Below are my experiences from XTERRA Real (my first mountain bike triathlon). Whew! I survived…
Saturday morning started out just like every other race day when I have to head to California. Ate a ton of white rice, 3 eggs, and a banana to boot as I loaded my car and set out over the hill to XTERRA Real. The chilly mountain air brought in some eerie, foggy mist that swirled around my neon green mountain bike, and the thump of AC/DC carried on in the background during the two hour trip… I’ve raced in Folsom twice a year for the past six years, so nothing new about the venue.
I’ve had my share of race butterflies in the 11 years I’ve been racing, but nothing quite like on Saturday. What a lot of people fail to understand is that mountain bike (MTB) racing and road racing share very little in common, other than two wheels (and even the wheels are difference sizes with different tire treads), a saddle, and bike pedals. So basically, they’re both bikes, and there the similarities end.
I rolled into transition, racked my bike, and headed down to the water ready to rock. The water was chilly. Not as bad as it could have been and not as warm as I would have liked. There was a lot of driftwood, which added to the already busy mass-start, and an elbow that crunched into my nose turned my swim for the worst as I struggled with icy water and nose disorientation :[ It took me a few minutes to compose myself and get back into my rhythm before finishing the swim and running 1/3 of a mile back into transition…
I normally ride sock-less, but with MTB I wasn’t quite ready for that transition. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of time putting dry socks on wet feet… gah. Rookie mistake! It was definitely a relief finally heading out onto the course after a frustrating swim, even if the knot in my stomach was only tightening as the least familiar part of my day was about to begin.
The first few miles of the bike course consisted of some slushy mud berms, dried tire tracks that had hardened into giant ruts in the ground, and huge pools of water that required riders to plow into them head on. I was covered in mud within the first five miles, but secretly enjoyed every filthy second. The course quickly turned into a technical adventure as a large drop-off from parking lot pavement quickly plunged us into up and down rollers, with large rocks and roots, washed out sections of trail, and some tricky and quite narrow rock garden action. For me, one of the most unique things was having to hop over a fallen tree trunk with my bike in tow. Haven’t done that before!
By the time lap two rolled around, a fair number of competitors had passed me. While it felt like the entire field had gone whizzing by, apparently it wasn’t as many as I thought. Still pretty bad, although it was obvious that most of the athletes out there emphasized MTB in their training over swimming, running, or road cycling, and here I was doing my first. Several times around the course I had to hop off the bike to navigate an obstacle, or I picked the incorrect line heading into a turn or climb and needed to get back to my own two feet for a few seconds. No problem there – my goal was still just to finish…and finish I did.
It’s not very often that I look forward to being off of the bike and onto the run, but this year I’ve done my time in my running shoes and felt great coming into T2. I threw on my Nevada-blue Altra Superior’s and flew out of the transition in demonic pursuit of my nearest adversaries! I gunned down two competitors in the first quarter mile, and chipped away three more before mile one came to a close. I felt fantastic! Despite struggling through the mountain bike, I had saved plenty of energy for the run (ironically, my strongest event of the day) and was ready to bring the hammer. Whipped through three miles at under a 6:41 pace, and then knocked off the final half mile at around 6:10, scooting past another 7-8 competitors in the process. It was great to let the legs loose and track down those who epicly smoked me on the bike, and even better to feel the benefits of all the running and speed work that I’ve done since November (~310 miles worth)…
My race affirmation for the season was rattling around inside my skull the entire time, especially when the legs were burning, and gave me plenty of the juice to keep after it, despite being so far behind on the bike.
“In it to win it; one more minute!”
Highlights from the day would be (obviously) finishing the race intact and injury free, (except my nose which is still slightly bruised), rocking our new race kits (can’t get enough of these things!), and coming in strong on the 3.5 mile run. It’s going to be a great racing season, and the Iron-distance stuff will be here soon enough. When all was said and done, I took 21st overall, and 4th in my age group. Turns out I missed the 2nd and 3rd place guys by about 18 seconds… If I only I had another half mile on the run, they would’ve been toast :-]
I learned a lot about a sport I previously considered myself very familiar with, and have a long ways to go, especially with my bike skills. Good times!