Sunday, October 23, 2005

2005 Xterra World Championship

Makena, Maui

Beach on race morning

Getting There
So here I am at the Xterra World Championship, this is the top of the mountain for the racing I devoted a big portion of my life for the past 2 years. There is a great feeling in the air the whole weekend leading up to the race. Sure, we’re Maui which is probably the most beautiful place in the world, with an incredible magic of it’s own, but you could just feel it the excitement.

I register and say hello to some old friends. Just in front of me is Peter Reid, 3 time Ironman world champion, cleaning off his bike from a ride on the practice course. Up in the lobby Olivier Marceau, Melanie McQuaid and countless other professionals at the top of their sport are milling about. There are camera crews roving the grounds and groups of people are busy setting things up for the race tomorrow. By far, the largest production I have seen yet…and, deserving or not, I am an actual competitor. Nearly all of the athletes here have qualified for this race in one way or another, but I missed by 3 minutes in Richmond. An at large bid brings me to Hawaii and now I’m starting to feel like I might not belong at this race.

I head out to pre-ride the course; it offers a small tasting of what is in store for us, lots of climbing, loose rocky descents, volcanic silt wafting in the air, lots of climbing, and lots of climbing. I manage ok and my legs feel great, I get in 2 laps and feel confident that I can handle this infamous course. The rocky parts are pretty similar to some local trails and they are much wider which can leave some extra room for error. I lower my tire pressure to account for the deep sand pits and to help cushion the rocks.

On race day I get to transition early to see that the expected brutal sun of the day seems to be replaced with an overcast sky. Angry seas greet the racers as we head down to the beach for the 1.5k swim. These angry seas are softened a bit with a rainbow that appears on the horizon. Seeing as I’m not the best swimmer, I take this as the island’s mana telling me that everything will be fine.

Swim start with obligatory Hawai'i rainbow

The Kahuna blasts the cannon and over 500 athletes race for the water. I am on the inside track to the buoy and fully expect to be pounded. As I get closer to the turn there is still relatively clear water ahead of me and room to get into a rhythm. This could be because a majority of the field is already head of me, hahaha. I only got my goggles kicked off once (salt water in the eye stings like a mother) and made it back to shore only moderately disoriented. I feel like the vast majority of the swim field is ahead of me, but it looks like there is quite a bit behind me too. I figure I’m middle of the pack, great considering the competition.

The second lap goes incredibly smooth and I did not make any ground, but I did not lose any either. I get out of the water staring up at the 10,000 foot volcano, Haleakala, that lies ahead and I can only hope I make it off of Madam Pele’s former playground in one piece. I blast through transition, blowing a kiss to Stacey and head out.

Out onto the road to the trail head and I’m surrounded by people. Lots of folks towards the back of the pack and as we start making our way up the volcano I begin picking my way back through the field. My legs feel great today on the bike so I keep a pretty aggressive pace. The run has always been my strong suit, so I figure I can go pretty hard and my legs will survive enough for a decent run.

After about the 160th consecutive hill, I see the trail still rising. It did this continuously over the first hour or so the bike. I pass Kate Major (Ironman superstar) and a few friends and am feeling great so I keep the fast pace. I pass a ton more people and hope for at least a decent run but my back and legs are starting to hurt a lot, I focus on drinking and spinning easy gears but the going is tough.

The downhills were no piece of cake either. Between loose lava rocks and deep silt it’s hard to keep the bike on the trail and it requires just as much energy as the climbs, so there is no rest. The descent is incredibly super fast and sketchy. If anyone gets in front of you, the volcanic silt billows up to make a smoke screen. So you can’t see the trail in front of you AND you are going 20-30 miles per hour praying for no surprises.

I cruise back into transition and see my support crew of Stacey, Vince, Nate, and Nate’s dad Mike and sister Mel (sorry!!). They get me charged to tackle the run. As I get to the rack I realize that there is still a huge amount of bikes still out on the course so I excited that I am in good position. I jet out of transition with the mind set of reeling in a few people and finishing strong.

On the first ½ mile to the trail head I get my breathing under control and begin to pass people. The run course is different so I don’t really know what to expect, but I could not have imagined what lies ahead. Once on the trail we start climbing. It was pretty tough but I’m trying to keep a steady (albeit, slow) pace. The trail proceeds to go up for the next 2.5 miles and completely demolishes me.

This run is killing me

Sprint for the finish
The uphills are killing me and I can’t see an end…..up, up, up, up. I had to walk a few sections of it because my legs would not respond. I definitely took it too hard on the bike. I can see a grueling finish and I resign myself to seeing it though. The going does not get any easier as people start catching and passing me. I tell myself to run my own race, but it is still frustrating to get caught pretty consistently.

Over the next mile or so I just try to stay in control and not fall down. The descents on the run are fast too with just as many loose rocks making a massive spill likely. When we finally get to some flat land I think that my troubles are over, but they have just begun. The last mile or two take us onto a few beaches and through a windy forest with sandy trails as well. This is where my legs fall apart. I try running down by the water but my legs are barely moving. I’m still pretending to run but I’m not really going anywhere. I know there is not much left but just cannot lift my legs any faster. This physical (and surprisingly mental) challenge continues for what feels like a life time.

Towards the end of the sand I get passed by Kate Major. Dang! And I wanted to beat a superstar...oh well. As I head back onto solid ground a fellow Xterra ambassador Jay finally reels me in. We have had many battles over the past 2 years. He offers me encouragement and I pretend that I’m not hurting as bad as I am, cursing my race strategy gone awry. With less than a quarter mile, I surge to drop him. He cheers me on as I pull away, except...I went too soon. Not 100 feet from the finish line Jay comes storming back and we sprint for the finish. I don’t know how but my legs are, but not fast enough. He beats me out at the line and we settle into 174 and 175 place overall and 25th and 26th in our age group of 46.

Post Race
I am completely spent and can hardly stand. For the next few minutes I continuously pour ice cold water over my head and drink just as much. What feels like a mighty battle is just one of hundreds that have taken place all morning over the landscape of southern Maui. Finishing 175 of over 500 in the world championship race makes me feel incredible. Despite falling apart at the end I still feel amazing and that I have met the challenge. What were feelings of insecurity and over-reaching before the race has changed into tremendous feelings of accomplishment and confidence.

This look says it all
I am so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity the pit myself against some of the best athletes in the world. As I sit here chewing on some starburst (hey, it’s the off season) I think that while I may not have qualified outright to be here, after surviving and finishing the hardest course on the planet, I now feel like I belong here competing against the best.….and while I will never be battling for 1st place, I’ll be battling for 175th place just as hard.


PS The post race party was a friggin blast. Check out our costumes.

PPS Thanks to Dr. Kathy and Eric for keeping me together through this long season when my body wanted to crumble, and, of course, thanks to Stacey for always being there.

Rest of the Trip
The rest of the time we were in Maui we saw and did some of the most incredible things. Maui is THE most beautiful place I have ever been on this planet, and it is true that you can feel it. We went snorkeling to Molokini, drive the Road to (and past) Hana, went to a Luau, went surfing, jumped off of cliffs into the ocean, ate incredible meals (thanks Mike), saw an Ozomatli concert and just had an incredible time, all in all. Vince and his friends showed us a great time. I would recommend a trip there, no matter the cost. Now if I can just convince Stacey that we should get married there.

Dolphins were showing off
One of the countless waterfalls on the way to Hana

Saturday, August 27, 2005

2005 Charlottesville Off Road Triathlon

Getting There
Walnut Creek, about 10 miles south of Charlottesville, once again, is the last stop for my Xterra point series season. The park and trails are fantastic, and once again, it was my favoritie race of the year. Nice lake, the best trails to race on, and a challenging run. Let get into it..

Running late gets Stacey and I down to our campsite well after dark. The race starts real early (8am) and it is already 10pm, so we scramble to git things together by car light. The night is gorgeous and I'm really looking forward to the race, so I unwind a bit and head to bed. I considered leaving the top off of the tent to enjoy the night, but knowing our track record (last 10+ camping trips have had rain) I decide to put the lid on. Good thing too, not an hour after I get to sleep does it start to rain...and continue to rain...and continue...for the 8+ hours.

I woke up and started to get ready and was considering being bummed about the rain, but then I thought about this entire season. It rained before every race that I camped, and at each and every one of those races I was incredibly pleased with my results. So I considered this to be a good sign and put a smile on.

Speaking of the season, coming into this race I was in 1st place for 30-34 men in the mid atlantic for the points series. I've definitely been shocked that I was actually in first place for nearly the entire season. I have one more race that I needed to perform well in to hold onto my lead. Only Konrad Heller could beat me. But in order to do so he had to not just beat me, he had to get 1st place in order to take the points lead.

Before I forget, the race is a 3/4 mile swim, 12 mile mountain bike, and a 4 mile trail run.

No time to warm up as they start calling us down to the water. I scramble to get my transition area setup, thankfully I'm getting pretty experienced at this so I'm not very worried and I take the few extra seconds needed to get things just right. I've learned that the biggest thing about transitions is to remain calm. Rushing around frantically will only make you screw something up and take longer. No time to ponder this thought though as they are herding us down to the lake and I'm late. Moooooooo

The race starts in 2 waves everyone below 35 goes first, then 3 minutes later everyone over 35. I get a great start and around the first bouy I'm at the tail land of the lead pack of around 10. I was not in the melee, I think I beat it to the first bouy and stayed in front of it for the rest of the swim. Finally feeling like I am having a decent swim. In the second lap I start veering off course a lot and I lose quite a bit of ground. By the time I reace the beach I'm in the middle of the 1st chase group a few minutes back

As I run up to transition I blow a kiss to Stacey and she tells me Konrad is out of the water about a minute in front of me. Not bad...except he started 3 MINUTES BACK!!!!! crap. For this race he is 35 but for the points series he is in 30-34. Not good, but I need to race my own race and not worry about anyone else....worrying about others just gets you into trouble as you set your pace too high and can't maintain. Just have fun....

I never could follow directions
After a real quick transistion I'm out on the bike course and it is wet. Wet, wet. The trails are twisty and curvy with lots of ups and down. So far so good. The bad part is all of the roots that have been saoking wet for 10 hours now. Makes for a tough course, especially since I'm riding Hutchie Pythons (these tires are not made for mud) At least everyone else has the same conditions so I just hammer out on the bike.

Unlike most other courses, this course is one big loop. I find myself getting passed a few times and wonder if maybe today is not my day. The fun course quickly makes me forget and I focus on having a good ride and keeping a good pace. About 1/3 through the bike my friend Roger catches me. He always catches me on the bike...always. I can usually catch him back on the run, but he is over 35 too, so he has also gained 3+ minutes on me. He also stated that it was his goal coming into the race to beat me specifically.....great....hahaha. However, he's a super nice guy and a great athlete so I'll just consider that a compliment ;-)

I start pushing a bigger gear to try to stop the masses from catching me as well. I start to pick my way back through the crowd and narrowly avoid at least 4 major crashes from slick roots and rocks to nearly shooting off course and into a ravine. The bigger gear is taking it's toll and I ratchet it back just a bit and decide it is better to save my legs for the run which has been my saving grace this year.

On the way back to the transition I pop out of the woods and see Stacey and my friend Aaron. I flash them the horns and keep motoring. Something about the horns (and horns) matter what I try to do they always come out automatically...something subliminal I'm sure, but hilarious nonetheless. I guess that is my old Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and Judas Priest days coming out. Oh stop, you listened to shitty music too.

I get into transition and fly out, I am about 15th overall and I figure Konrad has about 5 minutes up on me or so and it is time to try to reel him and Roger in.

Famous limp-wristed running style
Heading out on the run I start reeling people in. I'm super happy as I start by passing someone in my age group. Not sure how many are ahead of me but I figure a few. I just focus on controlling my breathing and keeping good form while I wait for my legs to come alive. At this point I'm just assuming that the hard bike did not kill my legs, but time will tell.

At about the 1/2 way mark of the run I pass a few more people, two of which are in my age group..sweet. Still no sign of Konrad or Roger though. As I pass these guys I drop the hammer a bit to get some separation, at this point in a race that is generally all you need to get away from someone. Nearly everyone is at their limit and even though I can't keep that pace up I figure if they *think* I can they might ease up a bit and it appears to be working.

There is a long gradual uphill of about a 3/4 mile and this is when the pain starts. My breathing is real heavy and my legs are getting hard to lift. I start tripping over things, but am trying to remain focused. I see my personal minstrels Aaron and Stacey and they totally get me going again, just in time...again.

Where's that oil-slick button?
As I come into a clearing I see a runner up in the distance, unmistakable for Roger. Now that I have him in sights I can concentrate on slowly reeling him in. There is about a mile left and I figure that Konrad is gone so I focus solely on passing Roger. I'm not sure if he can hear me behind him but he seems to be picking up the pace. I pull up even with him right as we get on the 3/4 mile road straight the finish line. Roger sticks with me as we tear down the road. I'm trying to drop him, but I can't. After about 2 minute I manage to get about 3 steps on him and he is right on my heels. I try to surge a few times but he matches me, with about 200 meters left I close my eyes and *try* to sprint...I glance over my shoudler with about 50 meters left and realize that he has let up and I get to the line about 10 steps in front of him. (Which means he beat me overall by 3 minutes)

Post Race
I'm soooo happy to be done. At least this year I did not have to storm off into the lake to cool off. The course was fantastic and the competition was even better. I finished in 2:05:31 good enough for 9th overall out of 130. Roger was 8th and Konrad was 7th. I actually won my age group...wohoo!!!! The second time I won my age group this year. Konrad won his too and for points got first....that means I am 2nd in the mid atlantic for the season. I guess I need to be bit more specific in what I wish for ;-) I'm nothing but happy though...what a fantastic year.

I qualified for nationals in Tahoe again this year, but regretfully Stacey and I wont be going.....because we are going to the World Championship in Maui instead!!!!!! Ridiculously excited. What a way to end a fantastic year. We are going for 10 days, 3 pre race and a full week after. I'm also really glad that I can take Stacey too, because she has been real supportive of my addiction all year (and last).

Thank yous
I also got a new sponsor, I'm racing for The Bike Lane in Burke, VA now. Todd, Anne, and everyone are great people, looking forward to a great relationship and positive experience. I also want to specifically thank Eric and Kathy without them keeping me focused and adjusted I would never have had the great season that I did. (two 1st place finishes, three 2nd place finishes, and 5th at the east coast championship) I never though I could achieve results like this ever, and I feel so fortunate that things fell into place because often hard work is simply not enough, but it helps.

Can't wait to get to Hawaii to tackle Haleakala, I hope she's gentle.....stay tuned....

Sunday, July 3, 2005

2005 XTERRA East Coast Championship

Getting There

This year XTERRA Richmond happened to fall on 4th of July weekend, the perfect start of a vacation for me. Post race I'd be heading for the Outer Banks of North Carolina and one of the best weeks ever, but first I had to survive this race.

Xterra Richmond is the one race on the east coast that gets a majority of the profession off road triathletes and the best of the best from nearly all the regions east of the mighty miss. It is a great chance to see how I stack up against not only the pros (hahaha) but also against the best age groupers. Last year was quite a fiasco for me with various mechanicals and cramping. After a year of training hard (and more to the point training smarter) I was hoping to have a much better race.

I got to Richmond the Friday before the race and got a sweet pre-ride in. The trails there are incredible with nealry 20+ miles of singletrack right in downtown Richmond up and along the James river. Truly incredible and really fun, racing or not....well maybe more fun when your not racing becuase all the associated pain is gone :-)

I got to the lot near Browns island on Friday afternoon about 3pm, a quick look at the thermometer in my car reads ONE HUNDRED DEGREES!!!!!! Holy crap, this could be bad. Luckily I happened upon Pro Xterra racer and all around great guy, Justin Thomas and his wife Julie. They were about to head out for a ride too, so we all went together. It's fun riding with someone that is such a better rider and athlete than you, it almost makes you better by osmosis. We had a fun but brutally hot ride. Turned out it took over 2 hours and I was a bit gassed. Hopefully I could recover before Sunday morning...

All weekend I had the company of some of my best friends in the world, Mike Hagan, Chris and Jen Fowler, Mark "Slutty" Sutton, Stephanie Ward, and...of course....Stacey. Mike and the Fowlers are my Richmond crew and they always show us the best time when we are in town, thanks. Chris would become the Greatest Fan Ever ® by the end of the weekend.

On race day I got to the race site real early to setup and get settled and not stress to much. It seemed like the heat had broken a bit but as 10am neared it just got hotter and hotter and I could tell it was going to be murder out there. After some warm up with Rob, I started to get myself ready mentally for the race start.


The swim course was a zig-zag this year. We were not allowed onto Belle Island because they were setting some fireworks show up and they did not want any racer to get blow'd up. Smart move I'd say. The river was FAR from clear, but not nearly as nasty as last year. This is downtown Richmond

I was in the 2nd wave this year, right behind the pros. Boom! Off they go, I have 2 minutes. I move upstream so that if the current drags me downstream at least I will hit other people instead of them getting dragged into me. Booom!!! off goes my wave and I sprint for the first buoy. I feel pretty good and for a while I appear to be getting ahead of some of the other people. This feeling does not last long and I am soon getting run over by bunches of people and falling back in the pack.

I maintain a middle of the pack swim for much of it, although I can feel myself getting hotter and hotter. That should generally not happen in the swim since there is, well, water everywhere. This is another indication of how hot and muderous it will be out there.

It seems that once a race starts I forget how to swim. In the past 2 years I have gone from the worst swimmer ever, literally, to a decent swimmer, but on race day I get all caught up and lose the form (except when I'm in a wetsuit). Today was no exception. I dont have nearly as good as swim as I would like, but it was not nearly as bad as it could be either. I'm in the middle or so of my wave with a lot of ground to make up. Nothing new...

After the run to transition I get on my bike pretty fast and try to catch Rob who had a better swim than me. He and I battle back and forth a bit but once we reach the fire road he takes off and literally leaves me in his dust. I try to pick up my pace and keep him in sight but I just dont have it. On top if that, I'm starting to hurt. Stomach issues and lower back ache start almost immediately.

The trails are dry and twisty, but fun as hell. I am killing (that's a good thing) the swoopy Buttermilk trails, but once we get into Forest Hills, I'm toasted and I can tell that the race today will be a battle of attrition. The heat has sapped all of my energy and trails that in the past few weeks I have ridden easily are tough and getting the better of me. I need help, just look at me.

Luckily help comes not once, not twice, but SIX times! Yes that is right, Fan of the Century, Chris Fowler, decides that he needs to help me every bit that he can, so he leads a group of 6 friends (Stacey included) around to various spots on the course to cheer me on. Everytime I feel like I can't make it, I turn a corner and there they are. Everyone is cheering, except Chris, he is going absolutely berserk and it was all just what I needed.

They pulled me through this bike course and I was happy to make it out alive. I metered back my ride a bit, knowing I was having a rough time, so that I could try to make up time on the run, which has been my unquestionable strong point this year. I enter transistion and surprisingly see Konrad (my age group, incredible racer) I high tail it out quickly, knowing I'll more than likely get pased by him on the run.

Just as I start, I see my coach Eric who had to bail because of a bad hoof. He tells me Rob is only about 1 minute ahead, so I set my mind solely on catching him. Holy crap is it hot out, my head feels like it is engulfed in flames. The first 2 miles are on pavement and they are brutal. Every aid station I stop and dump 3 waters over my head and drink one. It's only getting hotter.

I'm slowly gaining ground on a few other racers. Luckily many of them are in my age group. we are all in misery out where as the temerature soars toward 100 degrees and the course is exposed so the sun is just beating down on us.

I don't know how I'm holding it together (and holding Konrad off) but I keep on running. At the Manchester Bridge Stairs (Mayan Ruins) I catch Jay and Rob. The ruins are a set of railroad ties that go 100 feet or so nearly straight up, definteley climbing on all fours, legs burning. Rob is cramping and not looking good. After climbing to the top I try to put some time on them but I can't seem to do it, so I tell myself I won't turn around to look anymore, focus only on the finish line.

More aid stations, more water dumping. They can't come fast enough. Every step makes me want to quit and jump in the river. We scramble across the James River, it is more like bouldering, but it is fun (picture right). Well, it would have been way more fun if I wasn't burning up. With about a mile left I see that Jay is gaining on me, so on the hill up Belle Island I try to kick it up a notch and drop him. I figure if I can get out of his sight he won't be able to push himself using me as his goal.

By the time I make it to the suspension bridge I realize that no one will catch me and I barely survive to the finish. Countless more cups of water over my head, everything is a blur for the next little while I as cool down. I heard that Rob passed out and was taken to the medical tent, but sooooooo thankfully he is ok. This was one of the hardest tests mentally I have ever encountered racing, and, not surprisingly, once of the more satisfying.

Post Race
I managed to pull off 5th place in my age group, which is spectacular, as I was 28th last year. I was also 47th overall (126th last year) in a race with 30 pro triathletes. I finished in 2:34:53 and every single second if it was hard fought. It is amazing how well I feel I finished based on how I awful I felt out on the course. I would have sworn I was no better than 10th and probably a lot worse. I guess everyone was feeling the heat. This race was a great confidence boost for me but I could not have done it without my peeps dragging me through this race.

Most Importantly
The other thing that got me through this race was that I knew that is was not remotely close to the most important or singificant thing I would do this day. After saving my life (again) by driving me to the Outer Banks while I slept and groaned, Stacey and I went down to ocean where I asked her to marry me and she said YES!!!!!

Truly the best day of my life.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

2005 King of the Hill Off Road Triathlon

Getting there
In beautiful Lebanon, NJ was my next race. All jokes aside, it actually was beautiful. I know most people think Jersey is real dumpy, but if you get out of the immediate NYC area that resembles the surface of the Death Star, it can be quite charming.

Getting to Jersey is never (EVER!) easy, however, since I left from my newphew's communion in Long Island (congrats, Danny) it made it a bit more bareable, well, if it was not for the pouring rain that greeted us the entire time. But hey, at least we weren't camping.

Lebanon/Clinton actually have more restaurants than you can imagine, and this one in particualr Kirsten's, had really really good wood fired pizza that we chowed down on the night before. I ate waaaaaaaaay too much (as usual) and would feel it the whole next day.

Race Day
Race day morning greeted us as cold as ever. So cold that at least it made the 65 degree water feel warm. I was a bit unorganized getting everything together, registering, and waiting in the 400 person line for the ONE TOILET available, that I did not have any time to warm up. I just finished the hardest race ever last week and had just gotten over being completely sore. Oh well, no rest for the weary, I had to throw on the wetsuit fast and hoof it down the the beach.

This race started with a 1/4 mile run down the beach (in our wetsuits) then a quick left into the water to start the swim. For those that dont know, it sucks running before your swim. :-) The blood moves to your legs to get them going, and just as it gets there, you jump into the water, out of breath, and the blood now needs to find it's way back up to your shoulders and arms. My body is not very well adapted to this, so everytime a race starts like this I'm in trouble.

As I head out to the turn around, I feel like I'm drunk. I can't see, I'm out of breath, and I'm zig zagging all over the place. Somehow I manage to finish one lap, only drinking half of my body weight in water. At least it was clean(er). This picture (right) shows me after my first lap, COMPLETELY disoriented. (Dont you love the sign next to swimming...HA!)

I found a (somewhat) groove on the next lap and made some time up and did not drink anymore lake. The leaders have been out of the water for probalby 5 minutes, so I have some ground to make up. I exit the water, get the wetsuit off and hop on my bike pretty slowly. My lack of warm up time made me forget to unbuckle my shoes, and now that I'm cold and wet and disoriented I have a hard time unbuckling them. Feels like I'm using someone else's hands and they are wearing mittens! Eventually after talking dirty to my shoes I get on my bike and head out and damn! is the air cold on my wet self. Rob entered the transition area not long after me so I see him as I head out and hammer down the trail hoping he won't catch me.

As I head out on the bike, luckily, I feel pretty good. We get into some tight singletrack and I'm caught behind bikers. I carefully manage my way past some of them, but get stuck behind one guy that wont let me pass and wont speed up either. I sit (somewhat) patiently waiting for a good opportunity but he wont move when the trail widens a bit. I ask him again if I can pass and without a word he totally crashes in front of me and I literally had to jump over his bike to avoid having a yard sale myself. Luckily he was fine (he told me) and off I went.

The trail was not nearly as rocky as last week, but still had it's fair share of rocks and climbing. On some of the longer hills I still feel last weeks race in my legs and the going is rough. The trail and rocks are wet and pretty slippery and that makes the rocks more difficult than normal. After negotiating some hairy descents we get to a wide road lake side and start heading back. I'm all alone so I figure I must be doing pretty well, otherwise I'd be surrounded by people.

As I'm in one of the last sections of trail before getting back to run, I look over my shoulder....CRAP! Rob caught me. He gained on me (and passed me) every climb, and every descent I got back in front. We head into the 2nd transition together, and I'm hoping I find my legs because Rob is a great runner. I change realy quick and beat him out by about 10 seconds. I'm about to learn why it is called King of the Hill.

I head out on the run, and I floor it. I don't want to be caught, especially by one of my good friends and training partners. I'd never hear the end of it, although he's quite gracious. After about a mile of on and off road running I make a sharp right hand turn and realize I'm standing at the base of what looks like Mount Everest. This "hill" goes straight up for about a 1/4 mile. I was hoping for steps, or maybe an escalator or something. Unluckily, we had to run up it, or what would pass for running. I'm certain I could have walked faster.

I see a majority of the race leaders coming down this hill while I make my way up. None of them seem to be doing well, except for Konrad, who is in my age group. Crap! He said hello as if he was having the best time. I knew I would never catch him. The insane thing is we were all having fun, but it was just painful fun.

I finally make it to the top and turn around and just let my legs go. I haul down the hill very out of control but put some space on everyone behind me. On the road back to the beach I start singing out loud in a feeble attempt to stop my legs from hurting, but it was no use, last weeks race, plus this one has taken it's toll and I'm hurting. The picture here is of me mid song :-)

The last 1/4 mile is on the beach, and running on sand is reeaaaaaaaaally easy. I struggle, but hold on to the finish line, exhausted and ready for some well deserved rest.

My time was 1:38:53, good enough for 12th overall. I had a really good race and managed to get 2nd in my age group. This honor comes with a little trophy that I will proudly display on my bookcase. My first trophy since Little League baseball, when I was 10 years old. More importantly I got some good points in my quest for Nationals at the end of the year.

On the way home we had lunch with Rob and his wife and their 3 adorable kids. It was a great time. Stacey drove my tired ass the whole way back. I kept her good company sleeping in the passenger seat. She saved my life...again.

Until next time....

Sunday, May 15, 2005

2005 Odyssey Off-Road Triathlon

All over again

Here starts a new season of Xterra racing. Last year was incredible. I was privileged to race in some great places, to meet some wonderful people, and to learn a lot about myself. So who wouldn't want to do that all over again?

This time I have been asked to be an Xterra Ambassador which is a representative of the race series itself. We are around at all of these races to promote Xterra and get people involved on racing and to generally be a human face of the races. It is pretty hard to miss us at the races, look at these popsicle jerseys we get to wear ;-)

This year starts with some heavy competition and some large goals. I considered last year to be an overwhelming success. I was competitive in many races, and had a great time at each and every race. So this year I want to improve on that, qualify for Nationals again, and the lofty goal of qualifying for the World Championship in Hawaii in late October, but a helluva lot has to happen for these goals to be realized.

About 15 minutes south of Waynesboro, VA is Sherando Lake State Park. Home to the toughest Xterra in the whole point series. Ask anyone who has ever done this race and they will probably laugh at first, then make a painful face remembering the course. It is a race that takes everyone 4+ hours to finish. It is a mile swim in beautiful Sherando Lake, followed by an 8 mile run, then a 22 mile mountain bike. Most expert mountain bike races are 22 or so miles on their own, nevermind the mile swim or 8 mile run before hand. This has the making of the most greuling day ever.

Getting There
In keeping with tradition, when Stacey, Rob, Tucker, and myself arrive, we barely setup camp when one of the most hellatious thunderstorms rolls through the valley. Lightning everywhere, tents getting blown away, and most people's belongings getting generally drenched. We passed that time in my car watching the DVD of last years USA Championship race that Tucker and I did.

After the storm cleared we registered for our race and got to cooking dinner, it was a huuuge tray of baked ziti that I think I fed the entire campsite with. We hung out, traded war stories, worked on our bikes, and made some new friends (Jim Harman of EX2 Adventures). That night I got a great nights sleep and woke up early ready to get this season started, oh, and to use the john about 500 times.

Swim Start
So we setup our bikes and get to the lake. It is pretty cold, but thanks to the new wetsuit, I should be good to go. I warm up the wetsuit a few times, and talk to some old friends and some new friends as we all anxiously await the start. Rob and I devise a plan to stay together on the swim, run, and bike to keep each other focused and working hard. Great idea but these swim starts are crazy, and I generally have an awful swim so we wait to see how it all shakes out. BOOM! Off we go..

The one lap swim is good for me as it lets me settle into a pace and zone out. I was singing some songs to myself and trying not to swallow too much water. I veer wildly off course for a while until I remember how to look for the buoy while swimming. The first 1/2 of the swim I feel like I'm falling pretty far behind, but I tell myself it is a long race and to keep focused.

Heading back to shore I realize that there have not been many people around me the whole time and in actuality I have had my most comfortable swim ever. I did get kicked in the nose once, but my goggles stayed on so I guess I'm fine. Not like my nose could get any bigger. ;-) Swimming to shore I get clotheslined by a rope across the water, I manage to untangle myself and climb out of the water, and surprisingly almost everyone else is left in the water!! How could this be? I'm in about 15th place with a swim time of 19:12 (great for me). No time to think though, I have a long run ahead. Rob is out of the water right behind me, so I throw on my shoes and he tells me to head off and that he will catch up to me, as he can always do.

The first mile of the run is directly up the side of the mountain. Loose rocks, switchbacks, people are walking all over the place. My legs are on FIRE!!! and I stopped to walk a few times, but I was still passing people. I keep looking over my shoulder waiting to see Rob blow right past me.

After the first mile straight up, the trail rolls along the ridgeline then back down the mountain. I feel incredibly good and I push a real hard pace. Since running is my strongest lately I decide to go for it on the run and hope that I can hold most other people off on the bike. Who knows if it will work, I have never done a race this long, but I figure it is worth a shot. Towards the end of the run I realize I feel so good because I have never had a run BEFORE a bike. I hope I did not go out too fast, but I get an adrenaline rush when I realize that after the run I'm in 4TH PLACE OVERALL!!! I did the 8 mile run in 1:06:49 and all that remains is most ridiculous finish to a race ever. I blew a kiss to Stacey and was off on the bike dreading the pain that was about to come.

The 22 mile mountain bike is broken up into 2 laps. The first 2 miles are straight up the mountain, you literally have to carry your bike up the side of the mountain, then you negotiate 2 miles of rock gardens, then you haul ass back down the mountain and go at it again.

The first lap was murder. I was pouring sweat and my legs and back were killing me hauling my bike up that damned mountain. I let out a scream of relief when I got the top (forgetting that I had to do this again) and started out along the ridge line. This area was littered with rock gardens. Every bounce on the rocks drains energy from you..and there were a lot of rocks. I was tired and cramping and not even 1/2 way done with the bike course. By this time 2 people had passed me, but I still felt like everyone else must be hurting too, so I kept pushing.

Just when I thought I could not take anymore I reached the downhill. Screaming downhill, trying to rest, and the hell could this be fun? I dont know, but it was incredible. I was laughing the whole time at how hard they made this race, cursing the race organizers at the same time. :-)

Once at the bottom we rode through where the crowd was, I stopped to get another water bottle from Stacey, gave her a kiss and was off. It's soooo awesome to have someone there for you, it gives you that extra kick in the ass to keep going. I needed it, and she was there to give me that extra push to finish ANOTHER LAP!!!! Thanks cakes....

The rest of the 2nd lap I was entirely alone. I was riding like a scared rabbit. I knew I was having a great race, but I also felt like the entire field was just behind me around the corner waiting to pass me. I knew Rob (picture bottom right) was trying to pass me too, so I kept focused on the finish line. By the time I finally made it to the downhills, my legs were so tried I could barely stand up. I kept telling myself that once I get the finish line I can rest all I want, but just to get there...the last portion of the race is kind of blurry as I was trying to focus on the good and not the pain and I did not want anyone else to catch up with me.

I finally see the finish line and I got a quick boost of adrenaline to make it past the line!!!!!!

I had managed to hold everyone off on that last lap and had the best race of my life. My final time was 4:21:42 which was good enough for 6th place overall and 1st in my age group. This was my first age group victory ever, and in the hardest race of the whole series. I could not be more satisfied.

It was a long hard winter training with some bad crashes and injuries, but to pull through it and put it all together for one great race was what makes all of the hours, day, week, and months of training really pay off. And it was not great because I got 1st place, it was great because I was able to push myself way past what I thought my limits were and sustain it far longer than I though I could. My boundaries of what I consider myself capable of expanded as a result of this race, just as they expanded when I crossed the finish line of my first race. That is what you can learn about yourself when you are willing to go out on a limb and try something you are not sure is possible.

PS I was ridiculously sore for a whole week after the race, but received the best massages ever.

Special thanks to Will Ramos of 0Bounds for letting me use some of his fantastic photos.