This one’s for my brother, Scott
My 2015 Xterra Off-Road Triathlon World Chamionships race was full of firsts:
– This was the first of the three Worlds races where we had travel issues getting to Maui, missing our flight to San Jose where we would catch our Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui. We ended up flying out of Phoenix on Hawaiian at an additional cost of over six hundred dollars.
– This was the first of the three Worlds races where I was competing on so little training, as I have been struggling with injuries for most of the last year. First there was the breathing issue that turned out to be nothing more than exercise induced asthma, or so they think. Then, my right hamstring tendon decided to go south on me and refuse to heal after 3 months of self care until it got 7 weeks of professional physical therapy. To add injury to injury, I had crashed my mountain bike two weeks before we left for Maui and severely bruised my right hip and somewhat less severely bruised my right ribs. So I showed up on the start line with some pretty good swim training, but very little in the way of run and bike training, no workouts longer than about 2.5 hours, and some very tender body parts.
– This was the first triathlon EVER (out of 25 or so) where I had a flat tire in the race. I’ve had flat tires when I went back to retrieve my bike after the race, but never a flat during the ride. And, of course, it happened at the most inopportune time possible.
– This was the first of the three Worlds races where I didn’t bring my floor pump. This is directly related to the flat tire first.
– This was the first of the three Worlds where I would need my albuterol inhaler. This is related, although somewhat more tangentially, to my flat tire. Yeah, it’s a bit of a story, but that what these race reports are for.
– And, of course, as is my luck, this was the first of the three Worlds where Maui tied a heat record for the day. The heat, combined with the Maui humidity contributed to a very poor bike performance by this severely under-trained desert dwelling triathlete.
I knew I was in terrible shape for the race. On top of that, the bike course had been lengthened by two miles and a bunch of technical (although not overly so) singletrack had replaced some of the jeep road that comprised the bike course the last time I raced here in Kapalua. Add to that the fact that there had been a lot of rain on the course in the few days prior to my practice ride before the race and I found myself with quite the challenge on Wednesday morning for my pre-ride.
The course was a greasy, slippery, muddy mess. As you may know, I live in the dry desert; no humidity, lots of dry heat in the summer and very little rain. The last time I even saw mud was three years ago when I rode through the single mud bog on the otherwise bone dry bike course of the 2012 XTERRA Worlds. I, almost literally, never ride in the mud. Now I was faced with 19 miles of hilly, technical mountain bike course with lots of mud.
My plan was to pre-ride the lower bowl, which consisted of the first three miles and the last five miles of the bike course, because I knew I wasn’t in good enough shape to recover from a full 19 mile pre-ride by race day. This was where most of the technical stuff was and the other ten miles of the course I already knew from the course I rode three years ago. Although, with all the rain that this part of Maui has had over the last few months the course had become so overgrown it was hardly recognizable.
It took me over *two hours* to ride 8 miles. There was mud on a lot of the turns and the first three miles were almost all uphill…so steep that I’d be hike-a-biking a lot of it on race day. It was so slick, it was downright scary in spots and I didn’t bring mud tires. I was not filled with confidence when I finished the pre-ride, especially when I saw some of the pros returning from full pre-rides absolutely covered in mud.
Did I mention that, at the time, they were predicting more rain for the course before race day?
I wasn’t worried about the run course. I’d seen it before and I knew there were no substantial changes. “Not worried” is a slight exaggeration. I knew it was all uphill for the first half and all downhill for the second half. After that bike ride in the heat and humidity I knew the run course would be no fun, with me having to walk most of the first half and hoping not to have cramps as I ran what I could of the second half.
The swim would be no problem. I was actually trained for that and the shore break was predicted to be considerably less than than the 6-10 feet that we had for the 2012 race.
After the pre-ride my plan was to get as much rest as possible before race day, only doing a short run on Thursday and a short bike ride on Friday on the roads.
We moved into the host hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, on Saturday after Brigitte ran the 10k trail race that XTERRA holds on the day before the big race and capturing third place in her age group. I would have to walk my bike no more than a few hundred yards to transition on Sunday morning.
In spite of my misgivings about my training and the conditions on the course I got a fairly good night’s sleep on Saturday as the word was the course had dried out considerably but there were still some muddy spots.
I awoke on Sunday morning at 6:30 for a 7AM transition opening. There would be no body marking as another first for me this year was number tattoos in my race packet which I had applied the night before. That would save as much as twenty minutes of pre-race preparation in transition since there would be no line for body marking, so no reason to hurry.
I made and drank my chocolate milk/ banana smoothie. I drank two cups of the espresso that they had in the room for the caffeine boost. I had prepared all my nutrition and hydration the night before. I had a gel flask on the bike containing the contents of four Gu packets. I had prepared an insulated water bottle with two GU Brew electrolyte tablets and some water for electrolyte replacement on the bike. All I needed to do was add some ice which I did after a quick trip down the hall to the ice machine. I would chase a quarter of the gel flask with some of the electrolyte solution every 4-5 miles on the bike ride. Lastly, for the bike, I had filled a 70 oz Camelbak with Gatorade and froze it in the room fridge so it would still be cold by the time I started the bike ride. For the run I had 10 endurolyte capsules and four GU packets along with a bottle of Gatorade that I had also packed with ice. I would place this under my transition bag to keep it out of the sun.
Everything got laid out and double checked before being packed into my transition bag
Here’s where the floor pump usually came in. Since I didn’t have it, I purchased a digital tire gauge at West Maui Cycles as I had planned. I was going to top off the tires and check for proper inflation with my hand pump in transition and then the pump would accompany me in my Camelbak for the ride. Normally, I would check the tire inflation before leaving for transition. This was another and costly first for this race.
I had packed all of my equipment in my transition bag after double and triple checking everything the night before. I loaded up the transition bag and headed for transition at a little after 7AM. I was in no hurry. It was a 5 minute walk to transition and the race didn’t start til 9AM. All I had to do was lay out my stuff and check my tires.
After dropping off my bike and setting up my stuff I had to make a porta-potty trip. After that I ran into Brigitte and asked her to go to the car and get my inhaler which I am still not used to needing. In the warm moist air of Maui it was unlikely that it would make much difference but I figured I could use all the help I could get.
I went back to transition to double check everything and top off the tires. Just as I reached for the tire gauge, Brigitte yelled from the transition fence that she had my inhaler. So, with my train of thought now interrupted I grabbed my inhaler, took two puffs, and proceeded to go for a warmup run, completely spacing out the tire inflation task.
Transition, just before the race. The beach is well beyond the trees to the left of center. My bike is well to the right of the picture, even further up the hill.
After my warmup run I wandered down to the beach and went for a swim. Just as predicted, the surf wasn’t too bad; certainly nothing like the 6-10 foot shore break that we experienced three years ago. There would still be a few good swells coming in but they were fairly tame when they broke. I got in a nice swim and the really good news was that my wonky left shoulder had decided not to bother me much at all this morning.
After a few pictures on the beach once Brigitte came down to the start, I had little to do for the next 15 minutes but wait for the start. I found a good spot on the far right of the beach as I faced the ocean and waited for the Boom! of the cannon signaling the pros to go off right at 9AM. Well, for some reason there was no cannon, only an air horn sending the pros charging off into the surf. That was my cue, with 5 minutes left, to put my goggles and swim cap on since the age group males were next.
The air horn wailed 5 minutes later and I waded into the ocean. The sea bottom on this side of the beach wasn’t sandy. It’s a large, smooth rock which made for a somewhat unsteady entry into the water. I dove through a couple of breaking waves and was finally swimming steadily past a guy doing breast stroke after a minute or so.
The plan was to swim steadily without a huge effort for the 1500 meters of the “M” shaped course. We would swim out to a buoy, turn left 90 degrees and then do another 90 degree left turn around another buoy about 10 yards away to separate us from the outgoing swimmers behind us as we headed to shore for the 30 yard beach run before re-entering the ocean and doing it all over again with a little angle to the left to make up the other side of the “M”.
The Swim Course
I had a fairly smooth swim out to the first buoy. The faster women age groupers, starting 5 minutes behind the men, caught me just before the first buoy. Because of the crowd, I ended up swimming a little wider than I would have liked around the first buoy but it wasn’t too bad. I swam steadily towards the beach aiming for the marker buoy, never stopping until I reached shore after the first leg, even when I got swam over from behind by a group of faster swimmers.
After running the short beach leg I re-entered the water and swam well to the buoy marking the final turnaround. The water was a bit rougher on this leg but I just kept swimming. I sighted fairly well and didn’t wander too badly, only getting surprised once when I looked up to sight by a wave that shoved a mouthful of sea water down my throat. I was surprised by how fast the buoy came up as I rounded it sharply and headed for shore. A few minutes later, after riding a wave for the last 20 yards or so, I hit the beach and started running for transition, crossing the timing mat in 38 minutes flat by my Garmin. I know that’s not terribly fast but it’s as well as I’ve ever done in an XTERRA swim so I felt pretty good as I headed up to transition. I finished 721 out of 773 swim finishers. Not bad .
Then my day started to unravel.
I always have a crappy T1. First, it’s a long way from the beach to my bike at the top of the hill where transition had been laid out, at least 200 uphill yards. Then, I can never get the sand off my feet quickly. I think I’m going to start keeping a bowl of water at transition from now on. I struggled with my towel to wipe off the stubborn sand and finally got my socks on over my wet feet along with some sand that didn’t come off.
I managed to get all my equipment on and didn’t forget anything in transition. But I realized quite quickly that my front tire was way low on air. So I spent a few minutes with my hand pump and got it firm enough to keep riding. The back tire seemed OK so I left it alone. I would regret that later.
As expected, much hike-a-bike ensued during the first three miles. The course, although much drier than during my ugly pre-ride, was muddier than I thought it would be, but not too bad. Still slick in some spots, as I would become painfully aware later on but I wasn’t too apprehensive.
After blowing a couple of turns too widely I suddenly realized my problem with my mountain biking skills. I was becoming fixated on the obstacles instead of concentrating on where I wanted the front wheel to go. What a difference! I immediately started riding faster by keeping my eyes focused on the exit of turns instead of the apex and as far down the straights as I could see. I was still nervous about encountering an unexpected muddy patch so my top speed was a little limited but I sure felt a lot more comfortable on the bike.
It was hot! And it was humid! The course was very overgrown and the jungle foliage kept what little wind there was away from the trail on much of the hike-a-bike. Being in such poor physical condition for the race my body readily overheated if I pushed too hard while walking my bike up the miles of steep trail. In some spots I had to stop and rest every thirty yards until I reached the top of a hill and then blessedly revived from a cooling breeze as I charged down the other side. Every time I stopped to rest a stream of sweat would flow off of my head and my kit was as wet now with sweat as it was when I left the ocean after the swim. This was going to be a very long day.
Just before the first aid station I had my first crash. After flying down a steep hill the trail made a sharp right at the bottom of the hill straight into a giant mud bog. The pros told us not to try and ride through it but I was sure I could make it. I got about 20 yards into the mud and went down fairly softly into a pile of brush that had been laid down to give some traction through the muck. No damage done except a small cut on my left ring finger, which I didn’t discover until I saw the blood oozing out over my finger at the next aid station, and a ton of mud on the bike and on me. I picked up the bike, slogged through the rest of the 4-inch deep mud bog pushing the bike and motored on to aid station number one at 6 miles of the bike course.
Mud Bog Crash Video
I need to cut down on my aid station time. I spent way too long getting my cut washed out, pouring water on my head and back and getting my bottle re-filled. Then the fun began.
The view from Razor Ridge
The bike course elevation profile has two big peaks and then roller coasters its way back to transition after one more longish uphill. Aid station #1 is just past the first peak at 6 miles. There was a long downhill right after the aid station that was fairly straight but it was a good news/bad news thing. I really had fun riding down the hill, but I knew that every inch that I was effortlessly flying downhill would have to be given back by pushing the bike up the ensuing long, hot, humid, windless, and very steep uphill. And I couldn’t make up as much time on the downhill as I would have liked because I still didn’t know if there was a muddy spot lurking just around the next turn. So, I kept my speed under control just to be a little prepared if any surprises presented themselves on the trail.
Bike Course Elevation Chart
That worked out well until I entered a sun-dappled, off-camber, sharp right turn at the bottom of a hill a little too fast, hit some mud just as I started to turn and went down hard. Remember that training ride crash I mentioned two weeks before we left? Well, I landed on my already tender right hip and right ribs. That was a very unpleasant experience. It took a good two minutes for the adrenaline to kick in and for the pain to subside. Here’s a link to my helmet cam footage:
Slick Turn Crash Video
Most of the rest of the ride was uneventful. I rode the long downhills as fast as I dared and pushed my bike up all the uphills I couldn’t manage to ride (which was most of them), although sometimes, on the shorter ones, I opted to walk the bike because it would be faster and less effort. I managed to catch a woman and a young man that I had been leapfrogging for a lot of the ride and on the final two mile stretch of twisty single track. Right after passing the woman for what I thought would be the last time, disaster struck.
My back tire suddenly became very squishy on the turns. I knew I was near the end of the bike course since I had passed the 18 mile mark. I toyed with the idea of riding it in flat because I knew I was very close to the bike cutoff or even running it in, but in the end I decided that the fastest thing to do was to change the tire. I put a new tube in as fast as I could, as first the woman, and then the young man passed me while I worked on the back wheel.
I blasted through the rest of the single track and flew down the cart path as fast as I could, skidding up to the dismount line and asking the volunteer, “Did I make it?”. He said, “No, but keep going.”, so I got ready to run and left T2 in about 2 minutes. After the race I asked the guy how much I missed the cutoff by and he said the cutoff was at 2:10PM and I got there at 2:22PM. I spent at least 15 minutes on the tire so without my first ever flat in a race I would have made the cutoff by at least three minutes.
Post-mortem on the tube showed that it had failed at the valve stem, a clear sign of too little inflation and probably exacerbated by the fact that, again as a first in this race, or any race for that matter, I had not installed new tubes. After I retrieved my bike, I discovered that the spare tube had gone flat also while it sat in transition. Its autopsy revealed two small holes. It was a used tube that I had checked a long time ago, but after months of bouncing around in my car and my Camelbak on training rides it had developed some small holes.
One more post-race discovery was that I had ridden the entire bike course with an unknown mechanical malfunction. As I was doing a little recovery ride a couple days after the race I noticed that the rear derailleur wouldn’t put the chain on the lowest gear in the cassette. I had ridden the entire bike course without the use of the lowest gear on my bike! Now I know why I always felt like I should have one more gear on the uphills. Next time (Next time? Are you crazy?) I make sure my derailleurs are properly adjusted.
Back from the ride.
The run was a carbon copy of my race from three years ago with one big exception. I had to walk most of the three steeply uphill miles that start the run, not solely because I was tired, but largely because my lower back was killing me, and then I ran as much of the three-plus downhill miles as I could.
The exception from my last race here was that I apparently had managed my hydration and nutrition correctly during the race. I had taken in fluids, electrolytes, and nutrition exactly as planned on the bike. After the ride my gel flask was empty, my Camelbak had about 2 ounces of Gatorade left and I had emptied my electrolyte solution bottle twice.
Run Course Elevation Chart
I took two endurolytes as soon as I left transition and took two every mile after that until the eight that I had left were gone. There were aid stations roughly every mile and I took a Powergel just before each of the first four.
After about mile four, as I was running steadily downhill, my right hamstring got a tiny bit crampy, so I backed off a bit and the crampiness went away. That was it. For the first time in my three Xterra Worlds races I did not cramp up.
I ran most of the last three miles of the course. There was one spot though, at about 4.75 miles, where the course went VERY steeply up a short section of pavement. I almost didn’t make it up that hill! I was close to spent but I finally staggered to the top and I knew that, except for the 150 yards of beach and the final 200 uphill yards to the finish, the rest of the run was downhill.
I really tried to run the whole beach section. There were beachgoers applauding and cheering me on so I ran all but the last 20 yards so I could rest for the final uphill push to finish.
The finish line
Seven hours and twenty-nine minutes after I started the race, after a nearly two-hour 10K run/walk, I finally crossed the finish line.
Finished, in more ways than one.
My legs were starting to lockup on me until a volunteer handed me a banana. After inhaling that I felt better immediately.
There’s something anti-climactic and less than satisfying to finishing a race when there’s almost no one left at the finish line and they’re almost done tearing everything down. The announcer made a big deal of my finish but there weren’t too many people around to cheer besides a few volunteers, the finish line crew and photographer and Brigitte.
The bike after the race before I hosed her off. Notice that the spare tube that I had installed had gone flat.
I had thought about not continuing after the bike because I knew it meant I would have to suffer for another two hours in the heat and humidity, but I didn’t travel all the way to Maui to quit after they gave me a chance to finish the race.
I was DFL for the race. Actually, I was the final finisher, as there were 20 DNF’s. I was 721 out of 773 in the swim, 764 out of 766 on the bike, and 749 out of 753 on the run, 17 out of 19 in my age group. So, about the only thing I get to brag about is being crazy enough to try this thing.
So, I guess I have to sign up for this race at least one more time and see if I can wring one last Xterra Worlds Triathlon out of this old body. Hopefully, I’ll finally be able to train for the next one.