Hello again boys and girls and welcome to another race report by Yours Truly. This one is going to get a bit long so bear with me here. I'm going to do a bit of a season recap and review of my preparation leading up to Maui but I'll also cover the trip itself and the days leading up to the race before going full on into the day and the suffering that transpired thereafter. It's a good ol' story and one that I hope you'll enjoy reading so buckle up kiddos and away we go!
As I mentioned earlier we're going to start this story with a bit of a season recap. If you have been following me, you know that I spent all of 2016 training for Ironman Lake Placid. If you haven't been following me, well, I spent all of 2016 training for Ironman Lake Placid. After finishing IMLP I decided that 140.6 was NOT my distance. I finished IMLP in a respectable 13:30 and change, well within my goal of 12-14 hours. What really struck me about my recovery after that and the rest of 2016 was how my central nervous system recovered... or rather, how long it took for it to recover. My muscles were good to go in a couple days for light efforts and I started working back into moderate workouts after a couple weeks. The interesting thing was my heart rate would jump straight up to Z4/Z5 (that, for those non athletes out there, is high. Z5 being the upper most zone at 165bpm + for me) almost immediately and just stay there even at low to moderate RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). Anyway, back to the story at hand... I knew after finishing IMLP that I wanted to keep my races to a 3hr-ish range for 2017. I also knew that I wanted to put a pretty hefty emphasis on XTERRA. I really missed riding my mountain bike while playing Ironman and was ready to get back on the dirt.
I laid out my season and realized quickly that I would be able to make it to most of the XTERRA events in the Southeast with the longest drive at just over 7 hours to Florida for XTERRA Blackwater. I knew that I wanted to make a bid for XTERRA Worlds but my plan was actually to try and qualify in 2018. I would use 2017 as a time to reacquaint myself with off road triathlon and also to better acquaint myself with some of the courses. There are a couple ways to qualify for XTERRA Worlds. 1.) Place in the top 3 in your age group at one of the regional championship races, 2.) Qualify for the XTERRA USA Championship, then place in the top 3 in age group there, 3.) Win the regional points championship, 4.) if one of the winners of any of the championship races declines their invite to worlds, the slot will “roll down” to the next in line.
Fast forward a bit to the XTERRA Southeast Championship in Pelham, AL and I placed 5th after a really tough day. I was pretty bummed but a week or so later I got an email saying that I got a roll down spot! After talking it over with the wife, we decided to go for it this year and I registered for XTERRA Worlds in Maui. Now, I kept on racing XTERRA and eventually I won the Southeast region points Championship after a hard fought battle with a couple other guys. That's the thing about XTERRA, especially if you are racing a larger number of races. You become very close with the guys you race against. You become brothers. You congratulate each others successes and you empathize when the day goes south. Both of my brothers had a tough race at Charlotte that ended their run for the points. I was, obviously, happy to clinch the title but I was sad that the competition didn't get to play itself out completely. I'm sure both of them will be back next year, though, and we can start the battle all over again.
Ok, I know this is a LOT of backstory but if you are still reading... CONGRATULATIONS we're almost ready to start talking about my race. But first, we need to talk about the days leading up to the race. XTERRA Worlds are held in Kapalua, Maui at the Ritz-Carlton. This year the race was on Sunday, October 29th. Wife and I were scheduled to fly out of Nashville on Wednesday before the race on Sunday. I had a work thing in Washington D.C. Monday the 23rd that came up so I would be flying to D.C. Sunday for the work thing on Monday then hopping a red-eye back to Knoxville Monday night. Well, Monday night high winds rolled in delaying my flight which would cause me to miss my connection in Charlotte. I decided, stupidly, that I would just drive back. I hoped I would get all the way back but got sleepy and decided to just stop and sleep in a hotel on the way back. This got me back to Knoxville Tuesday around 11am. I already had my bike packed up thanks to Gerry at Cedar Bluff Cycles so the only thing I had to do was throw the rest of my crap in a suitcase. Wife worked all day Tuesday and we drove to Nashville Tuesday night and got a room. Our flight left at 6am Wednesday morning so we were up at 3:30 to get the airport and get checked in on time. We landed at Dallas for our connecting flight on to Maui. We made the connection with no problem.
The nice thing was, we decided to splurge and go first class. Neither of us like to fly an on the 8 hour flight to and from, we wanted to be comfortable. It was a nice experience. Full meals, lie flat seats, good in-flight entertainment options and pleasant flight crews made the flight pass pretty quickly and before we knew it, we were on the ground in Maui. We were expecting blue skys and sun. What we got were grey, overcast skies and forecasts for rain and high surf. Not good. We tried to look on the bright side and just go about our day. My good friend Doug who I raced with all year (in a different age group) also won his points championship. He and his family arrived later in the day Wednesday. Our plan was to pre ride the bike course Thursday but the rain had the trails a sloppy mess and the upper section of the course was closed. I decided I would use that time to get some swim practice in. I had never swam in that kind of ocean before. The waves were around 10-15ft that day with larger surf expected Friday into Saturday topping out over 25ft. Not going to sugar coat it, the first attempt at a swim was terrible. I kept panicking and I got washed over with the high surf and white caps. I was VERY concerned at this point about even completing the swim. After spending some time acclimating to the ocean I made it out to the buoys and back. This boosted my confidence somewhat.
Later that day I decided to go ride a bit of the bike course. A little word on the bike course. The course traverses an old golf course and utilizes both public and private lands. The course was a mess. The upper section was closed but the lower section was so messy I bailed out early and followed the cart paths back down. It still took me a good 20 minutes to clean up my bike afterward. I was not thrilled about the prospect of racing on the course in this condition and hoped that the upcoming forecast of dry weather would help the course conditions.
Friday morning brought better weather conditions. I started the morning by heading down to meet Doug for another practice swim. The morning surf was still high but much better than it was the day prior. I had a great swim Friday. Navigating the shore break came much easier and my confidence was much higher out to the buoys and back. I came back in and spent the next few minutes working on getting efficiently past the shore break. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and enjoying the beautiful Maui weather until dinner.
Saturday morning was the XTERRA Trail Runs. Wife and I were both signed up for the 5k. I wasn't racing the 5k, just running it with her. The 5k utilizes part of the 10.5k triathlon run course so I was excited to see a little more of the course. The morning temperatures were warm and it was getting hot very quickly. The course was challenging and I spent a little more energy than I planned just finishing it. After that, it was back inside to recover and refuel in preparation for Sunday's race.
Race morning started like any other. The race started at 9am. I woke up with plenty of time to enjoy the morning. I sat on the porch and enjoyed my traditional cherry Pop Tarts while watching the sunrise. I used these quite moments to reflect on what I was getting ready to do and what I had accomplished to get here. I told myself going in that this would be a victory lap for my season. It would be a way to celebrate what I had accomplished and that I wouldn't be concerned with what the results looked like. Deep down, though, I wanted a good result. I don't show up to a race without the intention of racing. I had aspirations of a top 20, maybe even top 10 in my age group. I knew I was physically capable of posting a good time, it would just a be a matter of if my body would cooperate.
I learned a lot of lessons on long course XTERRA this season. After the heartbreak of Oak Mountain I adjusted my nutrition plan and had a great day at XTERRA Knoxville. From those two races I knew I would need to have at least 3 bottles of nutrition and supplement that with water. My plan was to take my hydration pack on the bike with 50 oz of water mixed with 2 servings of my Infinit race mix. That would be just under 400 cal. I would then take a bottle of Water at Aid 1 and then Gatorade at Aid 2. I would have 1 gel with me on the run along with my hand bottle with water. I would supplement with extra Gatorade at each of the 5 Aid Stations.
After double checking all of my nutrition and race day gear I headed down to transition. We had assigned racks so I wasn't concerned about finding a good rack spot. Walking into transition my dear friend and XTERRA legend Charlotte Mahan was volunteering at check in. I got a hug and she sent me to my spot. After setting up, I wandered around and chatted up some of my friends and made a couple new ones. Before long, it was time to head to the water. I got a hug and kiss from my wife, then speed suit, goggles and cap in hand, I headed to the beach. I was pleased to see that the waves had died a bit and we were presented with a beautiful ocean to swim in. There was a good size shore break but after that it was just rolling waters. Perfection.
I got suited up and stood in line to be blessed by the local cultural practitioner with a traditional Hawaiian blessing for a safe race. I felt calm and at ease. I was ready. At 9am the pros started. I was in awe watching them. The ease that they made their way through the break and the speed they were swimming was incredible. I could only stargaze for a few minutes because at 9:05 the cannon went off for the age group men under 40. I ran out into the water. I didn't charge too hard but I felt good so I went for it. I navigated the shore break with ease and found myself in a good pack. I stayed with this set of guys for most of the swim. The course is a big “M” with a brief run on the beach between legs. On the beach I saw my wife and cheesed for her camera before heading back in for leg 2. The water felt a little rougher on this leg but was still no issue for me. I rounded the final buoy and headed for shore. I had a great swim. Looking back it was actually the most enjoyable part of the whole day!
Swim Split: 27:26
T1 went as planned. I mounted my bike and headed out. The bike course starts with basically a 6 mile long climb to the top of the ridge. Most of it is singletrack with a little detour on some cart path. It's also steep. I don't really know the average gradient but I can tell you more than once I saw 20% gradient on my Garmin screen. The part that detours to the cart path kicks up to over 26% at the top. I couldn't get my heartrate down. I was pushing 179bpm and tipping into the 180's for most of that climb. I knew I had to get that under control but it just wasn't possible with the steepness of the climbs. I was just having to work and there was no other way around it. I just had to hope there would be a chance to recover once I hit the top. After what seemed like forever, the tree line broke open and I was treated to the highlight of the course. Razor Ridge is the quintessential “Money Shot” for any coverage of the XTERRA Maui race. It's simply stunning. Trail follows the top of the ridgeline with 100+ foot drops on either side. Now, the trail is 15 or so feet wide so there's really not any danger of falling off the edge but the view is just unbelievable. You feel like you are on top of the world, and really, you kind of are. The awe is short lived though because after that it's a crazy technical downhill section. It's steep and rutted out with some rocks. It was here that I took a bad line, got crossed up and put my front wheel into one of those rocks catapulting myself over the bars. The bike and I tumbled for a few feet then came to rest. I got up quick and got off the trail to dust myself off and survey any damage to the bike... or me. To my surprise and delight, both the bike and I were pretty well no worse for wear. I had a couple of banged up spots on my knees and my shoulder was a bit sore. My Garmin mount was broken but other than that we were good. I took the Garmin off and stuffed it in my pack. I would have to use the watch for the rest of the day. Not a big deal but I do like to have a little more data, oh well. As I was doing all of this, no less than three other people did much the same thing I did and tumbled down the hill so I didn't feel too bad. Once I got back riding again I was really pleased to see that my NOX Composites wheels were still perfectly true. Not a bit of a wobble. I was still a bit timid and didn't really get my nerve back the rest of the ride. Speaking of the rest of the ride, it was basically more of the same. Big climb, crazy fast downhill, repeat. I was excited once I got back to the lower section of the course because I knew the big climbs were over. There are quite a few little stinger climbs on that last 5 miles though and after the ride thus far, those things hurt. At one point we turned a corner into a steep little 25yd stinger hill and I just lost it. I cussed that hill out loud. The guy behind me laughed and added his own vocal displeasure to mine. Finally, and mercifully, I made it back to T2. My quads were already grumpy and I could tell this run was going to hurt.
Bike Split: 2:16:26
I made quick work of T2 and headed out to the run. Immediately my quads started to tighten up. I shortened my stride and did everything I could to work them out. The problem is that the run course starts climbing right out of the gate and follows basically the first 3 miles of the bike course climb. It was a battle the whole time. My inner quads were locking up constantly and as soon as they would let go my hamstrings would join the party. I was extremely frustrated because at this point I knew any chance of a decent finish was gone. I also knew that I cost myself a lot at Oak Mountain by not continuing to move so I forced myself onward. Eventually, after reaching the top of the hill and starting back down my legs started to loosen up a bit and I could run but not fast. I still had to be very ginger with my steps for fear of setting my cramps off again. When I came to mile 5 and started down the technical section of the run it was all I could do to fight off the cramps. So many “abnormal” movements had to happen and that made my legs VERY upset. Finally I hit the beach for the last ½ mile. It was hot and the sand is soft. It sucks to run on. I just wanted to be done. I felt like death warmed over and I knew that there was still a little hill off the beach and up to the finish. I came off the beach and headed down the finish chute. My face was contorted in pain. I tried to put on some sort of happy, badass, hey look at me kind of face for the camera but it just wasn't there. The only face I could muster was pure exhaustion. I was physically and mentally beaten down.I heard cheers for a guy coming behind me. I heard them say “Go Jordan.” I knew who was coming up behind me. I tried to push but my legs just wouldn't go. Jordan passed me in the chute and came across the line to beat me by 7 seconds. He and I raced against each other all year and this is the first time he's beaten me. Talking to him after the race, he had a crash on the bike also but had a great run and made up his time there. He's worked his tail off this year and he earned every bit of that result. Not to worry though, there will be plenty of time for a rematch or two I'm sure!
Run Split: 1:15:17
So, now that I've had time to process everything, here's how I'm feeling. Truthfully I'm very disappointed in how the race turned out for me. I know that it's a huge honor to race there and I realize that there are plenty of other athletes who are absolutely satisfied with just crossing the finish line. I, however, am not. I didn't have a good race. I didn't race up to my full potential. I got “it” wrong. I'm still trying to process what it is that I got wrong and caused my run to go south. The best I can come up with right now is just improper preparation and over exertion on the bike. At Oak Mountain I knew that I didn't get enough calories or hydrate properly and that led to my cramps. I don't think that was my issue here. I just think I wasn't strong enough to ride the kind of ride I needed to ride. I know going into the off season that I will be hitting the gym and incorporating a lot more lifting into my training. I know I need to get stronger if I want to be able to ride my ride then still have some left for the run. I wonder about gearing on the bike. I run a 34T front chain wheel with an 11-42T rear. I wonder if I dropped the front to a 32T or possibly even go to an 11-46T rear if I could have spin my cadence higher and if that would have helped. It's so very hard to prepare for a race like that having never seen the course. Everyone told me the course was steep. It's hard to process how steep something like that is until you see it in person. I guess what really has me bummed is that I know I'm capable of more than I showed in the race. Had I been able to run to my full potential I would be satisfied come what may with the results but knowing there was more in the tank and not being able to use it is what is most disappointing. I am very happy that I was able to go and to experience Maui. It's a place like none other and knowing where I've come from on this fitness journey I am proud of what I've done. It's just the competitor in me that won't let me be satisfied with just finishing. I will go back one day but until then, it's time to get to work. It's time to get stronger. It's time to get faster.
It's been a great season and I've had a great time racing. I've also had the support of some of the best people in the world that made all of this possible. First and foremost, my wife and family. My coach, Scott. I wouldn't be where I am in this sport without you and your guidance. Next, my team and sponsors: Kevin Sprouse and Podium Sports Medicine, My whole Podium Racing Team p/b Visit Knoxville, my boys at Cedar Bluff Cycles for keeping my ride tuned and ready to go, Dr. Chris Talley at Healthsource Chiropractic for keeping me tuned and ready to go, NOX Composites, The Feed, Infinit Nutrition and Betsy's Pantry for keeping me fed and fueled and Harper Auto Square for being such a great supporter of Endurance Sports in Knoxville. Lastly, I have to give a huge shout to my second family at Rocky Top Multisport Club. It's truly a pleasure to be a part of such a tight, supportive group of people. I'm still formulating my plan for next season but I'm sure it will involve lots more swimming, biking, running, cheering and kilt dancing. But now, it's the off season. I'm going to take a few weeks to recharge and reset... and eat... and sleep. If you are still reading, thank you. It's been fun to document this season through these reports and hope you've had some fun reading them. Until next time.....