are astoundingly vivid.

Feel free to not watch this whole thing, but give it a look-see for a little bit of a visual idea of what my words are trying to describe...

Xterra Utah Sardine Descent from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Finally I arrived at the "bottom" (even though you're much higher than where you started) and got myself to the resort at Snowbasin and off my bike.

T2 - 1:02

Pretty efficient, had trouble getting some (brand new) shoes on... (what's the first rule of triathlon?)

Run - 47:01 (46th)

I had vivid memories in my head from last year of the first mile of this race, which basically goes straight uphill. I took it out a little more conservatively as I wanted to avoid the cramps I experienced last year.  I walked a little bit of that first mile and passed one or two guys before getting to the ridge and establishing a nice rhythm and cadence.  The first 15-20 minutes went by pretty quickly and I actually felt pretty good. I was passed by one guy who I had passed at the start of the second downhill (of the bike) and he had a pretty good clip going so I didn't want to surge onto his feet less than halfway into the run.

I began to feel pretty worn down somewhere between 25-35 minutes and was getting pretty ready to cease and desist all forms of going up that didn't involve a motor of some sort.

I had caught up to the leading female pro as we started up the last steep bit and chose to walk the middle section and towards the end of my walking (and right in front of a photographer) I developed a quick cramp in my hamstring.  It always seems to be my hammy (this time it was my right hammy).  I'm thinking the longer strides of the walking gait may have induced it, because once I stretched it out for a bit (and adjusted my shoes) it never had a hint of coming back.

I finally arrived at the downhill section and heard someone chasing pretty hard and through the switchbacks managed to see the guy running me down gaining ground quickly.  I ran the last 5 minutes as hard as I can but unfortunately did not manage to hold him off.  He had the fastest amateur run split of the day, but I was happy to finish strong in spite of a sub par middle third of running.

OA - 2:49:19 (30th OA, 2nd M30-34)

I was pleased with this race, as I think it showed some gains in important areas over last year.  My bike fitness for XTERRA type racing has certainly gone up along with my technical skills.  Living in Tucson for the past three months made these two descents feel as smooth as butter, so I can't complain about that! I think the swim issues could have been avoided by not forgetting my own goggles (but huge thanks to the guy that let me borrow one of his pairs!) and potentially swimming in my wetsuit once a month or so (but to be honest, this would be pretty difficult in AZ; I actually tried to swim at the pool in my wetsuit last week early in the morning but it was too hot to get the dang thing on!) but all in all the swim wasn't too bad.  It seemed like a "faster" swim than last year but there were fewer people in front of me so I can't be too displeased with that result.  I am looking forward to the likely tougher swim (non wetsuit, ocean, WAVES) in Maui as I think my ability levels are more suited to that type of swim. The run is still a question mark in this style of racing. I am definitely a good runner and I am definitely in good shape, but potentially the technical and variable nature of the bike split still throws my body for a loop. It's getting better, and anytime I can run the same pace (or faster) off a faster bike split isn't such a bad thing...

Onwards and upwards to Maui!

Thanks for reading!