Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Going down to a house in the woods

And, the racing trend continues. Back in Tucson now, and winding down from a busy week and a half. After a couple weeks of decent training, it was off to XTERRA Snow Valley. Despite what I thought was decent planning, I ended up at home at midnight on Thursday before, realizing I had no clean clothes for my trip to combine work and play. Oops. That meant no Friday journey, and an early departure on Saturday morning for Running Springs, CA. No problem, traffic is easy on Saturday. Oh yeah, except Phoenix...

I rolled into Running Springs around 9:30 pm. Yes, 9:30 the night before the race. At least there was not time to get nervous! I was fortunate enough to share a cabin with a fellow Team TriSports athlete (Chrissy Parks), Grasky Endurance Coaching athlete and verified fast dude Bryce Phinney, and a TriSports Triathlon Club athlete that I have been racing with and against for several years (Ryan Hammerel). Talk about a good group! Unfortunately, though, Chrissy crashed hard on the pre-ride and would have to DNS. She was a good sport about it, and even managed to hike up the hill on Sunday to snap some photos of the descent. Of course, I think she was just scheming to get video of someone else going down... ;)

The race is unique. It is set at Snow Valley Ski Resort in southern California, a couple hours from LA and just an hour or so from the Inland Empire. The race starts at a reservoir...halfway up the ski hill. Get out of the water, go up to the top of the mountain, bomb down to the bottom, climb back to the top, bomb down again. Get off the bike, then run up, across and down a ski run. Go up another SERIOUS ski run, out and back on some double track, back down said SERIOUS ski run, across another ski run, and DOWN a run to the finish. All-around crazy (yet doable) and a justified XTERRA course for sure. Here is a somewhat terrible picture of the course. The bike descent goes down the blue run on the top of the ridge. A moderately steep, loose, and rutted section--the one that claimed Chrissy during the pre-ride.

Now on to my "only in XTERRA" comments. I showed up for packet pickup at 7:15...ON RACE MORNING. The race starts at 9 am!! And I was one of the first people there. No line for packet pickup, and they body marked me on the spot. 15 minutes later my bike was set up, and I walked out to set up T2 at the bottom of the hill. Not exactly football fields large...

Come 8 am, everyone is mulling around in the parking lot. Race coordinator on loudspeaker, "you probably want to start riding up to T1 now. The race is going to start at 9." Everyone casually gathers up their stuff and heads up the hill. And I mean UP. Switchbacks, loose corners, people showing off before the race, me realizing already that my hamstrings are going to be a problem. I don't think it is a good thing show up to a swim start sweaty and cramping... Okay, so I arrive at T1 around 8:30. NO ONE has a westuit on yet, and NO ONE is in the water. Everyone is hanging out in T1, helping each other out, moving over where space is needed, etc. Volunteers and the race director answering questions without rushing anyone. Just generally a friendly atmosphere. I am reminded that I need to race more XTERRA.

I got my wetsuit on and got in the water decently early. A 2-lap swim with a running section. New to me. Oh well, got out somewhat easy (it was at altitude after all), and push for the second lap. Everyone lined up for the deep-water start, and the horn went off a little after 9. No one complained about the late start. I found a good line early, found my groove, and went for it. I found clear water by halfway through the first lap. I lost a gap to the lead group (as always), but was at the front of the chase group. Swim continued uneventful. Off to the bike, and as I suspected, my hammies were shot. I got passed a lot on the first climb. Oh well, now for the major goal, don't go upside-down. The descent was a little slippery, but I felt solid overall. Same deal for the second lap. Climb was no fun, and the descent was good. Off to T2.

I was determined to run the whole thing. The course was determined to prove me wrong. It won. At a certain point (probably something like 20% slope), it is just as fast to walk and save energy. I did. Across the slope felt great, and back down. More walking uphill, trying not to fall down on the downhill, and then a good push into the finish line. Overall, I achieved my goals. Solid swim, no dismounts or crashes on the bike, and survive the run :)

I ended up 7th in my AG. Not outstanding, but I came into the race with an open mind. Have fun and don't hurt yourself. Mission accomplished. There will be more XTERRA and MTB racing in my future. Bryce probably had different goals for the race, but I think he accomplished them too.

Hung out at the awards ceremony for a while, and watched the final finisher get ushered in the by the Devil. And the mini-devil I suppose? The Devil hung out at the steep incline on the run and split duty between heckling and encouraging. It was entertaining to hear everyone talking about the course. "Yeah, where we turned down the black diamond from the blue diamond..."

Finally, a note on the race itself and the race management. These guys did an AWESOME job putting on the race. They managed a 10k and half marathon on Saturday, and then this XTERRA on Sunday. Despite a relatively small field, there were ABUNDANT volunteers at the aid stations. Yes, there was a great raffle. No, you didn't have to wait around for it. The raffle was pre-drawn, so you just show up at the raffle table after the race and ask for your prizes. Good stuff. Everyone was friendly and helpful. The awards (seen from a distance) were incredible. Hand-made and unique. Next year, the tri will be on Saturday, which I think is going to lead to a lot of competition next year for the combined XTERRA and hungover half-marathon time! I'm in! Who's up for the challenge?

And, we'll compare this experience with my latest road tri in the next installment...this was too long. Until next time.

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