This has been the most prolific year of racing for me in years — and by prolific, I mean that I had raced SIX whole races. I have been so grateful to be able to train and race at a level that approaches what I used to do. My time away from that level of competition has made me truly appreciate how fortunate we all are to “play” triathlon. All year long, my goal race has been the XTERRA USA Championships. I had prepared very well, so I was looking forward to mixing it up.
I had made my travel plans to arrive on Saturday morning in Reno. Having never raced at altitude I wanted to give myself the best chance of success. Generally accpeted understanding of altitude racing is that you have two choices: 1) Arrive 2-3 weeks before to adapt to the atlitude. 2) Arrive within 24 hours to limit the increasingly negative effects of the lower oxygen concentration. Not having 3 weeks to just go play in Lake Tahoe, I chose the latter. Because of this, I decided to ship my bike UPS so that it would arrive before I did, avoid any possibilities of delay in transit, and be ready to go. So I, along with Jenn, Frank and Stacey, shipped my bike, “guaranteed” to arrive on Friday 9/28. For reasons unbeknownst to all, mine was the only one of the four to arrive on time. Check Frank’s blog for his, “What can Brown NOT do for you!” rant.
And, of course, there is something about traveling that turns me into a complete knucklehead – or maybe traveling just reveals it. [See my blog from XTERRA in Maui last year!] Hmm… Anyway, after a drive to Dulles, a taxi to National, checking my bags with “seconds to spare” according to the sky cap, having my carry-on inspected because I had 3 drops of water in a water bottle, realizing I had dropped my ID back at security, running back to get it, and making my flight by about 2 minutes, I had an uneventful trip to Reno.
With morning air temps in the 20s (and snow in the mountains) the day before the race, the question on everyone’s lips was “What are you going to wear on the bike?” After much, hand-wringing, I decided on arm warmers with my tri jersey under my wetsuit and a short sleeve cycling jersey over. While I was certainly doubting my decision as I set up my transition area on the frost-covered grass, the sun peaking through the trees felt quite warm. Might as well go big!
While I wasn’t concerned particularly about the swim, my bare feet were freezing on the 1/4 mile walk from T1 to the lake. I was hoping the water, even at 57 degrees, might feel warm compared to the pavement. No such luck. I hopped in for a little stretch out swim and it was COLD. Bring on the ice cream headache! My breathlessness subsided after a couple minutes and I was ready to go. I found a 20 foot hole in the front of mass start, right in the middle and took it. At the gun I was away GREAT! No one to my right faster than me, and only a small bunch to the left. Had a good position, but when I went to transition from start speed to tempo speed, I could not relax and feel smooth. I found some feet and did my best, but never felt great. The short beach run between laps about KILLED me as it felt like a clown was making a balloon animal out of my lungs! Diving back into the water I was just happy to be moving forward. I held my position throughout the 2nd loop. And happy to hit shore in a solid position. Only thing I would have done differently would be to NOT put the arm warmers on inside my wetsuit. They chafed my arm and made peeling the wetsuit something out of a WWE Smackdown episode.
Despite my trepidation on my apparel choice before the race, I was feeling smart about it as I started the bike. As it turned out, it would be perfect mix for me that day. Amongst a few other riders, we rolled out for first mile on pavement. The words Jenn had said to me as we said our “Good Lucks” before the swim rang in my ears, words that carried me throughout the day, “Race YOUR race!” I set my tempo and watched several people pass me on the long (~40 minutes) fire road climb up Tunnel Creek Trail. I felt confident that my pacing would pay off later. At the top, the flat Flume Trail was all big ring, fast, twisty and fun. I felt good and pushed fairly hard. As we started the next climb up the Rim Trail, I quickly realized, however, that today was not going to be Eric’s day. I was riding steady, but any little bit of extra juice would send me right over the red line. I didn’t feel like I was breathing too hard. I just had not gas. The wheels started to come off and continually asked myself, “Am I racing MY race?” I was giving all I had, so emotionally I never allowed myself to get down.
One more tough, beautiful climb — yes, there was still some snow left up there at 8,000+ fee — and we bombed down some twisty, hair-pinned, bouldered, single track. I passed a few slower descenders, and then hit the fire road of Tunnel Creek Trail to the finish. Wheeeeeee! I have never ridden fast enough on the dirt to spin out my 42-11 (that IS the big chain ring, you roadies!). Mike Frasketti would later report to have hit 37 MPH on this section. Back to T2, I wondered what I would have left for the run.
Expecting the worst, I zipped out of transition and felt GREAT! ????? “How is this possible? Who cares?!” While I was not flying, I set a good tempo and steadily starting passing people, and no one was passing me J. Remarkably, the race organizers have found an almost flat 5k run loop (think the single track at Wakefield without going up to the power lines). There were several quick ups and downs, and I could feel myself on the verge of cramping. About a half mile from the end of the first lap, the first doozy of a cramp hit. I shuffled a few steps until it loosened up, and kept going. I managed a few more, “Oh-oh-oh’s” during the 2nd loop, but kept a strong, if not remarkable, pace to the finish. Still had plenty of energy to muster a big smile and appreciate the effort of the day. Final time 3:13:44, 7th in AG, 61st OA.
While this was not the result I was looking for, I was very pleased to know I put everything I had into my day. And for an “off” day, I have no business complaining with my place. To be true, I am far from satisfied and look forward to the next time I have the chance to race in this environment.
1) Just go race! Getting out there 1 day before definitely added some stress to the trip and it didn’t seem to help a bit with the alititude.
2) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. While I did drink on the bike, I needed to drink as if it were 20 degrees warmer. Despite being in the 40s and 50s for most of the race, I still ended up cramping.
3) Your best race is the one where you give your best – in preparation, in commitment, in effort, and in attitude.
4) No matter the outcome, racing with great friends is always better than racing alone.
Shout out to the ODC: Frank, Stacey, Vergil, Jenn, Mike F. (and his whole family that came to support him!), and Scud. You can be my wingmen any time.
Damian, Pierre & Kathy, we all missed you out there and can’t wait to be hitting the trails with you again soon!
Many thanks to Mark Smith at Bonzai, for his support of my racing and Principle Fitness as a whole.
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