Thursday, November 3, 2016

XTERRA World Championships

I would say that racing my first elite world championship was an eye opener, but I got so much mud in my eyes that I have been unable to open them completely for the past week.
A lot of people get their “itch” to race a triathlon by seeing the broadcast on NBC of the Ironman World Championships and find themselves inspired to go out and do one themselves, even if they’ll likely never actually race there and also may never do an Ironman-distance event (which, by the way, is FINE!). For me, it was something of a natural growth out of being a high school swimmer and cross country runner, but a memory sticks in my head of people running their bikes across golf course-like grass in a tropical setting on television from years before I ever signed up for my first race. I now realize that I probably saw the XTERRA World Championships in its relative infancy.
I chose to race Maui this year with a long-term interest. Even though the course makes some tweaks from year to year, and even moved venues entirely a few years ago, I figured I would be able to get a good feel for the race, with my primary focus being on the Pan American Tour and, by extension, the Pan American Championships in Utah a month earlier. However, after seeing the signs of a potentially great race in Utah derailed by things outside of my control, I really wanted to hit Maui hard. In between the two races, I got the pleasantries of yet another hurricane hitting over a federal holiday, this time leaving some actual impact, forcing me to do a lot more trainer/road riding in the last week before leaving with all of the local trail systems flooded and completely unrideable. Nevertheless, I felt great heading into Maui, and was very fortunate to have my parents and brother there, as the trip literally wouldn't have happened without them.
Casual West Maui sunset picture from dinner earlier in the week.
Previewing the course was difficult enough on its own, as it truly is an absolute bear of a course. While XTERRA Beaver Creek and Utah might both have more climbing per mile, it all seems to come in one shot, and is rarely ever insanely steep. Maui never seems to allow a groove, and many of the flat and downhill sections are very slow-rolling, so it's just a very exhausting course. With ever-changing conditions, my tire selection felt like a college sophomore trying to choose a major.

The day before our race, this stream crossing had about a foot of water running through it, only about 400m from the finish on the run course. I was actually looking forward to it, but it actually dried back up before our race. But this is just how much water there was on the course.
With race morning came the largest ocean swell we'd seen all week, and I smiled. I properly found the best rip current I could, away from many of the faster swimmers on the start line, but managed to slot right into the back of the front group within the first 300m. Ultimately, the elastic snapped and the leaders got about 2 minutes on my group, but I found myself leading a group the majority of the way, save my accidental body surfing on top of somebody into shore. Whoops! We gradually pulled back some time to some stragglers who'd held onto the front group for a bit longer, and I felt like I put myself in a pretty good spot coming out of the water, taking the very long, uphill transition in stride, careful not to light my whole matchbook on fire a mere 20 minutes into the race.
On the golf cart paths and road out of transition, I settled in, allowing the insanity of that first part to sort itself out, though I ever-so-briefly sat on Sebastian Kienle's wheel (#lifegoals). Nevermind the fact that he was just putting on his gloves and shoes and then took off as soon as the road pitched upward. Somewhere there is a picture of me calmly sitting on his wheel. Through the early twisty climbs, I felt good, until we started to hit the really slippery stuff. At that point, Josiah caught me, then another #lifegoals when I rode a section he bobbled. Then he took off on the next climb, just like Kienle. But I did not know Josiah was human, so that made me feel better.
Not too muddy. Yet. Photo: Jesse Peters
Then we hit the upper part of the "bike" course, better known as the hiking section. It was just SO hard. It's really hard to explain to anybody who wasn't there, but it was simply unrelenting. Those steep climbs I mentioned earlier that are difficult even previewing the course? Impossible to ride without traction, and even difficult to push the bike up. At one point, I found myself sliding out on a descent, and just opted to slide on my butt, holding bike above my head, for the rest of the way. It seemed the best option. I'd tell you about the 300 different mechanical issues I had, but I don't think anybody was safe from that. Burped tires, hit-or-miss shifting, broken chains, sheared derailleurs, seized bearings were the name of the game. I was just glad to finally make it off the bike without any catastrophic issues or crashes. Then I remembered I had to run.
It's hard to appreciate just how muddy EVERYTHING was. It's taken almost two weeks to get my bike back and sorted. It was a constant "glasses on to protect from mud flying off the front wheel. Nope, now they're covered in mud and I can't see anything." Look for my water bottle and gels taped on the top tube, too. I had no choice but to eat mud. Photo: Jesse Peters 

If I plan on racing mostly off-road in the future, I'll make sure NOT to have a mostly-white kit. It's never getting clean.
The run course is gorgeous, but it hurts like hell at race speed. It's just a long, long, long uphill, followed by a downhill, but I was just in no shape to let anything loose by that point. Chris Ganter caught me near the top and tried to give a little motivation, which was nice as he's become my surrogate big brother this season it seems, but otherwise, it was simply a test of finishing, which is not a goal I've had in triathlon in a very long time. I came to the realization that I am still a long way away from truly "racing" the run portion of an XTERRA event, but that will come with time.
SO glad to be done.
Panda face paint or mud splatter?
The semi-interview in which I allowed the guy to call me "Mark" without correcting him, and I made my plans for a coffee-nap known to the world.
Strava Ride
Strava Run

Right after "what is your favorite race," people will commonly ask "what's the hardest race you've ever done?" For the latter, I've never had a particularly great answer, as I've struggled to compare an ultra-intense 40 minute Rev3 Rush with a 4 hour half with a very intense/deep field in an ITU race. 2016 XTERRA Worlds easily has become the answer to that question now, for me, and anything I've read or heard from long-time veterans of the race, including those who have done far longer, traditionally "tougher" events like Ironman, Race Across America, multiple-week stage races, ultramarathons, and so on...pretty much all of them are saying the same thing. Having now understood that, it puts my own performance into a bit of perspective, especially as I am still generally just trying to learn how to truly "race" a cross triathlon in the first place.

So that puts me into my "off-season" now. A week-plus into things, I'm enjoying the lack of focus, but I've so far spent most of my time just fixing my bike! Still, I'll have some time to enjoy having some sort of free time, just playing around on a bike, on a surfboard, whatever else for some time. Although I started racing in the elite division halfway through 2015, I've looked at this year as the first season I really tried to approach racing in a more professional manner, so I'll likely write something up on a reflection of that if I feel inclined to at some point. For a better way of following how I spend my time, some of the best ways to go about following, in rough order of probably the "best" way to find out what "Ian the triathlete is up to" are:

Strava: Ian King (Probably pretty boring the next week or two, still)
Instagram: @idking90 (#IoverusehashtagsandI'mnotashamed)
Snapchat: ik9064 (I promise my Instagram story and Snapchat story are not the same. Often similar, but not the same)
Facebook: Ian King (as long as you promise not to try to sell me fake Ray-Bans)

Really glad I got to share this race with my family, though. I wouldn't be able to do this stuff without them. All three of  them have always been so supportive of this crazy little sport, and getting to see me in this race I think really helped them realize that I've really found my "home" in cross triathlon. Plus, mom and dad's genes didn't hurt, either.

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