Another week, another race report. This was the first time I've done back to back weeks of races. It was also the first time I've done a full length offroad tri. Part of the Xterra series, the EX2 took place at the amazing Rocky Gap State Park in Flintstone, MD. Set on a scenic mountain lake in Western MD, I couldn't imagine a more perfect location for race.
Since the race site was only located 2.5 hours away, and we had just gotten back from the beach the day before, we got up early and drove out there. A lot of people camp out, which sounds like a fun idea for next year, but it just didn't work out with our plans. The camp sites are less than 2 miles away and are located right along the course, so it probably makes sense to do that next year.
The morning started off the usual way: 1 serving of oatmeal, 2 slices of toast with peanut butter, and some water. Then a large bottle of Accelerade and a Cliff Bar about 2 hours before on the ride up there. Once we got there, I knew the mountain biking was going to be real mountain biking. I heard that the bike course goes around the lake, which was all mountains all around, so I was ready for lots of climbing. I also got in a quick warm up swim to test out the water, which was a warm 78 degrees.
In order to get ready for the swim start, they checked us into a roped off area by swim wave. We were in the first wave, the white caps - Men 39 and under. Once we were all checked in, we walked toward the beach for a somewhat in water start. Wading about waist deep, they started the countdown and we were off. My initial thought on the swim course was that it seemed kind of short (2 loops though, with a run mixed in between). Not only was I wrong, but that thought got me into trouble. I took it easy out to the first buoy, at which point I started to feel nauseous. I think I may have drank too many liquids before the race, so all the sloshing around was starting to get to me. As usual, the turn points at the buoys were chaotic and I kept finding myself in a constant struggle against people who can't swim straight. This one guy, who unfortunately swam the same speed as me, was zig zagging all over the course. Each time he veered off, he'd come back and hit me as he was trying to get back on course. I guess he knew he was straight when he hit me ;) I finally reached the end of the first loop and got myself out of the water, feeling like crap. A steep up hill run that starts on the beach and goes up into a grassy field brings you back to the swim start. On my way to starting lap 2, I really did not feel good. Worst part was that the first bouy was the farthest away, which was the most mentally draining part. I was getting tired (not having a wetsuit to rely on sucks) and I felt like crap. Once I finally did make it to the bouy I tried to get myself mentally back in, but I started getting passed by some of the leaders from previous waves. In usual fashion, they swam over me, not around me. That didn't help with my nausea. Once I finally spotted land again, and still felt like crap, I was at least glad to have survived. I told myself to just keep going and have fun. Maybe today wasn't my day.
Time - 32:26 Distance - 1200 meters with 2 runs
After what seemed like a quick transition, I was out on the bike. I figured I'd just have fun out there and hope for the best. Once we got out of the main park area, I knew the bike was going to be tough. The first signs of singletrack showed lots of loose rock gardens. Always a big challenge for someone on a hardtail. After riding the first section, I just wanted to pass as many people as I could once we hit the next open area. Because of my crappy swim, I was stuck around really non-technical riders who were braking and dismounting before EVERY pass. Its really frustrating when you can't just ride through, or spin up a steep climb. So I passed a pack of about 5 riders on the next paved section, before entering the next section of singletrack. This section had a lot of rolling hills with lots of loose rocks. Since I didn't pre-ride the course, I was pretty conservative on the first loop, since I didn't know exactly what was ahead. The next part we rode upon was the famed "Evitts Revenge", which is a loose rock climb that is both steep and long. This is one of those spots that I just wish I could have sat around and watched the leaders tackle. I tried to climb as much as I could and I got a little less than half way before deciding to hike it. I was the only one at that point still riding, so I figured since everyone else is hiking, I might as well too. Once you got to the top, there was some more flat/minor incline trails, which all led to a long steep decent. As much as I hate climbing, steep descents on loose rocks is not better. The whole way, I was gripping my brakes trying to stay in control. All I could think about in my head was watching the Xterra World Championships when Jamie Whitmore was riding down the big decent on the volcano rock when she hit one bad bump and her day was over. So I wanted to make sure I survived and lived to tell stories about it. By the time I got to the bottom, I was out of breath from holding the brakes and I went to take a sip from my Camelback. Only problem was that my forearm cramped up from holding the brakes, so I couldn't grab the mouth piece. Fortunately, my mouth was close out that I got it without my hands. It was at this point that I also realized that I forgot to put on my gloves for the ride! So that's why it was so hard...hmmm. The last section of the bike was a fun and fast section of grassy fields and rolling woods. Once I cruised through that, I was into transition for loop #2. I decided that it was worth the extra minute to stop and take out my gloves, because the sweat was not keeping my hands on the brakes very well. Loop #2 was much better than the first, since I had passed most of the non-technical riders. I got to go at my pace, which left me with a split a minute faster. Not bad, since my legs felt like jello after the first lap.
Time: 1st lap - 47:46, 2nd lap - 46:45 Distance: 14 miles total
Oh the run. My favorite part, since it is my strongest, but the place that causes me the biggest trouble. My body likes to break down at this point and start cramping usually, so the 5 miles of off road trail running were not the thing I was looking most forward to. I settled into a pretty good pace to start, since it was like the good old days of high school cross country. Lots of roots, rocks, and tree limbs to jump over. For me, it makes the run go by faster, since you are always looking for your next step. This is pretty much how the first mile or two were. A good portion of the run course lapped back into the bike course. At times, this made it challenging, because there were still come bikers on the course, so sharing the trail was difficult at times. All was going well until a steep downhill, where I stubbed my toe on a big rock, which caused my body to tighten up and ultimately my hamstring because to cramp. Yes, my usual hamstring cramp. But I usually don't get that till the finish line is within sight. I thought to myself that it is way to early for this. I started with a simple stretch, which moved into a slow jog and I was back on the trail. Only to find myself staring Evitts Revenge in the face. Not sure how my hamstring would hold up, I just tried to jog up to the top with baby steps all the way, since it was so steep. I did pass a lot of people walking it, which made me feel good for jogging it. Once I got to the top, I was thinking that the hardest part was over. Boy was I wrong. This is when it got technical. It all started with some rock steps headed downhill and then some narrow slanted trails with rocks and roots. Once past that, we started a VERY steep climb that required holding onto the tree branches and rocks around to get up the hill. Once at the top, I started to jog again, only to see an even steeper uphill rock scramble. This was by far the hardest part of the run. Virtually straight up, using hands, legs, whatever you could to pull yourself up. Oh and how nice of the race photographers to be sitting in the middle of the climb to document it all! Can't wait for those pictures to come out. After that climb, it was only 1/4 mile to the road, which was about 1 mile to the finish. I picked up the pace once we hit the road and headed toward the finish, determined not to cramp up. I stayed consistent coming down the finish cute, when some people start cheering for a woman that was closing in on me. As usual, I picked it up just in time to cross the finish line before her. I don't feel bad though, because she was in a later heat than I was, she she beat me overall anyways. Once I crossed the line, my hamstring cramped up, per my usual. I was so ecstatic that I made it past the finish line before my hamstring cramped!
Time: 56:27 Distance: 5.2 miles
Overall, I was very happy with my finish time. Given my terrible swim start, I managed to do well on the bike (passed 38 people on the first loop, 24 on the second loop) and run (passed 12). Once they posted the results, I was able to quickly tell if the run was actually as hard as I thought it was. Will Kelsay, the lone pro Xterra racer and 1st place finisher, finished the run in 35:07, barely faster than 7 min/mile pace. It was tough!
Post race food was awesome too! They had a bbq place serving chicken, dogs, burgers, pulled pork, etc. I went with the chicken, which had some Kansas City style bbq sauce on it. Man was it tasty...and I'm not just saying that, because it was the first thing I ate after the race. It was good!
The race was very well put together, clearly marked, and had a great turnout. According to the post race article, it was the 2nd largest Xterra point race in Xterra history, with more than 375 racers! Lot of people there to cheer you on and a great course with lots of challenging, yet fun terrain. I look forward to doing it again next year and hopefully having a better swim to break 3 hours.