In the days leading up to the race, Tropical Storm Andrea threatened the fate of Sunday’s 2013 XTERRA East Championship as she made her way up the east coast. Because the course is almost all either in or near the James River, heavy rain can cause severe flooding on the trails. On Thursday evening, race organizers emailed to say that the race would go on, albeit with some modifications. At that point, it was still uncertain what the status of the river would be on race morning, but they warned that the swim might be dropped. Also, pre-riding might be prohibited on Friday and Saturday in order to protect the trails.
In addition to the official communications from XTERRA, there were plenty of pros already in Richmond getting ready for the race and they shared real-time updates of weather conditions via twitter. I’m pretty new to twitter and am still slightly skeptical of its practicality, but this is definitely one application that I appreciate.
On Saturday evening, the XTERRA crew announced that for the second time in its 15-year history, the XTERRA East Championship off-road triathlon would be converted into a run-bike-run duathlon due to flooding. I was quite disappointed since swimming is a strength for me, but I certainly understand.
While I normally use a bike ride to warm up, I wanted to be ready for the run start so I jogged the run course instead. I was happy to see all of the XTERRA east coast regulars at the start line, as well as numerous competitors from other regions of the country. From the gun, the pace was frenetic and I stayed slightly behind the leaders trying not to overcook too early in the race.
After the 1.6-mile run, I arrived to T1 about 30 seconds behind regional standouts Daryl Weaver and Josh Loren. The run-to-bike transition was much easier than swim-to-bike and I eagerly pedaled away to try to catch the leaders before the singletrack.
Daryl and I moved ahead of Josh as we crossed over the Lee Bridge towards the trail system, ready for another battle. Within a few minutes on the technical singletrack, my saddle somehow popped from its normal horizontal position to nearly vertical, forcing me to pedal out of the saddle and position my body rather awkwardly on the bike. As luck would have it, this was the first race I did not bring tools with me on the bike. I asked Daryl if he had a hex key, but he didn’t have one either. After nearly crashing a few times in the next mile, I realized I needed to stop and fix the problem. With great effort I was able to muscle the saddle down, but overshot it and the nose was then pointed downward a bit. With Daryl out of my sight, I knew I needed to just keep going. I got back on the bike and red-lined to catch up.
We rode the rest of the first lap together with no other competitors in earshot. Halfway through the second lap, I gapped Daryl and rode alone into T2. The second lap is always more difficult due to the advancing heat and lapped riders. I saw Daryl entering T2 as I was leaving and I knew I needed to get moving. Two weeks ago Daryl ran a 15:38 5k, much faster than I have ever run that distance.
I focused on maintaining a forward lean and a fast turnover. In the stifling heat, I realized then that I was pushing myself to my limit and performing well, and that despite the pain there was nothing else I would rather be doing.
I bear-crawled up the Mayan ruins, but the pain in my quads did not let up. I soon noticed another type of pain: a small rock had made its way into my shoe. With Daryl behind me, I could not take a break to remove it. It was hard to keep my hips stable on the next few miles; I was favoring my left, rock-free foot.
As I approached the Belle Isle trails with just over a mile to go, I had another moment of panic. In an email prior to the race, we were told that we would run on the gravel road around Belle Isle due to flooding on the trails. However, cones and course markings pointed onto the singletrack. I checked around the corner of the gravel road for a few seconds and did not see any course markings so I followed the ones to the trails. I ran on adrenaline and fear through the maze and was relieved when I emerged to see that no one had run around on the gravel path and passed me. I saw a race volunteer and confirmed with him that I was still on course.
At this point in the race last year, I had been running in the lead with now-professional Andy Lee. With a mile to go, I ran out of gas and he dropped me to take the win. This year, I was determined to hang on for first place. However, it wasn’t until I was on Brown’s Island approaching the finish chute that I realized I actually had it.
I congratulated Daryl when he crossed the line a minute back, then headed to the Muscle Milk tent to get a jump start on recovery. I was relieved to see the damage from the rock in my shoe was limited to a blister and got a quick fix-up from the folks in the medical tent.
After the race, I enjoyed catching up with rest of the east coast XTERRA crew. As far as I’m concerned, the performance of the day went to Anthony Snoble, who despite two flats and two chain breaks finished fourth overall in the amateur race.
I also had a chance to catch up with a few pros. Highlights of their race can be found here and here. Two phenomenal Luna Chix pro racers, Danelle Kabush and Shonny Vanlandingham encouraged me to fully pursue my triathlon dreams, get coached, and work towards becoming a professional.
The title event sponsor Luck Stone always goes above and beyond for the race. This year, in addition to live GPS tracking of each professional athlete, they added live video broadcast throughout the course, and remarkable custom marble XTERRA sculptures for the winners.
Next stop is XTERRA EX2 in Maryland on July 14th.