Monday, April 24, 2017

El Viaje

At this point, we all know my triathloning is just a rouse for more South American wine and coffee. That said, performing in races means more money going to the coffee and wine fund. My decision to open the season with back to back races in Chile and Costa Rica came from a combination of the race schedule, my work schedule, and my cache of frequent flier miles.
Chile was a great experience from start to finish. There's always a bit of apprehension about a first year race, but you'd have never known it based on so much of the organization. The race organizer and my host family were beyond gracious, helping out wherever, whenever possible, like getting me to their triathlon club's gorgeous outdoor long course pool set in the Andes foothills.
Even if you don't like swimming, how can you not want to swim here?
Race day came, and it was...interesting. The start was fairly tame and not insanely fast, so I found some good feet early to follow while the superstar swimmers got rid of us mere mortals early. Within a couple hundred meters, I decided my offseason was over and GO TIME and I could bridge back to the trio just away from us. I couldn't and didn't, but, hey, I led my group out of the water, giving me a clean transition and a solid confidence boost.
4 K a day keeps the slow away. That's what I tell myself when I have to wake up at 4:15 to swim, at least.

I then rather stupidly drilled the first winding, flat 2 miles of the bike, hoping perhaps I could still bridge up to that next group before we hit the first climb on the bike. I didn't, and then it became evident that the flatlands of Virginia Beach are not apt training grounds for the desert foothills of the Andes. Go figure. The second, bigger climb was a bit more of a hemorrhaging of race position, but I seemed to finally find a bit of a groove near the end of the last climb and into the last descent. Then, to start the final 4-5 miles of flat dirt roads through vineyards, KAPOW. Broken chain. Whoops.At this point, I was maybe 400 meters from the transition/finish area if I quit, or about 4.5 miles if I ran the bike. At that point, I figured I hadn't really trained much in the past several days, and the 2017 version of the XTERRA Pan American Tour scores every race, so even finishing well down in the race could make a small difference at the end of the season. So that's exactly what I did. It sucked.
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Apparently I left the clutch off my rear derailleur, as well, based on the waviness of my chain on flat ground. To me, it makes sense that a clutch would actually make a broken chain MORE likely because it introduces more tension, so at least I can tell myself that this mistake didn't lead to the race-ruining mechanical.

The funny thing is I have no recollection why my left leg is bleeding. I guess that's XTERRA, though.
So, I set off on the run, not totally sure how to play it. I was pretty sure I couldn't make up any placings in the pro field, but after about 400m of being indecisive and thinking I might jog the run, I decided I wanted to put down a run split that made it VERY obvious that I had bike issues. So,that's what I did, and the couple of messages I got later that evening confirmed my strategy. However, my quads were not super jazzed about the unnecessary hard downhill running.
My quads hurt just from looking at this photo. The photographer had a lot of faith that I'd actually be under enough control to make the bend in the trail and not come crashing into him.
So, after the race, I got to enjoy a little bit of Santiago. It really is a great city, and I wish I'd had a bit more time there, though that's often the way this travel goes. Part of me says that some day, I'd like to go back and visit all the places I've raced, except actually see and experience the place. But there are unique little things that wouldn't come from being an ordinary tourist, so it's a mixed bag, I suppose. 
Two paths diverged in an Andean foothill desert, and I....

Normally my recovery spins take place in industrial parks surrounding hotels. Not the case here.
Wine from Argentina, unroasted coffee beans from Maui, now wine from Chile. Something tells me I should bring back a bowl of grits or something from Alabama next month. 
I made it into Costa Rica with plenty of time to spare, giving time to really relax a bit. Perhaps even more than Chile, though, I confined myself mostly to my room watching Netflix (Archer and Last Chance U, for those who are going to ask) for most of the time during the day, though, because I was far from prepared for the daily highs in the upper 90s. Part of my race week "entertainment" was getting updates from Airbnb sharing buddies, and Virginia friends Greg and Parker, who had escapades and adventures abound where driving overnight from Lynchburg, VA to Atlanta airport to make a connecting flight was one of the more innocuous parts of the trip. I attempted multiple times to capture an iguana but never quite got one, repaired an air conditioner, troubleshot our lack of running, yes. It was interesting. Previewing the course was interesting in its own right, as there were frequent encounters with cows, dogs, horses...really about whatever you can think of.
Race morning came and to just add to the comedy of errors was getting stuck in the soft sand on the beach well before dawn, then "Oh dear, there's a car coming behind us, I hope they can see us without any lights on." XTERRA events tend to have more humane start times, but when the daily high approaches 100 degrees, 6 a.m. is the humane start time.
Regardless, it was time to race! I felt very good about this course in previewing it, knowing much of the course would come down to a couple of short but selective climbs. I got off the start and tried hard to stay on Jean Phillipe Thibodeau's feet on the swim,but that plan failed shortly before the first buoy, and as usual I found myself behind Branden Rakita for the next couple hundred meters. After a few minutes behind Branden, I again decided it was go time and JP seemed human enough of a swimmer that we might be able to pull him back, and I also knew there were some strong bike-runners behind us. Right as we really started to claw back some time to start the second lap, I got a nice handful of jellyfish and came to an abrupt stop. Branden came back around and led for the rest of the second lap and we exited the water together, 12 seconds down to JP. I booked it up the beach and took off first of the three of us out of transition because I chose not to wear a swimskin after my beloved neoprene longjohn one ripped last year in Maui, and it paid off. Jean Phillipe came back around and took the lead while I adjusted my shoes and gloves on the beach, and Branden caught on before long. I inadvertently surged a bit going through the soft sand up from the beach onto the trails and found myself with a small gap, but figured I may as well push it until the first climb to give myself a safety buffer given my weak climbing. It then dawned on me..."IAN YOU ARE LEADING A PRO RACE DO NOT SCREW THIS UP!"
Who needs swimskins?

FINALLY, A MOUNTAIN BIKE COURSE I CAN PREPARE FOR IN VIRGINIA BEACH! I'm sitting second wheel here, shamelessly.
 Well, I did screw it up, of course. The first climb becomes a bit too steep to ride about halfway up, which is where Josiah managed to catch our leading trio (HOW DOES HE MAKE UP A MINUTE AND A HALF IN LESS THAN 2 FLAT MILES???), and the four of us started the first and only technical descent together. I bobbled a bit late on the descent coming out onto the fire road, and then they were gone. Eventually, Josiah pulled away from Branden and Jean Phillipe, but those two stayed glued together the rest of the ride and put about 2 minutes into me. Not too long after those guys left me, Kris Coddens caught and pretty much rode right through me. Then I rode the rest of the course singing Eric Carmen songs to myself.

The zip tie broke on my number plate on the beach section in the first 400m. It bothered me for the next hour-plus. Also I need to work on my grimace....Photo from August Teague.
Coasting down the final paved hill into transition, I saw Branden and JP trudging up the same hill to start the run, and body language said I might have a shot at getting one or both of them. A few minutes later, I realized that, no, everybody looks terrible going up that hill. Still, I knew Ryan Ignatz wasn't that far behind me and I was hoping to hold onto 5th place, but Ryan caught me around the halfway mark of the run. I hoped to go with him, but that didn't last very long. Still, XTERRA runs often can turn south very quickly, especially when it's 100 degrees in April, so I knew I had to keep the pressure on in the hopes somebody ahead of me might be struggling. That didn't happen, and I even managed to find myself scared by how close I was feeling to an epic meltdown with less than a mile to go, but I got through to the finish in easily my best every pro XTERRA finish of 6th place.

It was yet another rather quick turnaround, leaving the race the next day, but after almost two weeks living out of a suitcase and having to concentrate SO HARD to hold a conversation (my Spanish isn't what it used to be), I was grateful to get home.
I am fairly certain that driftwood is structural. I don't know how I feel about it.
Living on the east coast, I forget how magnificent west coast sunsets really can be.


  1. Nice race recap and way to endure the bike in Chile with your mechanical issues. Awesome race in CR and congrats on the 6th place finish.
    I'm going to be at Oak Mountain, I'll try and introduce myself!

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