After a long off season and and a slew of duathlons, it was finally time to get triathlon season underway at XTERRA Fort Yargo. I’ve spent quite a bit more time this winter on the road and, if I’m honest, I’ve neglected my mountain bike. I’ve ridden the mountain bike maybe 3 or 4 times since Christmas. You could say I was a bit... rusty. I was a bit concerned at how I would get on since I rely on my bike leg heavily and, while I knew my bike fitness was coming nicely, there’s a whole other side of mountain bike racing that is just a feeling. There’s a feel for the trail and a feel for the bike. It’s not something that can be taught, but more something you gain over the miles of riding your bike on dirt. It’s knowing how your tires will react to differing soil types and how your suspension feels going over varying roots and rocks. There’s another aspect to riding fast on a mountain bike that is a little less ambiguous that centers around being in touch with the trails. As you ride more and more in the woods, especially at different venues, you begin to develop an understanding of how trails work. You can feel, instinctively, where they are going to go next and what they are going to ride like. After taking some time off the trails, it was these things I knew that I would be lacking so I knew I would need to both swim and run strong to make up some time. So, let’s see how it went down, shall we?
Having camped in the park the night before, race morning was pretty easy. I decided to go ahead and pack up the roof tent and drive to the other side of the park instead of riding. Then, I’d just head home after the race. Transition opened at 6:30 with a race start at 8am. I woke up a little before 5, had my Pop Tarts, got the tent secured and then went to change and do my pre race paperwork. I got to transition around 6:20 and some others were already setting up. I unloaded the bike and found a pretty decent rack spot. The sun was beginning to peek over the lake and it made for an absolutely beautiful sight. There’s just something almost religious about being in nature at sunrise.
Water temp was announced in the low 60’s so it would DEFINITELY be a wetsuit race. I expected it would be but, even still, I neglected to do any training at all in my wetsuit leading up. Looking back I’m pretty sure it had been over a year since I had been in that wetsuit. With 30 minutes until go time, I got suited up... sort of. I worked the legs of my suit on then as I stood up I realized that it was backward. Like I said, rusty. Second try was a success and happily my suit fit! I made my way to the water and hopped in with the others doing their warm ups. I splashed around for a bit and let the cold water seep into my suit while I put my face in the water to acclimate. I took a deep breath and dove forward into the cold. A few hundred yards later and I was acclimated pretty nicely. My lungs opened up and my breathing relaxed. I turned back and headed to shore. The RD went over the pre race instructions and then it was time. I lined up at the front of the pack and on the horn, tri season was under way.
I went hard off the start, following the toes and bubbles of the guy in front of me. After a few hundred he started to pull away and I settled in to a hard but comfortable pace. Standing on the shore the 1⁄2 mile advertised swim looked REALLY long. In the water, it felt even longer. Stll, my pace was good and I was very comfortable in the wetsuit. Around the final buoy, I was holding just off the lead pack. I could feel the fatigue in my arms and shoulders from the suit but I was still swimming well. I hit the shore and pulled myself up out of the water. According to Garmin, the 1⁄2 mile swim ended up being just under 1300yds. Still I came out in 19:14 with a 1:31/100yd avg pace. Solid. Time for the bike.
T1 was a bit slow as I fumbled a bit with my wetsuit. Wasn’t too bad, although as I rode away from transition I noticed something was a bit... off. I couldn’t really hear. I freaked out briefly until I realized that my ear plugs were still in. Ahem, rusty. I removed them and stuffed them in my kit pocket and pushed on into the woods. The bike was rough. I never got any rhythm and things just felt unnatural. Still, I made up for it somewhat by having a decent level of fitness and just powering through. I got passed a couple times which is, honestly, pretty rare. My buddy and XTERRA regular Caleb passed me a mile or so into the ride. This isn’t new, my swim is better than his but he is crazy strong on the bike and run. I held his wheel for a bit until he broke a spoke and stopped to fix it. A few minutes later, he passed me again... until his chain came off and I passed him. Once again, a little bit further, he passed me... until his derailleur broke and I passed him for the last time. *side note: He ended up finishing the race, and only several minutes behind me and was able to laugh about it showing a great deal of mental toughness and resolve through some terrible luck.* Rolling back into T2, I was actually excited to hit the run. I’ve been working heavily on my run and I’ve put in some good performances in the duathlons. I was very curious to see how that would translate to the trail. Bike time was 47 minutes by Garmin and the 10 mile course registered slightly short. Avg speed 11mph. Again, pretty rusty but not bad. I definitely need to get some more time on the trails before XTERRA Oak Mountain next month.
T2 went a bit more smoothly than T1. I headed out of transition following two other guys. I passed one of them pretty straight away and set my sights on the other. He was holding a strong pace and I knew that I likely wouldn’t be able to pass him but I could try and pace with him. I kept him in sight for the nearly 3 miles of the 4.5mile run. Eventually he pulled away on one of the climbs and I was left to push on my own. My legs were very heavy but I was able to will them to turn over. With a little less than .5 mile to go I heard footsteps and looked back to find Jake hot on my heels. He and I had some great battles last year before he went down with a health issue at XTERRA Whitewater and I was very happy to see him back and racing strong. “Where’d you come from!?”, I yelled. “Dunno, found my feet”, he said. I tried to hold him off but he was too strong for me and I let him go. I held on his heels and I was hoping to catch him on a sprint to the finish but he kicked with a couple hundred meters to go and I lost touch. Props to him on a blazing run! Looking at my stats, though, I am EXTREMELY happy with my run as well. I put in my fastest XTERRA run to date holding a 7:56 pace over what Garmin measured as a 4.15 mile course.
All in all, everything came together pretty well and I was good enough on the day to come home just out of the top 10 (in 11th) overall with an Age Group win. I will say that I’m both satisfied with the performance and excited with where my fitness is at this point in the season. I feel like I’m running better than I ever have and my bike and run are both coming along nicely.
As always, I’m ever thankful for the support of my family, my team, my coach and my sponsors. You guys are the best! Next up will be Lakeside of the Smokies Sprint on May 12 followed by XTERRA Oak Mountain on the 19th.