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.