29 November 2011

XTERRA World Championship

XTERRA World Championships
October 23, Kapalua, Maui, HI
Race day finally greeted us on another gorgeous morning in Maui and I was thankful that it felt cool and was hoping that all the heat acclimatization had paid off. I started with my customary shower and breakfast before doing my final prep for the day to come.

Not a bad view to wake up to.
Knowing that the temperature and sun exposure would really hit me it was critical to have the necessary nutrition for the day.  As I lead in to the race I had two bottles I was going to drink before the start, one of water and the other with First Endurance EFS Orange and 3/4 of a scoop of Pre-Race. I set off and rode the few rolling miles to the venue for an easy warm up, and started to get my transition prepared.

I dialed the suspension on my Epic 29er toward the firm side accounting for the 3000 feet of climbing and the smoother trail than courses like Waco, Alabama and Richmond required. With the slightly looser conditions I went with a knobbier Schwalbe Rocket Ron at 24psi on the front and the new Specialized Fast Trak on the rear at 28psi for faster rolling but still great traction.  This was not a course for the super slick tires.

Letting it hang loose before the melee.
After lubing up with 2Toms SportsShield and ButtShield to prevent chaffing, I headed to the beach for a little warm up and noticed the water was on the calmer side compared to when I had swum in the days before and there were no signs of the swell that had been talked about. I looked at where the guys were gathering and elected to try to sit on feet aligning to the left side where the strong swimmers were as opposed to try to work out my own line on the right. As we stood waiting for the gun there was an obvious change in the water, waves started crashing down on the beach and the chop picked up, then we were off.
I know I am in there somewhere.
It was a smoother start than expected as people werenʼt pushing around but I was not able to hook on to the feet of the faster swimmers as planned and was in the melee as we headed to the first buoy. As we got further out there was a strong current that was pushing left and it was a fight to round the buoy. During the run between laps on the beach I noticed the carnage from the swim, there was no definitive front group, it was spread out and the gap was much larger than I had hoped to see. I led the main pack through the second lap and had to fight for my position out of the water coming in about 2 min down from the leaders, much further back than desired.

Ah shade, something the other course did not provide.
A nice smooth roll out of transition allowed me to slide my feet in my Sidi Terraʼs and get the Ergon HX2 gloves on before we hit any serious hills or dirt. Right away I notice that my legs were not spinning like I had hoped to start the ride as we headed up a gradual paved path before it kicked up and on to the dirt. Not long after getting on the dirt Conrad rode by and I just focused on sticking to his wheel, which worked until we had to get around another rider and I was stuck until I could find another position to pass while Conrad rode away. I rode well though the technical sections in the first 3 miles but found myself struggling on the hills.  Once the trail opened up, I tried to focus on getting in the necessary nutrition and hydration. At the first aid station at 6 miles I sucked down the last of my large bottle of EFS, dropped it, switched my small bottle of EFS to the front bottle mount and grabbed a water bottle. I was in a mix of various riders, but I couldnʼt stick with anyone and, they were slowly getting away. On the last major climb I found a bit of energy and stuck with Mike Vine, a stellar mountain bike rider, and a few other guys he was riding with to the top. Knowing the various skill levels of the group I put in a large effort to be at the front as we hit the downhill and left everyone with the goal of catching as many people as possible and closing down the gap to riders ahead.

Constantly jockeying for position with others
The lush green of the new course
That was about the only thing that went well on the ride as I flew through, closing the gap to a few riders that were well over a minute ahead at the top of the climb. At the bottom grabbing a fresh bottle of water and getting in another gel and more EFS I tried to keep my forward progress over the last small climbs. Then the heat and sun hit.  It wasnʼt very noticeable until now but on a dragging climb after the aid station it felt like my skin was on fire. I went back and forth with Chris Legh on some small rollers before a more substantial climb allowed him to put a small gap on me. The affects of the heat were setting in and I was not as smooth on the technical section as I had been during my pre-rides.

Trying to grab everything on my way out of T2
The most critical part of my run was while I am in transition. I had a small insulated lunch bag to keep a bag of ice and an iced bottle of EFS to start the run with. The bag of ice was to help cool my core temperature and a cold bottle of EFS was to help cool me from the inside.  This was needed with the heat and knowing how much I sweat. The bottle was perfect and provided me with the hydration I needed for the hot run ahead.  I made a conscious decision to leave the bag of ice behind as I struggled to grab everything else I needed for the run and still maintain a fast transition.

The run is brutal, the first 3 miles are 90% uphill and it gets steeper towards the top before you get a nice decent back toward the beach. The immediate uphill makes it very hard to establish a comfortable stride or rhythm out of transition and I set out to use this time to get in as much fluid as I could.  I was hoping that the legs would be there on the run more than the bike. I felt decent and my legs were turning over but the one guy I saw ahead still disappeared as the trail started to wind through the trees.

I was glad that I added a bit more 2Toms BlisterShield in my shoes as the heat was really making me sweat and I could feel my feet sliding around in my shoes. I chipped away on the uphill but was inevitably caught by Mike Vine and Tim DeBoom at about the 2.5 mile mark. I was very relieved to reach the top of the climb around a small pond and knew that a decent descent was not long off. I was very happy to have my Inov-8 X-Talon 212 on for the extra grip in the loose dirt as I twisted through the trees and was jumping up over rocks and trees on the way down.

There is a nasty little hill just after mile 5 that really saps the legs but I powered through knowing that it was almost all downhill to the finish. I was able to release the legs a bit on the descent down to the beach just as Ryan Ignatz was catching me. Just after he passed, super fan and friend, Kathy Tank yelled as I was crossing the river bed that Ryan and Lance (Armstrong) were just ahead. All I could think was that Lance was 42 seconds ahead at Nationals and I wasnʼt going to let him get me this time. The last 300 meters are brutal; first is 100m on the beach where I caught sight of Lance before a short flat section, then the last 150 meters uphill to the finish. That is the hardest I have finished a race being in that exhausted state, closing slowly I managed to catch Lance just at the base of the hill, thought better of saying anything as I went by, and just focused on making sure I could open a gap and not let anyone else catch me.

I crossed the line in 20th overall, 18th Pro.
 Unfortunately it was not the race I was hoping for or expecting. I came in with two goals. The first, a top 10 finish, which was going to be quite a feat with the most impressive field of athletes ever at the World Champs. The second was that I wanted to beat Lance Armstrong.  Though I did achieve my second goal, it was not like how I wanted to cross it off.

What I am excited about is that I can walk away knowing that I was closer to the winner at Worlds than I had been in all the previous years speaking to how competitive the race was.  Huge congrats to Dan Hugo who shows what it means to never give up and put in the performance of the day.  He pushed everyone to their absolute limit, it is scary to think how good this guy is.

Here is a link to a highlight video of XTERRA World Champs

I am now on some down time letting the mind, body and soul loose and relax and get away from sport for a bit.  Hope that you will all do the same until next year.