Saturday, August 27, 2016

A few days late on National Dog Day

There's a saying about the dog days of summer, though, or something like that. In the past, this has been a time in the season where I'll frequently struggle with motivation and race too frequently, finding myself out of shape and in need of panic training before a late season focus race.
Following Armed Forces, I started finally getting out and exploring the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains/Shenandoah Valley area with some solid training trips, either weekends or just a long day there and back. Frankly, I regret that I didn’t do this more in the first 3 years of living in Virginia, because I just never realized how awesome that area really is.
Atop Signal Knob at the very northern tip of Massanutten Mountain and George Washington National Forest. Everybody talks about Front Royal, VA for road riding because it's the end of Skyline Drive, but there are some amazing backcountry trails there.

I've now ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway like a proper cyclist from the east coast. However, I've only ridden about a 2 mile stretch of it that connects two trailheads. 
For racing, I had a mid-July back to back stint of racing at XTERRA Victoria in British Columbia, and XTERRA Beaver Creek in Colorado. Victoria was a bit of a disappointing race, as I just felt flat on the swim and missed the lead group, had nothing on climbs, and rode the technical sections of the course poorly. This led to getting off the bike pretty much way out of contention, so a good chunk of my run was focused on trying not to eat it on the really difficult downhill each lap. Of course in doing so, I tripped over a small root on the flat gravel road part of the course. Regardless, Victoria was a really cool place, and I subsisted entirely on Tim Horton's for the time I spent there.
Between Victoria and Beaver Creek, I got to spend a few days in Fort Collins with Coach Mace where I'm pretty sure he was doing his best to get me to seek a commission in the Air Force so I can get myself stationed there. Maybe some time after the Coast Guard...
I opted to head up to Beaver Creek/Vail relatively late to avoid getting destroyed by the ultra-high altitude, combined with talking to some of the more experienced XTERRA guys who assured me that there was little to no reason to do much course previewing. Staying in the house of roadie converts at Casa de O’Neill, it was actually pretty cool to be the “experienced” one in the group, as I always feel like a complete newbie at XTERRA races.
Because of its proximity to the Front Range and relatively non-technical course, Beaver Creek draws a different crowd from most other XTERRAs. This made for a faster than usual swim, causing me to yo-yo off the front group for the first lap one too many times until the elastic snapped and I was hoping somebody would turn the oxygen back on at 7,000 ft. I had this idea in my head of pushing the hell out of the climb and staying with the strong guys when they came by me, but my legs and lungs said otherwise. I pulled a little time back on the miniature descent on whoever was around me, then lost it again on the second mini climb, pulled back some more on the longer (but still short) descent into T2. Then, somehow I managed to cover the not quite 10km of trail running, though I pretty much don't remember it. Looking at my split and file, I'm not sure I want to. I ended up spending almost two hours in the medical tent afterward after being dizzy and having an irregular, low heartbeat at the finish.
Go up! XTERRA Beaver Creek near the top of the climb. Photo by Jesse Peters.
No recollection of this taking place. XTERRA Beaver Creek finish. Photo by Jesse Peters

Nevertheless, I got to work preparing to go fast in a straight line while riding upside down for the Luray Triathlon, a double race weekend. It ended up being an awesome experience, made great by the area (those Blue Mountains get me every time), the race environment, race weekend, and all the other people throughout the weekend itself.
Saturday’s international had me getting dropped by John Kenny after 150m of the swim, then feeling sorry for myself and swimming too slow the rest of the way. Eventually somewhere on the bike, Adam Otsot and Colin Riley caught me and I did my best to stay in touch until Colin flatted. Despite getting off the bike in 3rd, I ended up coming 7th after a struggle-bus of a run. Nevertheless, I was in an awesome place and got to play around in the mountains, including an attempt to go to the epic Page County Fair, but it wasn’t open until the following day, opening up with lawnmower racing. Still, there was lakeside sunset wine. It’s hard to argue with that.
Go up! (Time trial bike edition) cresting the final climb on the course at Luray International. I launched an attack on the climb before this one in the sprint because I thought it was this one. Photo via Luray Triathlon

It's like where I grew up in NJ, only there are mountain ridges in all directions beyond the farms. Photo via Luray Triathlon

I got to have a larger cheering section on Sunday from new friends from lakeside sunset wine. I’d like to think this was part of the reason I stayed a lot closer to John's feet in the swim, enabling me to bridge up to him by a few miles into the bike. We traded leads back and forth for a while with an official very carefully watching the whole time, causing me to realize that I’d almost completely forgotten what a legal draft zone looks like after racing nothing but off-road and draft-legal this year. I played it safe and tried to give a 2 second gap when John was in front, knowing 10 m/s is about 22 mph, so I was usually 20m or more behind him with that fudge factor.  On the home stretch, Colin and Adam caught us again, and Adam just kept going, while John, Colin, and I ended up staying more or less together the rest of the way, save my accidental attack on what I thought was the last climb, but turned out to be the second to last one. I paid for that. Whoops. I took off on the run in 3rd behind Adam and Colin, which is exactly how it stayed, despite the evil yet beautiful uphill second half of the course.

You'll have to pry this beyond the knee, non-textile swim skin from my cold, dead hands for non-ITU/WTC events. Exiting the water at Luray Sprint. Photo via Luray Triathlon

Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads...approaching the finish at Luray Sprint.

With the result, I ended up third for the combined Hawksbill Double, behind Adam who won both days, and behind Ricky Flynn who showed all of us triathletes how to run on both days, but especially the International where he ran himself up into second place with the fastest split by several minutes. The weekend turned out to be a good showing and a great experience overall, a nice little confidence boost to get a decent result in a reasonably competitive field. It’s time to put the time trial bike away, though, and get excited for some more mountain biking!
Now I can properly decant all of my wine! Photo via Luray Triathlon

Luray views.
More Luray views, from part of the run course (albeit you don't get the pretty sunset racing in the morning).

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