As I sit here on my couch in my recovery boots watching YouTube videos and eating chips and hummus it’s easy to look back on the muddy, nasty mess that was XTERRA Knoxville and think about how I should have just not lined up to start. The reality is never that easy though. It’s just not in me to commit to something and not see it through. So, against my better judgement, I took on a completely saturated trail system and it did not go well.
The day started as normally as any race day does. I went through my, as now famous, pre-race routine and loaded up to head to the race. Being a local race, I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to arrive. Transition opened at 6:30 and I arrived soon after that. I got a spot on the front rack and set up my gear. I knew going in that it was going to be muddy. We’ve gotten a LOT of rain in the last 10 days or so and the South Knoxville trail system doesn’t drain well. Still, though, for some reason the thoughts like “it can’t be THAT bad” still run through your mind when you are setting up in a beautiful morning.
After some mingling and roaming around it was time to head to the water. Water temp was mid 70’s which meant wetsuit. Being the 3rd (?) wetsuit race I’ve done this year it’s getting easier to fight my way into the suit now. I also managed to put it on the right way the first time so that’s a plus. Anyway, I got in the quarry lake and did about 5 - 10 minutes of swim warmup. Some easy strokes first, then a few hard efforts and a light tempo back to shore. Quick aside, After Oak Mountain and my calorie bonk I took a Gel to top off the tank about 20 minutes before getting into the water. Warmup done, all that was left was to wait for the cannon.
On the cannon, I went and I went hard. I knew the bike was going to be slow going so I wanted to put as much time in as I could in the water. I knew the wetsuit would give me some extra speed, so I took advantage of all that I could. The swim went really well and, according to Garmin, I averaged 1:33’s which I’m very happy with.
Coming out of the water, I ran up the rocky hill to T1 while stripping off the wetsuit. T1 went a bit slow since I was using MTB shoes with BOA closures and my hands were slippy but still not bad. I did a sweet flying mount too which gave me some cool points in front of the crowd. I, of course, immediately lost them when I nearly ate it crossing the railroad tracks out of the parking lot (but maybe no one saw that)... I’d love to go into a great detail about the bike course but I’m really struggling to remember the finer points as, for the majority of the ride, I was just trying not to die. Here are some things I remember, hopefully somewhat in order.
- Sweet flying mount
- Almost ate it at the railroad tracks
- Caleb passed me on the gravel
- Turned on to the single track and immediately started hating life
- Luke came up behind me and remarked something like “Great day for some mountain biking!”
- Fell down on a slick root or rock or something
- Said vulgarities.
- Attempted to brake and found my lever loose.
- Chased my rear brake lever around my handlebar the rest of the day.
- Fell down on the slippery bridge.
- Got passed by 2 dudes in my Age Group
- Walked a lot of the technical bits.
- Got super muddy
- Did sweet flying dismount.
So there, in a nutshell was the bike. Now, for the run…
I came off the bike knowing there were at least 2 guys in front of me but luckily just up the trail I came up to my buddy Jake. I settled in with him for the first 3 miles. We were cruising along in the 10’s which was about all I could expect for the day. I could tell that the fine muscular usage I had put in trying to stay upright had fatigued my legs more that expected. Coming back through the transition area I had my second run in with railroad tracks for the day. As I came across them, I took a bad step and my hamstring locked up. I said a very bad word and was brought to a complete stop. I did what I could to release and eventually I could walk again. Further on I started to jog. Then came the big hill. Tharp Trace trail is tough even when it’s dry. Wet, it was a nightmare. I hiked it. There was no running that thing today. Happily, my new Inov-8 trail shoes gave me AMAZING grip and I was able to keep my footing throughout the entire run. As I crested the hill and started down the other side my legs were functioning again so I picked up the run when I could (read: when it was safe). At the bottom of the hill I hear footsteps and look back to see Sue Finney barrelling down on me. I tried to pick up the pace but the legs just didn’t respond and she made the pass just before the finish chute.
Considering the conditions, I will say I’m happy to just come across the finish line unhurt. There was definitely a lot on the mental side that held me back today and the best I could muster was a 4th place Age Group finish. After my first crash on the bike I had a little conversation with myself about where we were heading this year and what our goals were. With Age Group Nationals the big goal race this year and not XTERRA it didn’t make any sense to take unnecessary risks and chance a season ending injury. So, today became about just managing risks and coming in safe. In that aspect, I had a successful day. I have a few weeks off from racing which will be nice to reset and get some solid training efforts in before my season picks back up with XTERRA Tsali and Secret City Sprint. Thanks, as always to my coach, team, sponsors and family for your continued love and support. You guys mean the world to me.