After a freak fall and knee injury on treacherous running terrain derailed my racing mid-season last year, I have been anxiously awaiting my return to XTERRA. The first opportunity in the Mid-Atlantic region was the XTERRA Jersey Devil, held in late April since 2010.
Having just moved to DC last year, this would be my first time at this race. We drove to New Jersey on Saturday morning so that I would have time to pre-ride and pre-run the course.
As advertised, the bike course was very fast and mostly non-technical. The course almost felt like it would be suited for cyclocross: wide, fast, and twisting, with ample semi-technical sections through deep sand.
The run might better be described as a scramble: constant jumping over, ducking under or contorting yourself through trees, twists and turns, some tricky log bridges, wet boggy sections, and very few places to open up your stride. I’ve never done a Tough Mudder or adventure-type race, but I imagine that would be like this.
The race director, Bob Horn, was on-site Saturday to answer any questions racers had. As a first-time Jersey Devil participant, he asked me what I thought of the course. I let him know I was disappointed with the lack of flow and technical single track on the bike that I’ve come to expect at XTERRA races, but he encouraged me to be open to new experiences and terrain. I can do that.
After I finished scoping out the course we headed to the beach, about a 20-minute drive east from the race venue. We considered swimming, but the air and water temperature were unappealing to say the least, so we just soaked in the atmosphere. Afterwards, we had a fantastic dinner of grouper and local monkfish at Mud City Crab House, and headed to the hotel.
On race morning, transition opened at the very civilized hour of 7:30 for a 9:00 race start. I set up my transition area, and did some plyometrics to warm up.
By then it was time to get going. I put on my brand new De Soto T1 wetsuit and headed down to the water with three hardcore XTERRA ladies, including one who was back to racing just four months after having a baby. (Amazing!) I took a quick practice swim, trying my new wetsuit for the first time – thank you De Soto for helping me out with that. It definitely lived up to its reputation; this two-piece suit does not hinder my stroke at all.
With only 140 racers, the swim start was reasonably non-chaotic. I settled in towards the back of the lead group, got pushed slightly off course around the first buoy, and moved forward in the lead pack for the remainder of the first lap and into the second. I haven’t done much swimming intensity in training yet this season, so I kept a reasonable pace within about 20 seconds of the lead swimmer, aspiring elite ITU racer Ian King.
When I arrived at T1, I realized I should have practiced my transitions before my first triathlon in nearly a year. I fumbled around trying to get socks and gloves on, and ended up ceding a minute to the other top competitors.
Once I got on the bike, I quickly caught and passed two riders and settled into what I thought was a race pace tempo. Near the middle of the first lap, however, I was caught by Anthony Snoble, winner of the 2012 Hawaiian Airlines Double (fastest combined Hawaii Ironman and XTERRA Maui World Championship time), who reminded me what race pace actually is. I hung with Anthony and one other rider for the remainder of the bike; we caught and passed the remaining two riders that had been ahead of us from the swim, and led the race for the second lap of the bike. I put too much weight forward at one of the deep sandy sections, spun out and had to dismount my bike. It took a fair amount of running before I could get on terrain where I could remount, and by that time Anthony had opened up about a 30-second gap. I took my time to close down the gap, and we arrived in T1 together, just as I did at last year’s XTERRA East Championship in Richmond.
My second transition was very smooth, and I felt good going into the run. I caught and passed Anthony in the first mile, and led the race for the next mile and a half. I then heard heavy breathing behind me, and the light sound of quick feet. Usually I’m competitive on the run, and was surprised to hear another racer coming up to me so soon. There’s only one competitor I know of who could be moving at that pace. “Daryl?” I called out to the racer behind me. “Yup.”
Daryl Weaver runs like an antelope being chased by a lion; he can also bury himself deeper than anyone else I know. Last year, he was the top overall amateur in six Mid-Atlantic regional XTERRA races. I stayed with him for as long as I could, but he slowly opened up what would become a 36-second gap in the last mile and a half. I held on for second place, and crossed the finish line in 1:29:03. Anthony Snoble arrived a minute later to round out the men’s overall podium. Rob Ricard, a phenomenal athlete and Leadville 100 competitor I had met the previous day, moved up through the pack with a solid bike and blistering run to finish in fourth place.
After the race, it was great to catch up with all of the XTERRA athletes, and chat about our race goals for the season.
Each top overall and age-group finisher was treated with a custom XTERRA Jersey Devil growler, and six-pack of beer or bottle of wine from the race sponsors, in addition to plenty of other swag handed out during the podium celebration.
This was one of the most well-managed XTERRA events I have had the privilege of competing in. The race director did a fantastic job with marking to ensure that all athletes stayed on course, and cheered competitors on by name during the race. The timing crew hailed finishers over as soon as we caught our breath to give us an immediate print out of our splits, and posted top-30 results faster than I’ve ever seen. They also provided a QR code to real-time online race results; in the past I’ve waited over a week to see online results.
The course certainly wasn’t one I would drive 3 hours to for an epic ride, but it was a unique race challenge and the competition and community provided by the XTERRA tribe was unparalleled. The race brought together top competitors from Maine to Virginia Beach, and the race was very tight and competitive among the top 30+ athletes.
I was happy to be equally competitive on the swim, bike, and run, placing fourth, third and third in each discipline, respectively. I’ve been working a lot on my bike this spring, and the new OPEN O-1.0 from Freshbikes begs to be ridden fast. I’ll be adding more intensity to my training as the next XTERRA approaches in three weeks, including another mountain bike race this weekend.