Wednesday, May 2, 2012

XTERRA Jersey Devil

AHHHH the fun triathlons.  Yes, collegiate triathlons are fun, but if I had to rank my favorite types of triathlon, it would be collegiate, then a very close second as XTERRAs, actually for similar reasons, with the greater sense of cameraderie than road tris.  This was my first XTERRA last year, so it was special to me.  I also knew that as the least technical bike course possibly on the whole circuit, this was my chance to do very well.
Before the race, I spent some time at home.  I've ridden this course a few times over the winter when I was down at my grandmother's and didn't want to ride my road bike.  It rides a lot like the road, just slower.  The day before the race, I had to take my mountain bike into the shop (go figure) because the brakes were all kinds of squishy.  Evidently the rotors were bent out of shape, they needed to be bled, and probably other things that the wonderful guys at Bicycle-Pro didn't bother telling me because they know I get depressed when something is wrong with my less-than-high-end mountain bike.
Finally I got out to the course to pick up number, and I also rode one last lap of the course and ran the course itself.  I hadn't run the course at all in the offseason because it's damn near impossible to follow even during the race, it's so twisty and scramble-like, so I wasn't going to try to do it off of a cue sheet.  I'm glad I did that because I'd forgotten that despite the cyclocross-like bike course, the run was anything but that.  It wasn't hilly (despite the so-called "Forked River Mountains") but it was so tight around trees and weaving and hitting your 6'6" head on branches every other step, and sometimes it was best to just run towards the next red arrow with no single clear best path.
Race morning was COLD.  I wasn't 100% sure what I was going to do to deal with that, so I brought everything.  I ended up deciding I would go barefoot on the 1/4 mi trail run up to T1, but I would put on arm warmers while I ran.  I had booties on my bike shoes, but I would not wear socks.  I also had gloves set out to put on once I started moving.  The temperature was somewhere in the upper 40s at the start I believe, and the water wasn't a whole lot warmer.  Warming up I felt like I had ice cream-style brain freeze, but just decided that'd be extra incentive to try to break in the swim early.
Swim: 11:50.8 (4th) swim file
The swim was actually in a slightly different part of the lake this year because it was so shallow.  I'm glad I got away early because I could see out of the corner of my eye that farther back, things got very backed up at the buoys with people standing up.  I only stood up rounding the buoy near the start of the swim to start the second lap and to turn in back towards the beach.  I'm not 100% sure where the timing mats were, but I also noticed that in general the times are slow.  I felt like I had a pretty good swim and was happy though.
T1: 2:54.2 (22nd)
This was a strange one.  Some people (including me last year) put bike shoes on down by the water after stripping wetsuits.  This year I decided because my feet were already numb and because I wanted to be the first one out of the water and maintain any advantage I had, I would do the run up barefoot.  It worked; I didn't step on any roots.  It meant I had to do a full T1 in the transition area, while other people just grabbed their bikes and left, but all in all, I ended up the first one out on the bike course, which I think is the first time that's ever happened to me.  Usually any time I've taken the lead of a race it's been on the bike after having a top pack swim, but not a lead swim.  Also in my haste, I decided to forego the gloves.
Bike: 54:03.6 (14th) inaccurate speed and distance on ride file
So I didn't realize that I was leading until probably two miles in when another rider caught me and I asked what place we were in.  We worked off each other for a bit (drafting=ok in XTERRA, and on this course it actually works!) and then a third rider caught us.  The three of us stayed together for a while until another guy FLEW by us and the original guy who caught up to me dropped off, so it was just me and one other in 2nd/3rd.  I let him lead the flatter, faster sections so I could catch a draft, but I made sure to get in front for the technical sections of the course because I didn't want to get rubber banded backwards due to my lack of handling skills.  Finally another guy caught up right at the end of the first lap.  He was clearly a better rider than both of us, but we could stick on him for the faster sections.  He put a good gap on us after the only really narrow part of the trail that my bars are almost too wide for.  At this point, my riding buddy led the effort for us to try to bridge back up with the other guy who was now a ways ahead and in 2nd place (don't forget the guy who flew past us and we knew we weren't going to catch).  I was pushing extra hard coming into one tight turn.  Last year it was through a gate but the gate was closed this year, causing us to go through a narrow opening next to the gate.  The problem was, you ended up having to quickly turn left after passing through the opening, and there was some REALLY soft sand, especially on the second lap.  I fell.  Then, because it was so damn cold and I'd been pushing so hard, my legs were like jelly, I had mud in my cleats, and clipping back in was harder than usual.  I lost quite a bit of time and at this point, a few riders closed in on me, dropping me into 7th or 8th, when I'd been solidly in a 2/3/4 group only a minute or two earlier!  I was eventually able to catch back up some ground with my new group of riders approximately 5-9 and I came off the bike in 7th according to my mom.
Entering into T2; haven't decided how I feel about the ITU suit in XTERRA look yet
T2: :37.8 (9th)
My mountain bike shoes don't lend themselves to unclipping while riding, so that made for a bit more of a transition than I am used to.  Also, I think with the cold my brain wasn't working right and I definitely didn't have 100% dexterity, because my shoes were harder to put on than usual, and I nearly forgot to take off my helmet.  The first few hundred feet I had to double check to make sure I wasn't running in my bike shoes still because my feet were numb and it felt like I was on platforms of some sort.  Don't worry, I wasn't.
Run: 23:00.9 (6th) run file
I learned my lesson at Nationals last weekend, but I still knew this was a short enough run that I could kind of afford to blow up.  I also was glad I'd run the day before because I knew when it was important to make a pass.  Certain sections of the run were so full of log jumps, swamps, and other stuff that you couldn't make up any ground, so it wasn't worth the expended heart rate as far as I was concerned.  When I was going hard, there were definitely times I was able to dip into the sub-6 range, which made me happy.  I got passed early on in the run by one guy who eventually ran his way into second place, and I also picked off one athlete who came into T2 a few seconds before me.  Otherwise, I was just running on my own.  Every now and then I saw a glimpse of the next behind me and I'd make extra sure to push it in the next straight stretch, knowing that I was at least holding a top 5 spot.  With a little more time, I would have been able to pick off for fourth place, but alas, XTERRA runs are not very long, nor do they lend themselves to making up huge gaps.  I held off the guy behind me who was clearly gaining by kicking like crazy the dirt road section that is right by the finish line but in the opposite direction, about 1/4 mi left on the course.  Right after that it enters a rather technical trail again before coming back out on the dirt road in the other direction towards the finish.  I was able to put enough gap that I didn't have to worry about it, fortunately.
Core strength? What's that?

Overall: 1:32:27.5, 5th/170 finishers overall, 1st M20-24
I'm happy.  I knocked nearly 10 minutes off last year's time.  I attribute that to really a comprehensive improvement.  I definitely swam better and harder, my bike fitness and especially my handling have improved drastically, and my run has improved a little bit, but my run knowledge has improved a lot as well.  I'm also getting experienced enough at this whole thing to figure out issues like my T1 dilemma.  I wanted to win this race, but based on who showed up, that wasn't going to happen, and I am fine with that. This is a good start to my mini block of offroad and just generally non-TT style races.  Next up I have two more XTERRAs, another draft legal, and Escape from Alcatraz.  None of those will involve my beloved Giant Trinity Advanced, but I think I can live without it.  If I really feel the need, perhaps I can do a weeknight time trial, but I think it's good to mix things up from time to time, which is why I took up XTERRA in the first place.
Forget what I just said in the paragraph above.  I'm in XTERRA for the prizes



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