Saturday, October 1, 2016

So close! XTERRA Pan American Championship

I had what I am willing to call my best block of preparation ever leading into this race. I felt like I had done virtually everything right, even down to some great management of a flexible schedule over Labor Day Weekend when Hurricane Hermine was looking like it would at least disrupt my ability to train outside, if not be cause for me to be working for 4-5 days, 12-15 hours a day.
Gale force flags out at the Old Coast Guard Station! No, I didn't purposely choose my apartment to be three blocks from the Old Coast Guard Station, but it's kinda cool nonetheless that I walk by it all the time, and that they actually update the small craft/gale flags.

I chose to go to Utah a week out from the race after my disaster with altitude in Beaver Creek. While Utah "isn't that high" according to most people, when you live at 5 feet, a course ranging from 4,900 to 7,300 is pretty high. Previewing the course was amazing. It was a pretty conscious effort on my part not to overdo it, and the leaves were right in the middle of changing, so riding each day got prettier and prettier!
Pre-riding the course, I took a lot of photos. There was a wedding nearby, so this geofilter showed up on Snapchat, and I couldn't resist myself.
I'm not a huge fan of open water swimming except in races, but Pineview Reservoir makes an exception for that.

One day I got stuck on the road for my ride because it was too wet to ride the trails. Even then, Utah had this to offer.

Walter's Airbnb had this older-than-us arcade game, and we got some descending practice on it. We figured that it worked for Gwen Jorgensen to spend time on a motorcycle in real life, so this obviously had some benefit to us.

Race morning came nice and chilly, still somewhere in the 40s, with the water a LOT warmer than that. A few minutes before the swim, I made sure to try and line up near Karsten Madsen and Branden Rakita, both of whom I've swam with before, and I expected this to be a faster than usual swim because of just how deep the 33-man field was. By probably 600 meters, we did end up letting a gap open up, but there was no way I had any ability to close it, so I was content to stay with Karsten, Branden, Matt Lieto, Alex Modestou, and a few others. We ended up spotting about a minute to the leaders, probably more than most of us wanted to, but still a manageable gap in XTERRA.
You can almost see that I had almost a beard after not shaving for a week. Photo: Unleashed Coaching
The first few minutes of the bike were absolutely insane, not unlike an ITU race where you're sprinting to find wheels to hold while still trying to get situated on the bike. A short description of the course is: short stretch of flat trail and road leading to first trailhead and major climb, then shorter technical descent, then longer climb, then longer but easier descent into some final rollers into transition.
Click to expand it, but the elevation profile is pretty clear. If you care enough, red is heart rate, pink is power, and green is speed. The entire ride is on Strava.
Riding with Alex in the little rhythm-breakers rolling section near the top of the first climb. Photo: XTERRA
Making a 29er look like a 26er since 2011. Photo: Jesse Peters/XTERRA
I felt amazing riding up the first climb, holding my own better than I really felt I ever have, especially considering the depth of the field and some of the guys I knew would be coming behind me. I bobbled a bit on the first descent, but nothing major to rattle the confidence significantly or cost much time, again still feeling great and ready to make a move on the riders around me to start the second climb. That's when I felt my rear tire wash out and realized I had a flat. I don't carry a full spare because the amount of time it would take to stop and fully repair it like that would make my race a complete waste, as there's not much incentive to finish outside the or top 15 for series points. I jammed my emergency sealant and some CO2 in the tire, but it kept hissing and I hoped that just maybe the sealant would hit it and it would manage to hold a little bit of air. In that time, several of the guys that I was hoping not to see all day came by me. Still, I got back on with my partially deflated and still-leaking tire and chased HARD up that second climb. I started to even pull back some time on the last few guys to pass me, but my tire kept leaking until I had no air in it right near the top of the climb. At that point, I figured I had to get down anyway, so I just started going down without any air in the tire, fishtailing every switchback, rattling over every rock. I couldn't lean into any of the turns, and I know I gave up TONS of time on that descent, as some guys I'd never seen in races, including some of the front of the amateur field had caught up at that point. Then we hit the rollers and I kept just trashing my legs to stay in some sort of contact. I managed to get some good cheers from spectators out on the course impressed (or perhaps shocked at my stupidity to do something like that).
Getting off the bike, my legs said they were done and that running was not on today's list of activities anymore. Semi-fortunately, the first kilometer of the run is pretty much straight up a ski slope, so "run" was a very loose definition of what I did. I started to find my legs once it flattened out, making some passes here and there and just trying to hold on until we could absolutely bomb downhill for the final mile. My run split was far from exciting or braggable, but considering the shellacking I gave my legs trying to climb on a bare rim, I'll take it as a positive. I'm not positive on this either, but I think this might have been the first time I've ever improved my position in an elite field on the run, so that's a huge step in the right direction. Here's the file for that one.
Letting it go downhill. Photo: Unleashed Coaching
There's no sugar coating that it sucks to feel like I really had the skill and fitness to have a great race, but it got derailed by something mostly out of my control. I'll admit I played a little bit of the game of "well, I could have at least had this bike split, which puts me at T2 here, and with the same run I'm here....or maybe my run is a little better from not wrecking my legs and that puts me here...." It's agonizing, to say the least, but this is just a part of racing. It's inevitably part of any sort of triathlon, but certainly off-road racing introduces far more challenges and chances for things to go wrong.
As far as what's next, I'm now turning my focus towards the XTERRA World Championship in Maui at the end of October. I'm excited to take this same fitness and skill and put it out there on an even bigger stage to see where I truly fall.
For those keeping track: fries, a chocolate shake, a large Coke (that I refilled at least twice while waiting for my food to come), a double-double, and a single. No, I don't like animal style, now stop bothering me about the secret menu. I'm from the east coast.

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