A Note from Fatty About the GranFondo Contest: We haven’t drawn winners yet, but will be drawing them today. So if you haven’t gotten notified, it doesn’t mean you didn’t win. Isn’t that a relief? Thanks, by the way, to everyone who donated. We raised $7390, which is an awesome amount.
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: I know I said last Thursday that today I was going to write about riding the Alpe d’Huez. But today I feel like writing about the race I did last weekend. So the Alpe d’Huez post will come a little later this week. Probably not tomorrow though. I’ve got a very strange and embarrassing post I want to do tomorrow.
Before I begin, let me make one thing clear. I’m just not going to write “Xterra” in all-caps, the way Xterra apparently thinks I should. Because all-caps is reserved for shouting, and I just don’t have enough vocal control, nor pent-up enthusiasm, to always shout a given word.
Sorry, LiveStrong, same goes for you (and I’m for sure not going to both all-cap your name and bold the second half of it. I’m just not. Be grateful I even give you that capital “S” in the middle of your name).
Last Saturday, THE HAMMER (by the way, I’d like everyone to begin all-capping THE HAMMER’s name, as well as alternating between bolding and underlining the letters in that name, and make the font color in the bold characters cyan, and the underlined characters magenta) and I did the Xterra Utah Off-Road Triathalon. This race — a 1-mile swim, 17-mile MTB ride, and 6-mile trail run — happened at the same time (well, 30 minutes after the start), on the same course, as the Xterra USA Championship race.
I plan to describe the race. Really, I do. But first, I think you probably have a question on the tip of your tongue. One that requires answering.
That question is, “Why?”
Why would we do an Xterra race, when both The Hammer (I was just kidding about that all-cap, alternating bold/underline thing) and I suck at swimming?
OK, maybe “suck” is too harsh a word, because if we really sucked, we wouldn’t be able to swim a mile at all, when in fact neither of us were worried about completing a mile swim, thanks to the miracle of our Aqua Sphere wetsuits.
But neither of us have been in the pool since…well…since we did the Ironman a year and change ago.
However, both of us are in the best biking shape of our lives, and we have been doing trail running once a week throughout the Summer, just to mix things up.
And two out of three ain’t bad, right? I mean, the swim part is the shortest part of the race.
And the course is close to home — just an hour and change of a drive — so we wouldn’t have to get a hotel or anything.
So when it came right down to it, we decided to do the Xterra because there weren’t any really good reasons (except the swim, I mean) not to.
We got up at 4:00 on Saturday, drove to the Reservoir in Ogden, picked up our race packets, and got our body markings — race number on both shoulders, age group (45 for me, 40 for The Hammer) on the right calf.
Between wearing my wetsuit for the first leg of the race and my new FatCyclist tech-T for the second two legs, I figured nobody would ever see the numbers on my shoulders, but I’m all about the whole “When in Xterra-land, do as the Xterrans do” thing, so I didn’t say a thing.
We wheeled our bikes over to the swim-to-bike transition area, fastened the number plates to our bikes, then laid out towels on the ground with the things we’d need as we changed from our wetsuits into our bike riding clothes:
- MTB shoes: All undone and laid out. For me, that meant my Specialized S-Works MTB shoes with the Boa Closure System, which meant all I’d have to do to tighten my shoes on is spin a couple dials. I’m loving these shoes in general, but the closure system in particular makes it so easy to tighten / loosen my shoes while I ride. Plus, putting them on / taking them off is speedy.
- Socks: One in each shoe
- Food: One Honey Stinger Waffle, one packet of Honey Stinger Energy Chews, one Powerbar Energy Gel.
- Helmet, containing my gloves, my sunglasses, and my food
- FatCyclist Tech-T: The new Team Fatty gear came in last week, and the tech-t seemed like the perfect thing to wear: easy to just pull on and wear for both the bike and run, since I wouldn’t need any zippers.
I safety-pinned my number to the front of the shirt and laid it on the towel. I wouldn’t need to deal with changing shorts; I would be wearing some chamois-less shorts (that were otherwise very similar to regular bike shorts) under my wetsuit and would wear them for both the bike and run.
Satisfied we had everything in place, we drove to Snowbasin ski resort, where the the bike-to-run transition and finish line were. There, all we needed to do was lay down some running shoes, a bottle of water, and another packet of Energy Chews.
We left our car at Snowbasin, taking a shuttle back to the starting line at the reservoir. Here, we changed into our wetsuits.
We were, finally, ready to go. And honestly, this is my only real grievance with the whole triathalon thing. Setup is a hassle. Setting up for three different events, placing stuff in different places, and then collecting, cleaning and putting away all of that gear afterward is a nuisance, and is the main reason–besides the fact that I am a very slow swimmer and a pretty slow runner–I don’t expect to make Xterra (or any kind of triathalon) my main thing.
There were actually three races going on last Saturday. There was the Xterra USA Championships; they would start at 9:00. There was the Xterra Utah Long, which was on the identical course to the Championships, but would start half an hour after the fast guys took off. And then there was the Xterra Utah Sport, which would do a half-mile swim, a 12-mile mountain bike ride, and a 5Km trail run; the sport class would start ten minutes or so after us.
The Hammer and I stood in the water, which was barely cold enough to require wetsuits and actually just fine to stand in, as the Championship racers took off, taking two laps around a half-mile triangle course in the reservoir. We were astonished at how fast the pros were, the fastest finishing in 21:23.
“Those guys would lap us in the swim, in just two laps,” I said. Which turned out, unfortunately, to not be even a slight exaggeration.
While we were watching, a riding buddy of mine, Cori Jones, waded up to The Hammer and I. Neither of us had had any idea that the other would be racing, and both of us had pretty much the same fears: a bad swim and a hard run.
The Hammer and I wished each other luck when the announcer gave us the ten second warning, then waded out into the water when the whistle blew.
And that would be the last time we’d see each other ’til the finish line.
I started my swim, consciously taking it easy, knowing that if I pushed hard in this leg I’d wipe myself out for the other two legs, without being appreciably faster. I swam twenty strokes, and looked up for my first buoy siting and course correction.
Where was that buoy? I couldn’t see it. The fact that I was staring into the sun didn’t help. Oh well, I could see that I was directly behind a large group of swimmers, so evidently was no more off course than a bunch of other people.
I swam another twenty strokes. Sited again. Still couldn’t see the buoy, but could see I was still in a pack of swimmers.
This continued forever. Figuring that I was swimming around an equilateral triangle, I wondered how, if each section took me this long, I’d ever get around twice.
So I gave up. Decided to quit. Before I even got to the first buoy. “I just don’t think I can get around this sucker twice,” I thought. “And I don’t really even want to.”
I resolved, for form’s sake–and just in case I changed my mind–to swim the first lap before I got out of the water.
Finally–finally–I got to the first buoy. And as I made the right turn to head to the second buoy, I got a good, strong, kick in the face.
My nose stung, and my goggles slid off my eyes and most of the way up my forehead.
I came to a stop, started treading water, and fixed my goggles. “Now I really quit,” I thought to myself.
But I’d still do the first lap. Just in case.
And then, in just a couple minutes, I got to the second buoy. As it turns out, the buoys weren’t the corners of an equilateral triangle. They were the corners of an obtuse icosceles triangle. Which meant that the trip to the first buoy was a lot longer than the trip to the second and third buoys.
I changed my mind by the time I came around the second buoy. I’d try to finish the race after all.
I swam my twenty strokes then looked up to sight the buoy. It wasn’t where I expected it. I had veered too far left. I swam another twenty strokes, this time consciously trying to pull a little to the right. I looked up.
I had veered even further left.
I swam twenty strokes, thinking I was now positively pulling in a clockwise circle.
Nope. Still veering left.
So I started sighting every ten strokes. I was still veering left, but at least I was making more frequent course corrections and so not covering as much extra ground (um, water).
For the second lap of the swim, now knowing the stretch to the first buoy was longer than the others, I was no longer dismayed by it. I knew that once I got to it, The next two sections would come quickly, and then I’d be out of the water.
But as I rounded the corner at the first buoy, I suddenly found myself in a thrashing mass of people. I looked up, wondering why–I figured I had dropped behind most everyone in my group long ago.
But this was not my group. My group was all wearing red swim caps. This group was wearing green.
It was the sport racers. Their race had begun, apparently sometime shortly after I finished my first lap. Now they were swimming by–and over–me as I worked my way around my second lap.
The Swim-to-Bike Transition
Eventually, though, I did it. I rounded the second buoy, then swam toward the ramp, and got out of the water. After a few moments of unsteadiness, I was able to half-walk, half-jog to the transition area, as I pulled down the zipper on my wetsuit and began stripping to the waist.
Once inside the transition area, I sat down, pulled off the wetsuit off the rest of the way, then stuffed the waffle into my mouth and chewed it while I put on my socks and shoes.
I stood up, grabbed my shirt, and pulled it over my head.
It wouldn’t go on. Something was wrong.
I pulled it back off and looked at it.
Oh great. I had pinned the front of the shirt to the back with one of the pins. Smart.
I undid the bad pin and repinned it, then pulled it on.
Nope, still pinned all the way through. I am such a dope.
I pin it one more time, this time being really careful about not poking the pin through the back of the shirt.
Success! Now I can finish dressing myself! Huzzah!
As I exit the transition area and start riding, I wonder to myself: how much time did that take, and how many places will it cost me? My guess is two minutes, and the results show it probably cost me either one or two places in the overall, but no place difference in my age group. Regardless, my shirt blunder didn’t exactly cost me a spot on the podium.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My swim time was 41:59. I was the 111th fastest (ha!) person doing the long course, out of 151 starters. Which put me, I believe, pretty much in the back third of the pack.
Since I’ve spent some time complaining about the parts I don’t like about Xterra–logistics and my inability to swim (which is more a complaint about my inexperience and inability, but whatever) — let me spend a moment talking about something I loved about this event:
The bike ride was incredible. First of all, it was all singletrack. Second of all, it was really great singletrack. Third of all, it was great singletrack that had plenty of places for passing.
And fourth of all–and this was a good thing for me–it was almost entirely uphill. A couple of short downhills, but really, it was a climber’s delight.
Here, let me show you what the elevation profile looked like:
That’s about 3400 feet of climbing, in about seventeen miles.
Knowing the course would be almost all about climbing, I was riding my Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper 29er HT. Which has become, by the way, pretty much my favorite mountain bike of all time.
I started the ride. And that’s when I realized the full impact of what a problem it is in Xterra to be slow at swimming but fast on the bike.
I passed people. A lot of people. While climbing. On singletrack.
And since the Sport racers were–at least for the first several miles–on the same course as those of us doing the long course, I didn’t just have the hundred or so people from my race ahead of me; I had all the people who finished the Sport swim ahead of me to pass, too.
I became very good at notifying people I was on their left. Or, occasionally, on their right.
And I got pretty good at passing long trains of people.
One thing I want to say about the racers there is that every single one of them was incredibly polite about letting me pass. I didn’t have a single person refuse to find a spot for me, and more often than not, I got a lot of encouragement from people as I went by.
These were good people racing.
About a third of the way up, I did a bad shift right before a hairpin and had to climb off my bike to get the chain back on.
And that’s when my friend Cori went by. The only singlespeeder on the course, I’m pretty sure.
I hopped back on and gave chase. By the time the Sport course racers split off onto their own, shorter course–greatly reducing the number of people I needed to pass–I had caught and re-passed Cori.
Then, on the downhill as I hit a corner too fast and had to skid to a stop, Cori cleaned the corner and passed me again.
All this on fast, fun, singletrack. I am going back there sometime just to ride.
I managed to catch back up with Cori during the final little climb, and we pulled into the second transition area together.
We had both improved our positions pretty significantly. He would have the fifth-fastest bike split for our race; I was the sixth-fastest with 1:48:57.
We agree that we probably each passed as many as 150 people during that ride.
Cori got out of the transition faster than I did, partly just because he’s faster than I am, partly because I was incredibly thirsty and sat down to slug down my entire bottle of water before I changed my shoes.
In any case, Cori was just a distant speck up ahead when I began the six-mile trail run on rocky singletrack, and I’d never see him for the rest of the race; he opened up a 9:30 gap on me by the time the race was over.
The first mile of this trail run–and it was an honest-to-goodness trail run was ugly-steep, wearing me down to a walk (and a thirteen-minute pace). I don’t feel so badly about that pace when I look at the elevation profile, though:
Yeah. That’s just mean.
I had hoped this leg of the race would go well for me. After all, The Hammer and I have been doing some trail running, usually with more distance and altitude gain than this run had. But a couple days before this race, I had stumbled and landed funny, and my right hip and knee hadn’t stopped hurting. So I felt slow, I hurt, and — strangely — I was a little bit tired.
Then I saw, up ahead, a woman racer, using the kind of crutches that brace above your wrists, then have hand grips just below. It looked like her left hip was what was slowing her down, because the rest of her was in what looked like pro-level shape.
As I got near, she pivoted around so she was facing downhill, then started working her way up backwards.
She wasn’t fast, but she was doing it.
I didn’t want to sound condescending, but I did want to let her know how much I admired that kind of toughness, so I just said essentially that: “Hey, way to tough it out.”
And I decided maybe my sore hip and knee weren’t such a big deal.
I ground out the miles. Not fast, but as I got into the third mile my hip stopped bothering me so much and I started enjoying myself.
At the fourth mile the course turned downhill, and by the time I got to the beginning of the final mile, I could hear the announcer’s voice, and I stopped feeling tired at all. I may have even picked up the pace.
Or maybe it just felt like I did.
Then, right before the finish line: a cruel joke: a short, steep climb. Probably no more than 50 yards. But what a fifty yards.
And then I crossed the finish line. 1:04:08 for the run, making me the 96th fastest (ha ha!) runner.
Obsessing Over Numbers
My total finishing time was 3:35:04, or 37th (out of 151 starters and 136 finishers) for the Long Course. This was also good enough to get me 8th place (out of 15) in the 45-49 age group. Exactly mid-pack.
And so of course I couldn’t help but spend a couple of minutes doing “What-if” scenarios with the numbers. For the different Men’s age groups, here’s what my time would have earned me:
- Under 19: 2nd
- 20-24: 1st
- 25-29: 5th
- 30-34: 6th
- 35-39: 5th
- 40-44: 10th
- 50-54: 3rd
- 60-64: 1st
So yeah, I guess these endurance sports really are for old men.
By the way, my overall finishing time, if I had been in the Championship race, would have gotten me 169th place, out of 287 racers. (Or 288 racers, I guess, since I’d be counting my imaginary self.)
And that 6th-fastest time on the bike I’m so proud of? In the Championship race, that time would have gotten me 91st place for that leg.
Oh, and you know how Cori was the fifth-fastest guy on the bike in our race? Guess who was the fifth-fastest cyclist in the Championship race? A guy you might’ve heard of before: Lance Armstrong.
Obviously, a different caliber of racer in that Championship group.
The Hammer had a great day on the course: she never considered quitting, even in the swim part. Like me, she spent her entire bike ride passing people (and for the same reason, a slow swim). And she did her run four minutes faster than I did. Her final time was 3:54:54, making her the 8th woman to finish overall, taking 4th in her age group.
There’s a little bit of heartbreak there, because she finished only two minutes away from her age group podium. Kristina Smith, the woman who beat Lisa, was much faster in the water, but Lisa was much faster on the bike. With their near identical run times, it was really about as close a race as it could have been.
So, would we do this race again? Why yes, I believe we would. Next year, in fact, I think we’ll do it again.
But will we spend some time swimming (perhaps learning to swim with good form) between now and then, so we’re faster out of the water, so we don’t have to waste so much energy passing people?
No. I don’t think we will.