10 April 2012

The Crown Jewel

The third race in the Asia Pacific tour is XTERRA Saipan, always quoted as "The Crown Jewel", it is something that has to meaning to anyone and it did not to me until I got to race it.  After a few days of familiarizing myself with the course and the island it was time to get it on for the last race of the series before I headed back home to my "reality".  I can't thank Russ and Jessica enough for opening up your hope to me for my time in Saipan, you guys went above and beyond helping me out, giving up your car which you didn't have to do, and providing me a bed and food and post race treats, you were fantastic and I really hope to come back next year to see you guys.

Off we go, Olivier (light blue), Cedric (dark blue), Me (black)
Running in for second lap
It was another early morning start and I was thankful for it as from all the stories it can get quite hot and steamy during the race.  After waking Russ and Jess in the early hours to get a ride down to the transition area I bumbled around in the dark for a bit getting set up, slowly the light started to creep in as I headed to the swim start.  Things were a bit delayed as a turn buoy decided to undo its tether and start floating away, moving targets in the swim are never fun.  So once things were locked down and the start line was semi-organized we hit the water.  I got out fast using a couple dolphin dives in the shallow water and headed to where I was hoping the first turn buoy would be.  I have seen quite a few things swimming in races in deeper clear water before but this water was easy to stand up in at any point and about half way to the first buoy a stingray glided by under me.  It didn't appear to be doing anything at all but it moved so swiftly it was gone almost before I could really note.  I focused back on the race and trying to be as smooth in the water as the ray and started to think that I hadn't seen any sign of Ben Allen go by as we made the first turn.  Normally in the swim I can spot the lead swimmers a head but here I had no idea where he was.  I charged through the first lap and across the short beach run still with no sign of him.  Olivier was on my feet through the swim as we exited after an uneventful second lap and I was hoping to tear off on to the bike.

Wireless descent in the grass
Limping along before Cedric powered by
Climbing Tapochau
The course starts similar to Guam with a road climb but it is shorter, I hoped that I would latch on to Olivier's wheel when he went by like in Guam but it was not to be as the legs just were not responding.  The course alternates between a dirt road or single track section and paved road through out the race, after a few bobbles on the first dirt section I was feeling the flow of the course and moving along through the trees.  On the uphills I never felt like I was moving anywhere though and Cedric flew by as we ascended Wireless road as has been his MO on the bike through the Asia series.  The descent off of Wireless is a fun singletrack that flows through head high grass and trees, as you get in the middle of the descent there are ruts that alternate from the left and right side of the trail and you weave through them.  On a sweeping right hand corner there is a rut right in the line that you want to take, I did the wrong thing and looked where I didn't want to go and that is exactly where I ended up.  After hitting the deck and getting some local Terra down the side of my shorts, I got the chain back on and took off down the trail again.  I stayed composed and incident free for the remained of that descent.  On the following road climb the first to pass was Takahiro who was consistenly getting stronger through the races.  After getting back in to the jungle Will passed and then once on it opened up Jens passed, and Graham followed and a short while later one we were back on the long road climb up Tapochau.  The climb up Tapochau is long and it progressively gets steeper toward the top and I knew I would need my little ring to help spin up and I tried to shift into it.  Click then nothing, still stuck in the same gear.  I stop and see that a stick is lodged in between the derailleur and my frame and it wont allow it to drop into the little ring.  I try to jam my fingers down and push it out but all I can do is get it to move a little bit, but it is enough and I am able to shift and I proceeded up the climb.  Although I don't feel great the gap is remaining consistent Will and Graham ahead as we reach the aid station and I reach to switch my bottles around.  That's when I notice I lost my second bottle with EFS that was in the cage behind my seat, it popped out in the crash and I didn't notice.  I slow and grab a bottle of water and a bike bottle of sports drink.  Since the bottled water won't stay in the cage I finish that as I peak out over the climb and toss the bottle and hit the decent back in the big ring.  After sliding through the Sound of Music I notice that Will is all of a sudden right in front of me.  I continue to make my way up to him and after navigating the rough rutted Evergreen section of 4x4 dirt tracks I pass him on the next climb and learn that his stomach just turned and he was feeling horrible.  It sucks to have that happen but it is something that we deal with.  As the climb kicks up a bit more I shift to the little ring and nothing happens, the stick was jarred back into a position where it won't go to the little ring.  I decided it is to close to the end and the climbs are short and I remain in the big ring and power up them.  Over the next two climbs Graham and Jens come back in to view and I catch them on the descent back in to transition.  The last few miles of the bike I felt good riding for the first time since the first few miles of the bike in Guam.

I grabbed the the ice and my bottle of EFS from my little cooler and chased Graham out of transition with Jens not far behind in pursuit of me.  It was a nice flat stretch that allowed me to get the legs rolling before we hit the trails but Graham was a bit quicker and slowly pulled away.  We got in to the jungle and it was a difficult run through some very tight trees where it was hard to keep your momentum there in addition to some very steep terrain as well.  I managed to hold Jens off for a bit but a couple miles in he passed me and there just wasn't the strength in the legs to stay with him.  As the legs got weaker the run was increasingly difficult, the trail was broken and uneven and you really needed to have quick feet which just was increasingly impossible.  Once in the creek bed I was at a slow jog as to not have a misstep and turn an ankle as it was hard enough on the rocky surface with the blister that had manufactured its way at the front of my right arch.  I cruised through the tunnels enjoying the darkness and cool breeze the blew through for the short time.  The remaining section of the creek bed after the tunnel is very tricky, there are a lot of spots to have to jump off of and the rocks are all very sharp edged and the blister only intensified the pain if I hit things wrong.  It seemed like forever but I made it to the road and my foot calmed down and I used the downhill to get the legs spinning before hitting the last section along the oceans edge and the beach.  I was very thankful that the beach was a nice hard pack as I don't think my legs could have fought the loose sand.  I crossed the line in 7th with a full range of emotions, happy to be done, sad that the trip was almost over, delighted for doing trip but depressed that it was not how I had hoped it would go.

I do not regret the trip at all and will do it again in a heartbeat.  Getting to meet so many new people that share the same passion and getting the unexpected surprise of meeting up with old friends in the strangest places as well.  I will highly recommend that if you are thinking of doing any of the races to commit and do them.  I know it is not easy but if you can do all three it is a great experience to travel to each place and experience them all.  If you can't do that then you have a one week trip in March to make for three years already planned!

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