Sunday, May 20, 2012

XTERRA King of the Hill

So this was my first "real" XTERRA of the year.  Jersey Devil is great, but it's more of  a slow road tri than a true XTERRA.  There's no climbing, no singletrack, no rocks...just lots of sand.  Don't get me wrong, I love it, but it's not the best test of one's mountain biking abilities.
King of the Hill, at Round Valley Recreation Area in Lebanon, NJ, is great.  I've raced a few of Green Brook Racing's races before, Buckman in 2010 and their turkey trot last year, so I knew to expect a fun grasroots sort of race, and that's exactly what I got.  The things I remember most about Green Brook Racing are the race director himself, Joe Patanella, the post-race candy (vs. fruit and bagels), and the awards ceremony pushup contests that I am too much of a wimp to ever participate in.  This was my last local race in NJ, which is weird.
Anyway, the day after Jersey Devil, I actually went up to Round Valley and tried to ride the course.  In a lack of foresight though, I didn't print out the course, so I tried to load it up as a PDF on my iPhone, but no luck...not the best 3G in a somewhat remote state park.  So I rode the main trail, which turned out to actually be more or less the course but backwards.
I got home in the afternoon before the race after doing graduation practice and stuff on Saturday morning, so I had enough time to make those little pre-race tweaks at my parents' house.  Race morning I drove up the ~1 hr to the race.  One thing I love about XTERRA is that I don't have to wake up at 4:30 or some other absurd hour because this race's 10 am start time isn't uncommon, so that makes for a more pleasant morning.  Before the race I rode my MTB on the road a little bit and on the grass alongside the road to make sure everything was working right, and up one quick little rocky climb, then I rode part of the run course as well before setting up transition.  After that I ran about 2/3 of the run course and then got in the water and swam about 4 out-and-backs to the turnaround buoy.  I've found that a substantial warmup always helps me a lot.  Maybe if I raced longer it might be different, but at my short distance races where it's high intensity from gun to finish, I need to be sweating/HR near race levels at the start.

Swim 1/2 mi: 11:53-6th
This one actually started with about a 200 yard run along the beach so they started us along with the duathletes.  I ran as close to the water as I could on the harder sand, settling into second in the sprint, but I quickly took the lead once we were in the water.  Gradually a few people caught up to me including Nick Walulik, fellow NECTC alum from Stevens, a former NCAA swimmer in his first XTERRA.  Nick actually led out of the water, but I was in a little mini-pack.  After the beach run, it was an out-back-dive back in-out-back onto the beach into T1.  I crashed in a crit the weekend before, so I hadn't been in the pool much with a banged up hand, elbow, knee, etc, so I was pleased to keep my front-of-XTERRA swim.
Swim exit.  Notice the athlete entering for lap two; I did lap a few athletes on the backside of my second lap
T1: 0:42-1st
Normally I don't write about transitions, but I also don't normally have the fastest.  I didn't think it was particularly fast, as I actually put  my shoes on in transition rather than start with them on the bike.  There's somewhat of a reputation that XTERRAists tend to be weaker swimmers and transitioners, and that would seem to be true if you compare my swim and transition to a collegiate or draft legal race.
Bike 11/12? mi: 59:08-6th (speed magnet on wheel got turned, so my speed/dist isn't accurate)
I was out onto the course second behind Nick, but I passed him on one of the first short climbs. This course is very up and down, with not much flat ground.  There isn't much true singletrack, but the climbs and rocky descents are plenty tricky.  There's one climb in particular that is just miles upon miles, at least so it seems.  This was right about when I lost the lead to another rider, but managed to stick on his wheel for a little while, and he basically alerted me to the climb.  I didn't realize I was on it until about halfway up when I realized I was struggling to keep upright I was going so slow and there were so many rocks.  Over the course of the climb I actually got off and walked a few sections.  I figured it wasn't worth burning the matches to "ride" 2.3 mph and risk falling over or flatting.  That's a major difference in XTERRA that you don't see on the road: sometimes you absolutely have to put your ego away and either go for the granny gear or even walk.  There are just so many decisions and it's just so much more dynamic than the "I'm going to ride at exactly XXX Watts or mph and set an alarm to tell me when I am more than 5% away on either end from that value" that you see on the road (obviously that's an extreme example)  Anyway, after the climb you get rewarded with some terrifying rock descents where there isn't much of a clear line, you just have to point your bike and hope not to flat or fall.  As Nick said "some of those it was just like a field of rock".  After those descents you get a section of fire road.  The fire road is where I definitely made up some time.  At that point I was in 4th and was able to close the gap to the next rider by a lot before we hit the last bit of trail before T2.  I was also able to use it to open up on 5th place, who was clearly gaining on me on all of those descents.  He eventually passed me again on a rocky climb towards the end of the run, but I stuck within a few seconds of him entering T2.
Coming into T2 in 5th, I left in 4th.


T2: 0:24-2nd
Again, I didn't even take my shoes off before dismounting, and I actually changed out sunglasses from a light lens Oakley on the bike to a dark lens Rudy Project on the run...yet somehow I was still one of the quickest.
Run 3.1 mi: 22:44-3rd
I managed to come out in 4th.  For the first almost-mile, the run follows the same bike path and road as the bike course, then it enters a different trail and goes up "Toboggan Hill."  A few spectators were near the turnoff for the hill and all laughed when I let out a nice expletive as soon as I turned and saw up the hill.  It's only about a quarter mile long, but it's an average of about 20%.  Because I was in 4th and trying to run my way onto the podium, I ran the first part until I was about halfway up when I happened to see on my Garmin that I was "running" a 17:56 mile and was still losing ground to 3rd place.  I decided at that point it was OK to walk the rest of the uphill.  Immediately upon reaching the top, you go right back down about halfway on the other side, turn around, and back up.  The second up isn't nearly as bad, so I ran it and I could see then that 5th place had lost a little ground on the hill.  I kept running hard though in the hopes that maybe one of the other three in front would charge the hill and then be left with nothing.  With about 3/4 miles to go though, I could see around a bend that there was nobody near me in front or in back, so I turned down the effort.  I knew I had another race the next week and there was no use killing myself when I was solidly in 4th place.  I was also kind of glad that I didn't have to worry about sprinting on the soft sand beach finish.
This was unpleasant.
Overall: 1:34:51, 4th overall, 1st M20-24
My best XTERRA finish ever and it was on a legitimate, challenging course.  I'm learning a lot about this sport, but it's still very, very clear that I need to get better on the mountain bike if I want to be much more competitive.  Having a fast swim is nice for some courses with lots of early singletrack, but I can't keep trying to win an XTERRA on the swim...it just doesn't happen that way.
She asked me if I ever stretched...I guess that means my IT band was a wee bit tight.

The XTERRA ice pack: A rock shot off my front wheel  and left a nice bump on my leg.  We couldn't find an ice pack, but there was a cooler with some ice in it, a rubber glove, and some clear packing tape.

My dashboard buddy from the turkey trot now has a friend. I love the Green Brook Racing trophies

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