Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Race Report: Xterra Southeast Championships, Oak Mountain (Pelham, AL) - May 20,2017
There are times when everything lines up. You show up to a race and feel great. You feel ready and prepared. You had a pretty good training block and a good taper. Then, race day comes and all of the variables that can go against you stay on your side. The course plays nice and your body responds. Today was not that day for me. Well... at least on the run that is. But before we see how my race flew completely off the tracks, let's talk about the rest of the race.
The morning was perfect. There was a light breeze but the ambient temperature was very nice. I would tell you what it was to the degree, but I honestly didn't look. Maybe somewhere in the high 60's? Who cares, it's irrelevant. When I arrived, there weren't many others there. Transistion opened at 6:30. I got there pretty close to that. I hadn't planned to but I actually woke up feeling quite refreshed and ready to go. That's new for me. Could be that I fell asleep around 8pm last night and slept like a log all night. I'm glad I didn't camp. My hotel room was comfy and air conditioned. My roof tent, while comfy (for a tent) is not and it was very humid. I doubt I would have been that rested had I camped.
Anyway, I got my transistion area all set up and then mingled with some Xterra friends including one of my favorite people in the whole world, Charlotte Mahan! My buddy Doug Clark was down for the race as well and racked right next to me. As we were chatting it up, the announcement came... water temp 77. It was a wetsuit race. Now, I had my wetsuit but with water temps that warm, I was not really excited to don a full sleeve suit. After testing the water for myself, I decided to stay with swimskin instead of pulling on the wetsuit. I knew I would sacrifice a little speed but my shoulder has been grumpy since my last race and the extra resistance from the wetsuit doesn't help.
The pro men led off the race at 8:20am. My wave was 4 minutes behind. I had a pretty decent swim. I made it a point to line up at the front and decided that I would fight for my own water. I did just that. During the initial scrum, I felt hands on my feet and legs and people shoving in on both sides. I widened my stroke and put a little more emphasis on my kick. That gave me a little bit of room. Not much, but enough. The course was two loops with a little jaunt on shore in between. I had a good rhythm but was having to sight more than I wanted due to only having two buoys and no sighting buoys in between. The extra sighting cost me a little on my overal time but not too much. As I was coming out of the water to head to transition, my right inner quad twinged. Not good. I hoped it was a just a fluke and that it wouldn't bother me the rest of the day.... I was very wrong. More on that later! On to the bike!
I've ridden some great trails. The trails at Oak Mountain are probably in my top 3 that I've ever been on. There is a little bit of everything here. Rooty, twisty, old-school singletrack, fast flowy sections, fire road climbs, rock gardens, pine needles, all of it. All of it in one place. Masterfully built and maintained, the trails snake through the forest taking full advantage of all of the natural berms, whoop-de-do's and mountain sides. It's quite amazing. There were times on the bike where I was literally giggling out loud. I forgot all about my quad. It didn't bother me at all. I was riding very well, watching my heartrate and trying to hold myself back to save some for the 10k run that was to come. I have a very bad habit of over cooking the mountain bike. I just don't know how NOT to ride hard. It's how I roll, literally! That being said, I feel like I did a pretty good job of holding some in reserve. What I didn't do very well was hydrate. It's my own fault. I just didn't bring enough liquid on the bike and what I did bring, I didn't finish. I had my speedfil on the bike and my plan was to refil it at the bike aid. Well, the problem arose when I arrived at the aid station and hadn't really consumed what I needed to up to that point. I took a water bottle from the aid and took several big hits from it before discarding. With the only bottle cage being occupied by the speedfil, I had no where to stash and extra. I spend the rest of the ride rationing what was in my speedfil. I didn't run out, but that was also a problem. I didn't drink it all either. I rationed too much. Still though, I felt I was in ok shape for the run. I had calories laid out for the run in a gel and the rest of my clif blocks from earlier. I would be fine. Sure, no worries. I got this, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.
Still with me boys and girls? Good, well the run is where my day derailed. More like derailed, caught fire and exploded into a massive mushroom cloud of disappointment and misery. First, I forgot my Clif Blocks. I had a gel on my run belt so I got that but I'm not used to grabbing anything else in T2. I rack my bike, put on shoes, grab belt and go. I don't even put my belt on until I'm running. Today though I needed to grab those blocks. I told myself as I was coming into dismount the bike not to forget them. I then promptly forgot them. Anyway, back to the run. I came out of T2, through the first aid right outside of the transition area where I grabbed some gatorade and water. I drank the gatorade, sipped the water then poured the rest of the water over my head. The first part of the run is on the road. It's actually right around 7/10th of a mile before you hit the woods. I was running pretty strong out of T2. My plan was to run 8:30 for the first mile then start to speed up as I went. I wanted to have a good run but I didn't want to bury myself 2 weeks out from Knoxville where I want to be competitive. This race was more about learning the race itself and getting used to long course Xterra in hopes that I can come back next year and punch my ticket to Maui. But, I digress. Back to the run. As I said, nice little bit of pavement before hitting the woods. About .5 mile into the run, my right quad starts to twinge, then my left joins in. I told myself just to keep it slow and increase my turnover. Don't make any sudden movement and they'll loosen up. They didn't. I made the turn into the woods and at the first root, full on cramps. Both legs. I struggled for a bit to stretch how I could without tempting my hamstrings to do the same thing (as that's what usually happens). I didn't carry a water bottle on the run with me since there were 3 aid stations on course but I really needed water there. Another competitor ran by and offered my water from his bottle. I happily took him up on it. He offered me some encouragement and I started off again. By the time I made it to the second aid station, both quads were cramping and as I limped up to the tent, my left hamstring joined the fun!. I stood there in the aid station for a few minutes drinking water and Gatorade. I poured cold water over my legs to cool them. I honestly considered DNF'ing right there. I finally got my legs to cooperate and started off again. I trotted along. I walked all the hills. I did everything I could to keep my legs happy. They were ok. Not great, but I knew if I kept this up I would finish.
After two laps of jogging/walking/stretching/cursing/jogging/etc, I finished. It was a disappointing day from a race perspective in that I wasn't able to run to my potential. I think I could have put in a really great run if I had been smarter about my race plan from a nutrition/hydration perspective. There are some great lessons to be learned, though. That's what I'll do. I will take this experience and file it's lessons in my mind so that I can call upon them for future races. From a course perspective, Xterra Oak Mountain was amazing. The water was clean, the bike course was amazing and the run course was just taunting me to run. It truly is a great venue. The race organizers did a great job of managing the chaos of three races all at the same time. Never once did I feel lost or confused about where I should be going. As always it's the spirit of family that surrounds Xterra that I enjoy so much. Seeing familiar faces and meeting new people is what I enjoy the most about days like today. And, at the end of it all, I still spent a day playing in the woods with my friends.