Road trip 2015: USAT off-road natz/Xterra SouthEast

Well I’ve put this off long enough! I had planned to build an entire series off my road trip to Alabama, but things never worked out the way I anticipated. Here’s my story:

For the past 3 years I’ve headed off to Pelham, AL for the Xterra southeast regional championships at Oak Mountain State Park. Despite its reputation as an “oven”, I have yet to see the hot temps that I’d like. Moreover, the previous 2 years saw us in wetsuits for the swim after dubious water temps were taken; I won’t say anything more on that. Truth be known, I just like the race and the course, which features some of the best single track I race on all year. Which is why I planned to attend this year’s joint regional Xterra and USAT off-road nationals (I’m glad USAT is finally beginning to recognize off-road tri).

Every new beginning comes from…

Year 1 and done at Ferrum College

Year 1 and done at Ferrum College

Yeah, May is here and the school year is done! Queue Alice Cooper. I wrapped up commencement and headed back to Richmond for a couple days before leaving early Wednesday morning. I had planned to leave earlier, but opted for spending my birthday at home and then leaving. This compressed my schedule a bit, and probably was partly to blame for my race performance; more on that later. After 10 plus hours in the car I rolled into Oak Mountain SP, planning to grab my camp site and set-up my tent quickly. However, the park office had other ideas, in what can only be described as a complete disregard for rational customer service, as I waited nearly 40 min for one person to talk everyone’s ear off, as well as micromanage the register. Sorry, but it reminded me of those races where you pre-reg and really need to warm-up but the race just has everyone stand in one line and wait for all the day-of reg’s.

Have tent, will camp!

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Nice spot.

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Camp life is not so bad!

OK, once I left the office I was able to get my tent up and head out for a shortened ride. I will give the park props for being clean and quiet! Being about a mile from the races big climb, I opted to tackle that and the tricky single track that follows, including the dreaded Blood Rock. Here’s where my race began to unravel.

Save it for the race!

Once out on my ride I realized quickly that my Camel Bak was filled with caffeinated race drink (DOH!) which at that time of day would have kept me wired all night. I also forgot a water bottle, leaving me with no fluids over 90 min of riding. While I went easy on the climb, the MTB is still difficult to ride easy, because riding trails slow is both ineffective and unhelpful. Still, I finished out the ride in darkness and had to pull together dinner quickly and get to bed.

Fortunately, the night was cool and sleep was solid. I woke up early and went for a short run, and should have opted for a short ride or nothing Thursday (2 days out), but I opted for more trail review. I felt good with my recon on Blood Rock and the single track at the beginning, but still felt compelled to ride more. I cannot stress enough how important it is to show up to a race rested and ready. Sometimes judgement gets clouded in the training and good sensations. In truth, I left my much of my race strength with most of my tools (thanks to my seat pack failure), out on the trails! However, I probably made a mess of the 2 weeks after Myrtle Beach. Bottomline, I could only make the most of things as they were, realizing on Thursday I may have overcooked it. With that, I rested Friday and prepped for race day.

Dialing in Blood Rock.

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Great races begin with great equipment and sponsors.

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Tri’s are never won in the swim, but they sure are lost

The title gives you the punch line, but not the whole picture. The short story is that my swim set me back in the race, but didn’t tell the whole story. The trails were in good shape and looking at my Strava file I hit PR’s on every trail section, but one, the big climb, which was more than a minute slower. As opposed to 2013, when I really drilled that climb, I really lacked any real punch, and rode a steady tempo. Clearly my legs were sapped. An early, albeit minor crash, foreshadowed things to come later, too. Despite picking up spots all the way through the MTB, I was still looking for more, and as the lower trails wound on, I began taking more risks, until I found myself stymied by a tree, Oomph! I’m not certain who was more stunned, me or the rider I was passing. Despite the impact, my shoulder was left bruised, but nothing broken, and I stayed upright. Pressing on, I caught two more riders, but slid out in a turn. I remounted quickly, but that last crash proved more damaging to my right knee, now bleeding.

Take a deep breath

At this point I came to the realization that there would be no magic on the day and had to verbally tell myself to relax and just finish out the MTB in one piece. Coming into transition, I was feeling ok, and was quickly out on the run course turning a good cadence. Despite quickly passing four runners, it was clear this would be no Myrtle Beach. Moreover, its virtually impossible to know where you are (place-wise) in a race, so you simply have to embrace the pain and stay focused. As the final miles ticked by I hit the final paved section and cruised in for 51st overall and 6th in my age group. It wasn’t the result I wanted, but there would be time to reflect and adjust for Richmond, June 14th.

By the numbers:

~2400 kcals

1.5 L of Matcha Green Tea + Lemons Skratch Labs exercise hydration mix

Honey Stinger Blueberry Buzz bars consumed pre-race, and 1 during, plus 1 GingerSnap Waffle.

MTB: 213 W (NP) @ 153 bpm AvHR; 1020 kJ

Run: 7:05 min/mile @ 165 AvHR and Avg cadence of 178

You can find me on Garmin Connect as crharnish, or on Strava.

If you have you’re own stories or questions related to Xterra, email me.

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