Xterra Knoxville Race Report : Redemption Day
Xterra Knoxville has been on my mind for the last 3 years. In 2014, I was a mostly clueless, completely green endurance athlete. Mountain biking was what started me into cycling many years ago and I had fallen in love with trail running. When I heard about Xterra Knoxville, I knew that was going to be my goal. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. A 3 hour multisport event was completely out of my realm of comprehension. I had no idea how to fuel or pace for that type of activity. As you can imagine, come race day, I was doing well until the run. I was WAY off on my nutrition and hydration and my legs locked up on the run. I finished but it wasn't pretty (sounds a LOT like my experience at Oak Mountain a couple weeks ago doesn't it?...)
Well, fast forward to this past Sunday. I wanted redemption. Redemption for 3 years ago and redepmtion from 2 weeks ago. Oak Mountain was a very harsh re-introduction into long course Xterra and I was eager to take my lessons from that race and apply them to this one. My main goal was to run strong. I would hold back on the bike and try to save my legs knowing the climb in the final mile of the run was waiting. For the most part, that's exactly what I did. Again, it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns but it wasn't quite the debacle of 2014 (or 2 weeks ago).
Race morning went smoothly. I woke up, had my breakfast of 2 cherry PopTarts and got my things packed. I started sipping on a bottle of Skratch hydration while en route to the race. After getting checked in, body marked and my transition set up I enjoyed some down time talking to friends and other racers while waiting on the race to start. I also managed to wipe my arm numbers compeltely off while applying sunscreen. I got re-body marked along with a good amout of flack (in fun) from the race director and went back to get my suit on for the swim. I decided to wear a speed suit over a wetsuit for the race even though it was wetsuit legal. I did this mainly because I didn't bring my wetsuit but, like Pelham, it was only just under wetsuit temp and I'd rather not deal with it if I don't have to.
The Xterra Knoxville swim is in a quarry lake with an in water mass start. After a couple quick yards of warmup I made my way back to the dock and hung on while waiting on the cannon. As I held on shivering in the water, I was anxious and excited to get the day underway. I lined up with the intention of going out very agressive on the cannon and trying to get a good patch of clean water. After what seemed like an eternity, the countdown was on and then the cannon fired and we were off.
I went out hard and was feeling very good. I continued to push the pace for the first 400 or so yards before settling in. The swim felt very good. It was nice to get a clean swim for a change. I was passed a couple of times by faster swimmers but they were clean and gave me a good opportunity to catch a draft for a few seconds before the bubbles faded away. Before long I was out of the water and headed up to T1.
Swim (.75mi) - 17:32
T1 went smooth. I took a few extra seconds to put on my hydration pack then helmet, glasses, shoes and I was on my way. The bike course follows the greenway before turning onto a gravel road leading to the trail proper. I used this section to take several pulls from my Camelbak which contained 2 full servings (approximately 600 kcal of my Infiinit race mix). This was part one of avoiding the nutrition bonk that happened at Oak Mountain. I also took that time to start my Garmin on my bike and hit my watch lap button to set it to bike. There was a slight problem there in that I already did that earlier so now my watch was out of sync. I promptlyrestarted the triathlon mode on the watch and got it going in the right mode before I hit the trail.
It wasn't long before I heard a familiar voice behind me. It was my good friend Jim Hall coming up fast. I pulled over and let him pass then settled in behind him letting him pull me for the next little bit. As we got to the more flowing section of the course I was pushing Jim pretty hard. We swapped places and I pulled ahead with him letting me pace him for the next several miles. We worked together for most of the course, swapping places and pacing each other. It worked out very well for us. Eventually, I pulled ahead and he fell back a bit ( I think he had a "moment" which cost him some time). I was deliberate with my hydration and I took the last drink out of my pack as I was rolling into T2.
Bike (16.6mi) - 1:42:02
T2 was a bit slow for me because I took a few extra seconds to make sure I had the rocks and dirt wiped from my feet before putting my shoes on. Other than that, it was as expected. Took off the pack, wiped feet, shoes on, grabbed belt and waterbottle and took off. I was hoping that being a little conservative on the bike (along with the nutrition strategy) would allow me to run strong. I looked back and caught a glimpse of Nathan Mize coming up fast. "Where'd you come from?!", I yelled. I was surprised to see him as I knew he was farther back on the bike. Come to find out, his frame broke and he cut the bike course short. He was just doing the run for fun after turning in his chip. I didn't feel quite so bad, then, when he ran off and left me. As the trail started to climb slightly I felt a twinge in my quads. Not good. I increased my turnover and hoped for the best as I kept moving. Before long, though, it was obvious that I was going to have to go into survival mode. I was determined to keep running, though. I just kept repeating "relax, relax" to myself. Actually I'm pretty sure I was saying it out loud. This kept up for next 3 miles. The cramps kind of moved around from my quads to my hamstrings and back again. I was able to keep running though. Then, the climb. I had long decided that when I hit the climb up Tharp Trace around the quarry I would hike it. My legs were in no shape to try and run that hill. I limped up the climb at the best pace I could muster. Actually, going up wasn't so bad. My quads were screaming but at least they weren't full on cramped. I crested the top and started down. It was at this point that my legs gave me on last big middle finger and cramped up pretty hard. I hobbled as fast as I could and eventually I hit the bottom. Once the ground flattened, I was able to pick up the run again and actually ran pretty strong for the last 150m or so to the line. After hobbling around for a few minutes recovering, I wandered over to the results monitor. I had finished 11th overal and 1st place in the age group.
Run (4.6mi) - 46:54
Total Time - 2:48:08
While it was disappointing to not have the run I wanted, I consider this redemption earned. I had a great swim and bike and I'm satisfied in that I was able to keep running despite the difficulties. I think I got the nutrition right and my race plan was sound. If I had to guess, the cramps were a result of 1.) muscle fatigue from 3 races in as many weeks and not being fully recovered from the damage of the cramps from Oak Mountain and 2.) the difference in muscle usage in long course mountain biking versus road biking and not having done enough hard mountain bike rides earlier in the year. Thankfully, I have a few weeks off from racing to recover and rest before Xterra Tsali later this month. Time to rest and relax then begin the build all over again.
As always, huge thanks to my coach, my team, my sponsors and espcially my Wife who is always there beside me, cheering me on and just generally being awesome in every way.