After a five-week dry spell, my Xterra season resumed at Maryland’s Rocky Gap State Park. The drive from DC follows the Maryland panhandle nestled between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, with views becoming increasingly more scenic as the route heads west. In addition to the challenging trails and mountain views, Rocky Gap is also home to a golf resort and casino, making it a popular summer destination. I figured I would do enough gambling at high speeds on the technical trails and steered clear of the casino floor.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon, beneath some ominous storm clouds, after weeks of heavy rain.
I spent the afternoon pre-riding the two-lap bike course, and treacherous run course – both of which were well worth the drive. The bike course was a true MTB sampler platter, offering various combinations of flat and steep, smooth and rocky, straight and winding trails on the 7.5 mile loop around the lake.
The first half of the run course re-traced most of the bike course. At the slower pace, I was able to more fully appreciate the biodiversity present in Rocky Gap State Park. I was particularly interested in the variety of mushrooms present along the trails.
The run course abruptly splits off from the bike course at about mile 3.5, steering racers into the most gnarly, ankle-breaking/boulder hopping terrain I’ve covered in an Xterra triathlon. Fortunately, my standing desk at work, daily yoga practice, and regular trail runs provided a good deal of confidence I’d make it through in one piece.
After completing two practice laps on the bike course and the run course, I felt ready to race on the tricky terrain. On race day the following morning, did a 20 minute warm-up on my bike along the quiet state park roads, set up transition, and headed to the swim start.
The swim consisted of two 600m loops. At the starters gun, I sprinted for the first 50m to separate from the pack, and found myself side-by-side with one other swimmer. We stayed together for the whole swim, weaving through lapped swimmers on the second lap.
This was my first non-wetsuit swim in the De Soto Liftfoil trisuit. I was very impressed with its performance in the water, which eliminates the need for an expensive swim-skin.
The fellow leader on the swim entered T1 a few seconds before me, but spent some extra time removing his swim-skin. We exited T1 together, and I quickly took the lead. The first lap on the bike was pure adrenaline. I entered a state of flow: using every cm of the tires while carving through corners, floating over rocky sections at high speed, and letting big momentum propel me over punchy climbs. Giant Factory Rider Carl Decker’s advice for the rock gardens proved invaluable on the course.
The advancing heat and added challenge of navigating around lapped riders made the second lap more difficult. To continually push myself (with no competition in sight), I tried to chase down each successive lapped rider as quickly as possible. I arrived at T2 with a two minute lead over Xterra stalwart Daryl Weaver, and dug deep to set a good pace on the run course. On two legs instead of two wheels, I once again worked to chase down lapped bikers to test my physical limits. I received a lot of encouragement from volunteers and fellow competitors. The more mellow competitors, however, seemed perplexed by my tenacity as I passed them on foot while they biked. By the time I reached the treacherous, crazy steep, rock, root and boulder filled portion of the run, I cooled the jets to avoid any serious bodily harm. I kept the tempo high in the final half-mile paved section and crossed the finish line in first place.
In addition to excellent course marking, volunteer staff, and post-race recovery, race organizers EX2 Adventures served up some sweet podium swag. I took home a custom pint glass, box of power bars, and a Patagonia messenger bag.
After the race, I caught up with the Xterra regulars. Former track standout Josh Lauren had a breakthrough 4th overall performance. The ever-improving Dave Henkel (a road triathlon transplant) climbed up to 11th overall. John Lindros continues to dominate the 55-59 division. After discussing our race travel plans, the East coast racers should have a strong showing at the Xterra national and world championships, in UT and Hawaii respectively.
Next on the plate is the Xterra mountain championships in Avon, CO.