Race morning dawned as all mornings this week. 70 degrees and cloudless skies. Since Xterra races often starting later in the morning — I think it’s a mountain biker thing — we had plenty of time to have breakfast, gather up our stuff and head down to the race course.
Caught up with Pierre and Kathy and chilled out before the race start, which was delayed 15 minutes for unknown reasons. The cannon fired and we hit the small surf in a 450 person mass start — pro’s and all. I got away clean and made it to the first turn buoy in good position. Exited the water at the end of the first loop next to Jamie Whitmore (two-time champion here). After the short beach run, I hit the water and moved up steadily on the 2nd loop. Hit the beach at 23:21, just 16 seconds behind Justin Thomas (JT), with whom I’d been staying all week along with his wife Julie. I was pleased.
Best thing about being out of the water early in Xterra is being able to maneuver as you like on the tight trails and pick the best lines. After a short road section we hit the first climb, a dirt/gravel road that went up and up. I paced myself b/c I knew that this was going to be a long day. I was feeling good, not great, but still passing as many people as I was passing until just before the first feed station when I dropped my chain and it got stuck between my spokes and the largest cog. It took me about a minute to dislodge the chain which was frustrating as I watched all the people I had passed on the climbs catch back up and pass me. No worries. This is Xterra. No one gets away without a little bit of hassle.
I continued to ride strong, but was starting feel the effects of the 2800 feet of elevation gain of the course. We topped out at 1400 feet at Ned’s Peak. This last climb was about 1 mile straight up and actually included a couple hudred yards of paved road that had me on the rivets using my granny gear (22-34, that’s 22 front chain ring, 34 rear!) Many people were standing by necessity. Didn’t make it to Deep Creek a couple weeks ago, but I can only hope that was not as steep as this!
After Ned’s peak is The Plunge. Where we drop 600+ feet in less than two miles on loose, nasty, sharp lava rock. It was the scariest thing I have ever done on a MTB because you really could not count on your bike going the way you pointed it. I got a little loose in one turn and got caught in the outside of the trail in the weeds. I had just about steered myself back to the trail with I washed out and fell sideways. Underneath all those weeds, of course was plenty of lava rock, and I thought, Ouch, lava rock is sharp and my shin had a nasty scrape. Other than that, I escaped unscathed.
A few rocky, rutted climbs later and we bombed back down that dirt/gravel path to the finish the bike. I was in a good position, but I knew I had lost some time. I wanted to have a steady run and just see where I would end up. This, however, would be one of the hardest runs of my life. We started out on the same road as the bike and then up, up, up for about 2 miles. It was rough. Had to stop and stretch out my cramping hamstrings 2-3 times. I was managing my energy levels and took a few walk breaks on the steeper sections to stay under control. On the way down I was able to make up time and pass a few people. When I reached the white sand beach at 4.5 miles I was feeling OK, but after 2 minutes on the 5-600m section of soft sand, I was DONE. I was passed by 3-4 people, but none in my age group, so I was OK with that!
Once I passed the last black sand beach section and made it the hotel golf course, I knew I was going to make it. Crossing the line I was elated. I had given everything I had and competed in the hardest, scariest race I had ever done — no disrespect to and Ironman or other road triathlon. Xterra is just a different kind of hurt. Never before had 8:27 per mile pace felt like such an accomplishment. I had simply hoped to race and compete with the best in the World today. To place in the top 10 would have been very gratifying. When I found out I had placed 5th, I was overwelmed.
After cleaning up my war wounds, I went back to watch Pierre and Kathy finish. Pierre had been nursing a badly sprained ankle for the last month, so he was going to make today a fun day. Kathy simply rocked. Passing people left and right she would later say she has never felt this strong on this course. She would place 2nd in the her age group, her highest placing ever at Worlds. She finished with style, turning a cartwheel across the line.
Results are posted at www.xterrplanet.com
More details and pictures to follow!