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.