My First Xterra: A day of ups and downs

Xterra is an off-road triathlon. It is trying to build a brand like Ironman but it’s hard for several reasons: 1) Nissan sells a car by the same name and 2) the off-road triathlon crowd is much smaller. Xterra is  at the interface two groups: the if-it-ain’t-carbon-it-won’t-save me-30 seconds, tightly-wound, road triathlon folks and the beer-drinkin’ laid back MTB folks. As such, the number of road tri people with awesome MTB skills is small and the number shredders who can swim and run fast is even smaller. Thus, this Greensboro Xterra was only about 100 people.

I was heading into my first triathlon since USAT Nationals in late 2013. I had been spending the last 18 months on my MTB. The last 8 weeks have been intense training to get my swim and run game back on. My longest swim workout was 2100 yards and my longest run was 8 miles.

HammerCross was out in force for this race. We had Patty, Kelly, Burke, Spence (Burke’s son), and Jason. All of us, except Jason, doing our first Xterra (and by the looks of it, a lot of others doing their first as well). Burke and Spence had done the sprint tri that morning so they were doing double duty for the day.

Swim: 880 yards

C’mon old man! You’ve got a bike to ride!

The start was a mass start for everyone, lined up along the shore in waist-deep water. The temp was 78 degrees to so not bathwater but still warm. My main goal was to keep up with (i.e. draft) Burke. He’s a strong swimmer and even though he had completed a tri earlier in the day, I knew he’d be out hot. And he was with a 15;54, 3rd in his AG. I was close on his heels, 35 seconds later, 2nd in my AG (of 4 BTW). It felt great to swim in the open water. The water was clear and smooth. Transition was decent and then for the main course, the bike.

 

Bike: 14 miles singletrack

I had ridden the course a few weeks ago to test out a rigid carbon fork with some low pressure (13-15 psi) tires. The course was smooth with some roots on the back side but it seemed like the low pressure and the wide (33 mm) rims would do the job. It was clear from the start that most of the guys on the course were not experienced MTBers since their bile handling skills were not smooth. The biggest thing I noticed, and we see this in CX, is handling the turns. As I always say, CX is a race of seconds. Every corner is a second to lose or a second to gain. Same here. You needed to be efficient at pedaling through the turns and coming out with some power. Same for the short hills. Be ready to power up with some big strokes. Spinning is for sissies and is slow. I passed a few newbies and then a train of huge riders came blasting pass. I got on their tail because it helped pass others but that didn’t last long. They were the real deal. Around mile 3, I came up on Almedkinders, in my AG and top age grouper nationally in road tri’s. His swim had put him 2 minutes ahead of me but I was able to close that gap and was looking to pass and add some more time.

Then it happened. Not paying attention, I slammed into a root and punctured the tire. Crap! I stopped, got out the CO2 and filled it up. Back on the bike and in pursuit.

What? Flat again? Double crap. Off the bike, more CO2. Back on the bike. Pressure would not hold.

Time to bite the bullet and throw a tube in. Let me tell you, there is nothing more nerve wracking than trying to put a tube in when people are passing and you are sweating from the 95 deg heat in a rain forest. About half-way through getting a tube in, Burke pulls up.

Burke: Dude, take my bike!

Me:What?

Burke: No, take my bike and I’ll ride yours

I love Burke like a brother but bike repairs are not his forte. I was intrigued with  the idea of jumping on his S-WORKS rocket and chasing down some dudes but the thought of leaving him here with a half-assembled bike would be cruel and unusual punishment (I later realized I ride flats and he rides clips. That would have been interesting…). So off he went.  I got the tube in, aired it up and was on my way. Now it was time for serious business. I was on a mission. I was passing people right and left, weaving and dodging, totally in the zone. It was a weird experience. Huge adrenaline high, roaring through the woods at speeds I’ve never been, making one beautiful carve after another, not a muff or a crash, and not really thinking, just doing. I don’t play video games but I would guess this was a similar experience. Total focus. I passed Burke yelling “I’m on the hunt”. One guy I passed said “There’s one of your age groupers is up ahead”. It was like someone dumped jet fuel onto the coals. POW!

And, then BAM!

I slammed into another big root.  I must not have had quite enough air in the tire and that rigid fork stayed rigid because I was in Pinch Flat City. WTF! ANOTHER FLAT. Outta tubes. Outta CO2. Outta luck.  Let the pity party begin!  I hate this race.  This sucks. LIFE SUCKS!

And then who should come up on me but my guardian angel, Burke!

What’s up?

I’m dun. Another flat.

No way. You are going to finish. I’ve got a tube and pump!

I’m dun. Takin’ a DNF. Go finish your race…[the pity party was in full swing at this point]

Dude, stop it! Take the tire off. Put the tube in. Pump it up and finish the race.

Why couldn’t I just wallow in my own sorrow for a bit. I did as instructed and soon I was back on the trail. It’s amazing how good you feel with air in your tires! I stopped at an aid station and filled the tires even more. They might feel like steel-belted radials but no more flats for the last 4 miles. Back on the trail I saw Burke ahead (He must have passed me at the aid station). It’s really bad form to chase down the guy who bailed you out, but then, it was a bad form day. Periscope up! As I was chasing him, I noticed he was really haulin’ butt. GAME ON! If I can’t beat my age group, at least I’ll have fun going after someone who had stopped twice (for me!) and had done another tri that morning (A bit sad, really…). After a chasing him hard, he eased up and let me pass. The guy had been pacing me the last leg. What a sport!

xterra4

Run: 5k trail run

With that behind me, I was determined to finish this thing. The trail was super rooty and had some significant climbs. It was hard to get up to speed with the roots so I did my best with a steady pace and finished respectably.

xterra6

Turns out, I was only 7 seconds behind the second place guy. So close! Overall, it was good to be racing tri’s again, despite the flats. My swimming and running fitness was decent given the long hiatus and crash training.

The rest of the HammerCross crew finished strong.  It goes without saying, Burke lost a few places thanks to his domestique duties. Jason had a good race in a very strong field. Patty and Kelly podiumed (Homemade rhubarb jam for the prize).

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