XTerra Southeast Championships race report

Normally with an 11 hr drive, I’d have put some time into writing a good race report, but with a stack of other work to finish, this report got pushed way back. This is actually the first time in probably more than a decade that I’ve travelled so far just for a race, but with a few teammates to share the drive, a trip to Alabama seemed a great opportunity to get in another championship race in. For those unfamiliar with XTerra, regional races vary widely in race format and distance, while regional championship races generally maintain a consistent layout; 1.5 k swim, 30 k MTB, and 10 k run. Touted as the best MTB course on the XTerra circuit, Oak Mountain State Park lived up to the hype.

After an early morning start, John, Karl, and one of the local Luna Chix club riders, Audrey, made the 11 hr trek to Pelham, AL, forging the hotel and arriving at the park late Thursday afternoon for a full pre-ride of the MTB course. The course was a widely varying mix of roots, rocks, sand, mud, fire roads and lots of flowing single track, highlighted by a 2 mile climb and the infamous, albeit short, Blood Rock descent (video uploaded). This was a tricky set of rocky drops, that looked menacing from the bike, but really required controlled speed and confidence. After 10 total runs, I cleaned it on the last two and decided to call it a day from there. I was planning (hoping) for hot, dry conditions, but this spring has been anything but predictable and the anticipated thunderstorms turned into a deluge of rain from Friday afternoon through most of the MTB leg of the race, which changed some preparation, but not the overall strategy.

5:30 am, alarm is off and I’m making my way down for some breakfast before we head off to the race. With water temps at 67d, the swim is wetsuit legal for the first time in 8 years. I’m ambivalent about wearing a wetsuit because it kinda sucks getting in and out of, but it does add some nice buoyancy and probably some speed; frankly, I already swim slow enough, I can’t afford to lose more time. As expected, John was the first of us out of the water, then Karl, and 4 min later I pull my carcass on shore and work my way out of my wetsuit. Normally, my mental rehearsal is good enough to give me a good transition, but after 30 min of oxygen deprived swimming and a transition set-up in the middle of the transition area left me a bit disoriented, slowing my T1 time. Note self: Practice transitions.

As I posted on FB, “I don’t worry so much about the weather anymore. I hate the cold, never liked the rain and generally never did super in either, but fearing those conditions creates opportunities for others. I’m a poor swimmer, so I’m looking for opportunities!” Well I needed a lot of opportunities after my swim and went to work as soon as I hit the trails. The wet conditions had changed the conditions a good bit, and the good lines, especially on the roots and rocks, complicating the situation.

The back of the pack, however, is the worst place to be on single track, with a mix of total newbs, semi-experienced riders who are faster than the newbs, but still folks you have to pass. Fortunately the first section of trail is only 2 miles long, so it gave me time to refocus and fuel up. Hitting the first road section I made the most of the open road and made up more time, but I knew I was going to have to deliver some big watts on the climb if I was going to pull myself back into the race. Karl had jokingly asked how long it would take me to catch him; he figured the climb, but I wondered if it would be much later due to the single track and the fact that he was riding pretty fast on the pre-ride. We were both off, as I passed John about half-way up the climb as he battled with an errant tree limb. Early in the climb I was riding by groups, as I approached the summit, riders were few and far between, which meant that Blood Rock might be clear for a good run. However, as I descended down I spotted a rider climb off before the final drop, so had to make a split second decision to to dismount and get a clean run, or take the chance and ride it and hope he cleared out. In light of the conditions, I dismounted and maybe lost a few seconds and a good photo from the race. For the record, John, who didn’t clean Blood Rock in training, was the only one of us to ride it on race day.

Once past Blood Rock, there’s about 8 miles of fast single track left before transition. Despite picking up several more riders, Karl was still nowhere in site. Hitting T2, I once again got lost, and this time lost a good 20 sec locating my spot – NOTE TO SELF, PRACTICE TRANSITIONS! Finally with the sun creeping out, I hit out on the run and took a little piece of advice from the previous day to shorten my stride and increase my cadence to set a good rhythm. Going from the bike to the run can be tough, but I settled in nicely and once I headed into the woods I finally caught site of a familiar site up ahead, catching my man Karl with just 7 k left. I was on a good run and only lost 3 spots on the run, while making up 10. In the end, I came across the line in 2:52, with Karl 2 min back and John about 10 more. All and all it was a solid race for everyone, with some lessons remembered, new ones learned. Once the bikes were cleaned we piled back in the van and headed straight back for a 2 am arrival in Richmond.

For the record, here are some of my details and numbers for the day:
* Swim time 30:32, or 132nd – not sure how can lower that.
* Bike split was 37th fastest; I wonder how fast I could go from the front of the pack.
* I ran Stan’s No Tubes Crest ZTR wheels with Michelin Wild Gripper tires at 18 psi in the front and 19 psi in the back.
* My run was 43:20 or 7:13 min/mile
* Mx HR was 172, Avg was ~157, with ~2100 kcal burned.

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