Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Double Time - Two Xterra's, One Weekend, Two Wins!

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune of finding out I would be travelling out to Folsom, CA, for work the week of April 2-6.  Why would that be fortunate one might ask?  Because TBF Racing was hosting the Xterra REAL race in Granite Bay at Folsom Lake on Sunday, April 1st (no April Fools joke)!  The only problem, I was scheduled to race Xterra Renegade in San Dimas, CA, on March 31st.  DOH!  I had been flip-flopping on my travel plans; do I fly to San Dimas (just outside of LA) and back, or do I drive out and back?  When the work trip came up, and I realized that Xterra REAL was on Sunday, I took it as a sign that I should include both races in my plans.  So I booked my flights, hotel, and rental car accordingly.  Now the only thing I'd have to worry about would be the logistics of getting my bike and gear packed up after the first race, flying from LAX to Sacramento, getting to my hotel and assembling my bike and race gear for the Sunday race, and getting enough sleep to perform well.  Easy stuff!

I flew out to LA on Thursday night, arriving around 11pm and heading to my hotel in San Dimas.  The next day I assembled my bike and headed for Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park to do a little pre-ride of the course and spin the legs out a bit.  I was meeting a friend, LA Kelly, who was driving out from Sedona for the race.  We arrived and proceeded to get ready for the ride.  Since neither one of us had a pump, I decided to use a Big Air to inflate my tires and quickly discovered that the inflation valve I was carrying would not screw down far enough onto the canister to pierce the can.  Whew, good thing I discovered that in a pre-ride, could have ruined a race!  So I borrowed LA's and committed myself to buying one later that day so I'd have the proper race gear I needed.  We also discovered that the course hadn't been marked yet.  After conversing with a park official, we obtained a trail map that showed, roughly, where the bike and run course were.  After struggling to find the beginning portion of the bike course, LA decided to just ride rather than the starting/stopping that I was doing while trying to figure out the map, so we separated.  I was finally able to decipher the map well enough to ride one loop of the bike course and get a good idea of where it went and what the terrain was like.  Afterwards we hit the hotel for a quick shower, and then did a little exploring around for a bike shop that had the required gear.

Race morning came early on Saturday.  I had decided that I wanted to get to the site early to get a good spot in transition, so I arrived at 6:20 and waited in line with the other 20 cars for the park to open.  Once it opened I parked and grabbed my gear and headed for the transition area.  I collected my race packet, got body-marked, and headed to the racks to pick a spot.  Once my gear was set up I found a few familiar faces to catch up with, killing time until the requisite "don the wetsuit" hour was upon us.  I greased myself up with Body Glide, checked all of my gear again to make sure it was all in order, pulled on my wetsuit, and headed for the water to start the warm-up.  The lake was a mild 62 or so, and it felt good to be back in the action and getting ready for the first wetsuit legal swim of the year.  As the start time approached they called us out of the water and into the starting chute.  I wove my way to the front and waited with the rest of the competitors, and waited .... and waited ... and then ....

GOOOOO!!!  The race was on!  I hit the water and dove, hoping my goggles would stay in place.  I was doing something you should never to do in a race ... testing new equipment on race day.  I bought a pair of Barracuda Hydrobat Triathlon Goggles at Trisports.com after hearing about their benefits, and decided to try them for the race.  They stayed in place with not even a hint of coming loose or loosing the seal!  I swam hard for the first 100m, hoping to stay out front with the lead swimmers and distance myself from the main pack, and then settled into a nice relaxed fast stroke.  The swim went by without incident and I was out of the water near the front.  I raced through transition and headed out on the bike course in 2nd place.

The first part of the bike was on pavement, and I could see the leader ahead of me by 100yds and pushed my pace to try and close the gap to no avail.  We hit the first dirt section and started a gradual climb.  Soon we hit the Corkscrew Trail, a nasty rocky loose section of trail that hammers the legs.  At the very start of the climb is a sharp uphill turn which spun me out, and being unable to unclip fast enough I found myself laying on the side of the trail in the grass looking up.  WTF?!?  I quickly unclipped and righted myself, and then realized I would not get started again on such a steep grade, so I picked up my bike and started running up.  Times like these are when we learn very valuable lessons, and one of those moments was about to hit me.  As I ran up I came to the realization that I was catching the leader very quickly, and the paradigm shift happened - it was MUCH faster to run up this section of trail than it was to ride it, and since we're in a race ....  I hit the top of the climb only second behind the leader, and my legs were in much better shape since I hadn't just crushed my pedals to stay moving up the climb.  It only took about 15 seconds to close the gap to the leader and pass him.  Knowing at this point I was in the lead, I started pushing myself even harder.  When the course went back to double-track I was picked up by the lead escort cart - fancy that, I have a cart in front of me signalling I'm leading the race, first time for everything I guess.  The rest of the first bike lap went by quickly, and I remember two distinct things from that lap; one was the smell of a skunk and an upset owner standing near a dog making it roll in the grass to get rid of the smell, and the strong smell of onions in the second tunnel we passed through (I didn't stop to check it out, but those who rode the course will know what I'm talking about).  The second lap of the bike went by much the same way, except this time I opted to willingly dismount my bike at the bottom of the Corkscrew Trail and run up.  About 2/3 of the way through the second lap I started catching the swim waves that had started behind mine.  One of the great things about Xterra is how nice the competitors are, and how fast they react when they see or hear a faster athlete approaching.  I passed quite a few folks, each time telling them they were doing a great job and encouraging them to keep pushing themselves.  I hit transition again and quickly changed into my run gear and headed out the other side.

The first 100 yds of the run are on pavement, and allows for the legs to get warmed up little.  The run then transitions to a dirt singletrack trail where the first major climb starts.  The climb lasts for several minutes, really making the legs and lungs suffer, and then levels out into a few rollers for a short time, before descending down a loose and twisty trail and onto the road shared with the bike course.  The road section only lasts about 50 yds before hitting dirt again and starting a very big and sustained climb, followed by another climb.  At the top of the second climb I finally looked back and see where my competition was, and saw nothing.  At that point I allowed myself to look around a bit while running and enjoy the beautiful area I was running through.  Toward the end of the run I descended the last hill and headed for the finishline to lots of cheering from the crowd.  I crossed the finishline with a huge smile on my face and Xterra Win #1 in the books for 2012.  Athletes started rolling over the finishline and the race chatter started, congratulating each other and reviewing their races.

After chatting with several racers for a while, I went down to pack up my gear and transition area.  I found a spot to wash my bike so I wouldn't have to pack it in the Tri All 3 case all muddy, and loaded my gear into my rental car.  After the awards ceremony I headed for the hotel to shower, disassemble and pack my bike, and pack the rest of my gear.  With a few hours before I had to head to the airport LA and I decided to head for Venice Beach and take in the scenery.  She assured me it was a good place to grab some food and people watch, so I was game.  It wasn't quite as expected, but that's a story for another blog.  Afterwards I headed for the airport for the trip north.

I landed in Sacramento around 9:40pm in a huge rainstorm, wondering if it would stop before the race.  I collected my luggage, grabbed my rental car, and headed for my hotel in Folsom, praying that raceday would be dry.  I arrived, checked in, and headed for the room to start the process of race prep for the next day; assemble bike, load the required equipment into my transition bag, prep bottles, and double-check everything.  Satisfied that I was properly prepared, I hit the bed around midnight.

The alarm went off at 5:45am (I love Xterra races, they never start early, and REAL was starting at 9am!) and I crawled out of bed and started the process of getting ready; coffee first above all else!  After loading all my gear into the rental car I headed for the race venue at 6:30, which was when transition was to open.  I figured I'd arrive to full racks and be relegated to a non-optimal position.  I was surprised to see only about 10 cars in the parking lot at 7am, and only two bikes hanging on the rack.  I grabbed my bike and gear and headed over to registration to collect my packet.  After receiving my race goods and the appropriate body-marking, I headed for transition to claim my spot.  I layed out all my gear in a nice small area and then started chatting with other athletes, trying to gain as much knowledge about the course as possible since I hadn't pre-ridden it.  I learned that there were only a few muddy sections to worry about on the bike, and the run didn't have any muddy sections to speak of.  I also learned that the water temp was a nice crisp 51 degrees!  With about 30 minutes before the starting gun, I started the process of donning my wetsuit and heading for the lake.  I knew that with water temps that low my face would hurt when submerged and it would take 10-15 minutes to get acclimated.  I waded into the lake 15 minutes before the start and applied the requisite warm water to my wetsuit (aka peeing in the suit).  As I dove in I immediately was hit with the "Ice-Cream Headache" feeling that comes with water that cold.  I did several out-and-back swims, finally getting acclimated and ready for the cold swim.  With 2 minutes to go the race director called us all up onto the shore for a beach start.  Final directions were given and the countdown began ... 20 to go ... 10 to go ... 5 .. 4 .. 3 .. 2 .. 1 .. GOOOO!!!

The first 50 yards were very shallow, anywhere from 18-36" deep.  In order to get a good start we had to "porpoise" about 5 times before reaching water truly deep enough to swim.  Once into deep water I started swimming hard.  It was more difficult since the water was so cold, forcing me to breath much quicker than usual.  I was able to get off the front with a lead group of swimmers and draft all the way around the 1-lap course.  I knew that there were several people out of the water in front of me, but I wasn't sure how many.  Transition was a little tough since my hands and feet were numb, and I was having trouble with things like buckling my helmet.  Lucky for me everyone else had the same issues.  I left transition in around 6th place and caught and passed three people in the first 2 miles.  At that point I thought I was in 2nd and could see another athlete in front of me.  The course was very twisty, with lots of short climbs and descents through the forest surrounding the lake, which made for spectacular riding.  The trail was mostly sandy soil, and was extremely grippy after the rain the previous day.  It made for some very fast and fun riding!  I caught the athlete in front of me about halfway through the first lap and asked if he was the leader as I passed him.  He told me that there was another athlete about 30-45 seconds ahead of us, which gave me the motivation to keep pushing hard on the bike.  About 10 minutes later, after some of the best riding on the course, I spotted the leader and really focused on catching up.  I finally caught him with about 1/4 mile to go and we rode past transition together to start the second lap.  I passed him at a wide spot at the start of the second lap and kept pushing.  The second lap on the bike was absolutely an amazing ride.  I knew what was coming after the first lap, and I was able to really push my speed through the course.  I hit transition to a cheering crowd, which made me smile even bigger than I had been.

Flying into transition I racked my bike and went about swapping into my run gear.  As I was changing my shoes I realized my feet were still numb from the swim.  I pulled my right shoe off and saw the end of my big toe was bleeding severely.  Not wanting to waste time checking it out, I shoved my foot into my shoe, grabbed my visor and race belt with number, and ran out of transition.

As I ran along both of my feet were numb and felt like I was running on stumps, but they were working so I kept going.  I looked down after about 1/4 mile and saw a red spot forming in the front of my shoe.  I figured that once my feet warmed up I'd be able to tell how bad my toe was by the amount of pain that came along with the return of the feeling in my feet.  The run course was mostly singletrack with some short rolling climbs and some steep sustained climbs and descents.  It follows the lakeshore, peaking in and out of the trees.  About halfway through the run the trail drops down onto the shore for a short run through the sand and then up onto some granite formations as it climbs back up off the lakeshore, with spectacular views.  The trail bends back around 180 degrees and heads back to Granite Bay where it started, with a mix of singletrack and doubletrack that was truly a pleasure to run on.  Throughout the entire run I watched as the front of my shoe gained more red color, but as my feet regained feeling I never felt any pain.  As I came around one of the last corners on the run the race director was riding toward me and promptly spun around and headed for the finishing straight, alerting everyone that I was coming in.  Coming down the finishing straight and to the finishline was awesome, with tons of people cheering and ringing bells and having a great time and Xterra Win #2 in the books for 2012.  I was quickly handed Gatorade to start the rehydration process, and waited for my friends to come across the finishline.  It was much the same scene as the day before, with athletes congratulating each other and chatting about the course.  Several athletes had done both races, and we chatted about which one was a better race for us, and how difficult it was to push through the second race.  I again waited for a while and then cleaned up my transition area.  They had a hose to wash bikes with, which was a lifesaver after a muddy course.  The race also featured a lunch of chicken and pasta and salad served by some fantastic folks.  I received my award and hung around until all of the awards were handed out since I didn't have to pack my bike and head to another race.  I chatted with the race director for a few minutes and thanked him for a great race.  And then off to the hotel I went, satisfied with two days of awesome racing and two wins under my belt.

All-in-all it was a great weekend of racing.  It was nice to get the first couple races under me and remember all of the little idiosyncrasies of donning, swimming in, and removing a wetsuit, and getting through transition cleanly.  It validates the training that I've done to date and reassures me that I'm on the right track with Brian Grasky as my coach.

Next up, the Xterra West Championships in Vegas, stay tuned!

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