Its been a few weeks since the race, but with vacation and other things keeping me busy, this is the first real chance to sit down and reflect on the race.
First of all, it was my goal last year after I finished the Sport race to compete in the Championship distance race, which according to the posted distances, is approximately twice as long. However, because the Sport race started at 8 am, and TT and I were headed to Belize the next day, we didn't have enough time to do the Championship race, which started at 10:30, and drive back in time to pack for Belize. Therefore, I signed up to do the Sport distance again, hoping to get revenge on the pain it brought me last year. Race day started off with advantage Xterra, given a few race day changes (Xterra likes to surprise everyone) to the course. The advertised distances of the Sport course are 500m swim, 12k mountain bike, 3 mile run. However, after the race day changes, the Sport course was only 1/3 shorter than the Championship race. The posted distances on race day for the Sport race were an 850m swim, 12k mountain bike, and a 4.3 mile trail run. I know a lot of people were not happy about the extra swim distance, especially since the James River had a much stronger current this year and the added distance was an extra set of zig zags that goes against the current. Gotta love that!
Woke up at 5 am at TT's friend's house and started with the usual breakfast: 2 servings of oatmeal. Today's I wasn't into the oatmeal, and could only take down about 1.5 servings. Brought one water bottle of Accelerade and one bottle of water to drink prior to the race. I got body marked, checked into transition and went for a quick warmup swim. It was curing the
warmup swim that I noticed how much stronger the current was this year. I swam straight out (mostly with the current) and then came straight back (mostly against the current) and it was a big struggle to stay on target with my starting point. The current would just push you off course, forcing you to swim up shore. Anyways, I took it to note, surveyed the remainder of the course, and developed my swim strategy based on the conditioned. Took in and gel about 15 minutes before the start.
Lesson learned from last year's swim start was not to start in the middle front of the swim (duh), especially when you are not a very good swimmer. Last year was rough. This year, I lined up on the far right (inside), knowing that the current would push everyone on the left away from the turn buoy, which heads to the right. As the gun went off, I calmly ran into the water and was on my way. Smooth and steady was how I would describe the start straight out to the first buoy. Then we got to the buoy. It was jam packed with swimmers fighting the current. While my race plan of starting to the right was working perfectly, other people to the left of me were swimming perpendicular to me. This was a challenge to stay smooth, as arms and legs were flailing everywhere. I actually had to breast stroke around the buoy, because I was getting kicked and punched too much. The breast stroke proved better at fending off idiots swimming perpendicular to the course who were hitting me. The next straight away was perfectly against the current. Again, things went smooth until the buoy. Once I rounded the buoy, there was a huge rock that forced you to stand up. I was on the pull of my stroke and my hand scrapes this rock. I look up and everyone is standing up. We had to wade through the next 50 meters or so by walking/jogging through the water, as the current tried to pull you away. Before I knew it, we were at the next buoy. Here is when the swim course started to get tricky. After turning the next buoy, you head on a 90 degree angle, where there were 2 sets of zig zags. You go around the 3rd bouy and back up toward the 2nd buoy, where there is a 4th buoy just a little to the left. Once you get around that one, you head back toward the 3rd buoy, where there is a 5th buoy just to the right of the 3rd. Lastly, you head back up toward the 4th buoy, where there is a 6th buoy located to the left of the 4th buoy. Sounds crazy huh? It was! And the worse part is that because of the current, people swimming toward one of the buoys would get swept by the current and float into the path of the other swimmers going the opposite way. Many head on collision close calls. I think a lot of people had issues with the zig zags, sighting, and the current. All of this chaos....screams Xterra. Finally, once you round the 6th buoy, it is a diagonal swim back to shore. Complicated? You betcha! Challenging? Yup! But my experience as I compared to last year was MUCH smoother. I am a much better swimmer, and my sighting was spot on, especially with the pre-race knowledge of the current. Once out of the water, you have to scramble up the rocky ramp, which can kill your feet. Some people leave their shoes to slip on. But honestly, with spectators, hundreds of shoes laying around, and the disoriented feeling once you get out of the water, there is no way I would be able to find my shoes. So for the 2nd year in a row, I toughed it and ran barefoot. Oh yea, and its a 1/4 mile run to transition over a gravel path, so if the large rocks on the boat ramp don't get you, the gravel will. But once you hit transition, that grass feels so nice on the feet!
Swim plus 1/4 mile run: 22:21
Having pre-rode most of the course on Saturday, and from my mostly photographic memory, I actually felt well prepared for the race. I recognized the tough passes and knew when to be in what gears. I was passing people left and right as I rolled through Bell Isle. The last part of the first loop on Bell Isle as a steep rocky descent. Having rode it before, I knew the best line to take. I got to the top, started my descent, found my line, and nailed it. All the spectators and race officials were cheering me on at my easy ot handling. While basking in the celebration, I started ot hear something. Pssss!!!!! Uh oh. Flat front tire. I rolled off to the side of the trail, got out my tools and started changing. Mind you, this is my first flat ever in a race. I was going as fast as I could. Lots of people stopped by to ask if I needed a tube, which I was very appreciative. Of course, the whole process, since I am yet to join the CO2 cool people canister club, took somewhere around 10 minutes. I was having issues with getting air into my tire with my small pump. It was hot. I was sweating. And I had to pump this tiny carry pump a billion times just to get the tire at a decent pressure. Finally, I was on my way...after about 50 people passed me. I was on a mission now. Pissed off and ready to ride throwing caution to the wind. I must have passed about 25 people in the next 10 minutes. We had to go through another mostly flat section, over a creaky bridge, along some smooth rocks, and then we hit the fire road along the railroad tracks. This is where I made up so many spots. People were just taking it easy, but I was hammering, because I knew what was ahead. At the end of the fire road is a set of stairs that you have to dismount and climb your bike up. Fortunately, passing so many people gave me the ability to be alone while climbing the stairs. When crowded, the stairs suck, because there is no room to pass since you are carryingyour bike on your shoulder. I got up the stairs and started the technical singletrack. Again, I was rocking the course, passing many chickens dismounting before some of the difficult passes. I rode through and climbed climbed climbed, until the next section that takes you over a large bridge and into more singletrack. Again, I passed a few on the flat as we headed into the next section. I started to recognize how close we were to the finish and was looking down at my watch. I was almost done, my clock read 48 minutes (my bike split last year was 71 minutes), and I had already changed a flat. Uh oh. Flat #2 decided my day wasn't going to go so smoothly. This time, it was in my rear. Knowing I was close to the finish, I decided to ride it in. I did this for many reasons. First, it was singletrack trails, so there was nowhere to actually go to change the tire even if I wanted to, until I got even closer to the finish. Second, I was frustrated from the earlier flat. And Third, I decided in my sweaty, mind blurred state that it would be more fun. So I rode it in. Definitely a little more challenging. My rear kept slipping out, so I had to go a bit slower and use more caution. Every minute or so, someone from behind would yell "Dude, I think you've got a flat". I was like, "Ya think? We're only a mile out, so I'm gonna ride it in". Common response was "Rock on! You're badass". The closer I got to the end of the bike, the more the spectators cheered for me. "Look, he's riding it in on the rim!" I hear as I passed by a group of people. And if you couldn't see it, you'd hear me coming through as my rim rumbled on the short asphalt section leading to transition. Finally back, and time to get off this darn thing! I did make one dumb mistake as I rolled into transition. Again, in my blurred state, I tried to mount my bike on the rack but for some reason, the handlebars wouldn't go under the rack. So I decided it would be ok to lean it. The race official told me quickly that I would have to rack it. So I tired again, no luck. Now here is where I turn stupid. Because I couldn't get it in from the side I was on, I ran my bike around the OTHER side of the transition rack to see if it was any easier. Why? I don't know! If only I thought to tilt my bike to the side. STUPID ME. Lesson learned for next year ;)
Knowing that the 2 flats were fresh in my mind, I decided to just have fun and let go on the run. I started off at a fast pace. As I usually do, I try to encourage anyone I pass to stay with me or to keep going strong. As I was passing this guy who was 55 (as noted on his calf), I encouraged him to run with me. He said thanks for the encouragement. Then as I passed him, he yelled "Easy to say when you are 25!". Of course, he looked my calf which had 25 for my age group. And so I flew along through the shadeless trail along the flood wall in the already hot sun. There aren't that many landmarks along the Sport course run, except for a series of steps in the floor wall and "The Ruins". Ugh. They suck. Basically, a steep climb up a series of "steps". I can't describe it better than this quote from an Inside Triathlon article about the course "...the infamous Mayan Ruins, a massive former railroad grade that makes the Escape from Alcatraz' sand ladder look like an escalator." BTW - the folks climbing the steps in the picture to the right are Josiah Middaugh and Mike Vine and you can see how much it looks like it hurts for them. Imagine what a mere Age Grouper must feel like climbing that! As I scaled the steps, my quads started locking up. I used the chain fence, which has some nice rust to grab onto, to propel myself up to the top. Once at the top, my choppy stride started to open up again knowing that a water stop was near. As I neared the water stop, a Lamborghini rolled by on the road beside me. All the little kids working the water station sat in amazement of the sweet ride, while I approached. As I was almost passing them, I yelled "water!". Fortunately one of the kids remembered they were there to help runners dying in the 95 degree heat, so he tracked me down and handed off some refreshing water. The rest of the course is a blur until I hit the middle of the long bridge that takes us back to the finish. At this point, I knew there was less than a mile so I started pushing. As I passed 3 or so people, I noticed they were all in my age group, which further motivated me to pick up the pace. However, as I neared the end of the bridge and the quick downhill that followed, my hamstring started to tighten, likely due to dehydration. The downhill was just brutal on my leg and I locked up. All those 25-29 year olds I had just passed...yea, they passed me as I stretched as much as I could on the side of the trail. I tried first to slowly jog. Nope, not yet. Stretched some more. Then I tried to walk. Nope, can't do that either. A good 2 minutes passed as I sat there trying to stretch my hamstring and just hope that I could start moving toward the finish line. Finally, I was able to start walking which turned into a slow jog and into to a moderate pace. Once we hit the main street, I knew I was only about 1/4 mile away, so I started to pick up the pace further and began to open it up for the last bit. As we turned the last part into the finish chute, I spotted 2 of the guys from my age group that I passed and was then re-passed. I sprinted past them right before the turn toward the finish line and at least got back some of the gains I made on the bridge just prior.
Total time: 2:08:22
I can attribute the cramping at the end of the race to dehydration because after the race, I looked at my Camelback and saw that I failed to drink about 1/4 of it that was left. All the distractions of the flat tires and trying to pass people took me out of my mental state to drink early and often. I know I need to work on that.
Above all, I had fun. I raced well considering the situation. I nearly equaled my bike split from last year after having stopped to change a flat and ride one for the last mile or so of the bike. I also nearly equaled my run from last year, which was 31:47, and that was with the awful hamstring cramps that I had near the finish. And most importantly, I did well in the swim. Although the distances weren't equal, I was 82/188 in the swim, 122/188 in the bike, 88/188 in the run, and 111/188 overall. I also finished 17/26 in my age group.