This past Saturday I headed out to Yellow Creek State Park in Penn Run, PA for XTERRA Appalachia, the fourth and penultimate mid-atlantic race this season. I arrived on Saturday afternoon to scope out the bike and run course. The area experienced heavy rainfall in the past several weeks and the ground was saturated. Several sections were covered in puddles and thick mud which made it very difficult to hold a line and stay upright.
The course also has a handful of short, steep downhills and even steeper lung-burning uphills to test your legs.
The key to a fast bike split is braking early and carrying as much speed as possible out of all of the tight corners (a skill that takes a lifetime to master).
I had to lower my tire pressure down from my usual 26-28 psi to 22 psi to get traction on the wet roots and loose soil.
This is the only XTERRA I’ve done that includes a hike-a-bike creek crossing in knee-deep water. (Except for XTERRA Midwest Mudder in Kansas City where I had to carry my bike over my head through a mudslide, but that’s whole other story…)
An extra loop was added to the run course this year to bring the trail run up to 5 miles. The new loop consisted of flat, winding singletrack along a creek.
Next was the Ridgetop trail, which features plenty of tough climbs and tricky descents.
Fortunately, there wasn’t as much mud and standing water on the run. By the time I finished the bike and run recon it was nearly 7 pm and I was starving. Another nice feature of this race, however, is that the beach is open all day for those who would like to test the water.
For dinner, we headed to Nap’s in downtown Indiana, a small family-run place with great Italian food.
The next morning, we arrived at the race site about one hour prior to the race. Warming up on the rural roads around Yellow Creek State Park reminded me of riding on quiet county roads in Iowa. After an invigorating 20 minute ride, I finished setting up transition and put on my wetsuit.
I spent about 10 minutes warming up in the water on the straight out-and-back swim course. The guide rope wasn’t very taught and snaked around with the lake current making it hard to hold a straight line.
I returned to the beach to line up for the mass start, and in few minutes the starting horn sounded. I started out with a controlled sprint in the first few hundred meters to distance myself from the pack. I swam the remainder of the course alone out front. I focused on my arm turnover and sighting and tried to hold back a little bit to build my effort as the race progressed. I didn’t hold back too much though, I was the first out of the water with a minute and change on the next closest swimmer.
For once I had a good T1 thanks to several changes I made after my two-minute T1 disaster in Colorado. Going sockless, mounting my shoes on the bike, and putting my gloves on my handlebars saved over a minute in T1 over my usual routine. That being said, once I got rolling I still had strap my shoes and shimmy my gloves on before hammering away on the bike.
My bike leg needs the most work to compete well at the next level. I powered through the uphills and semi-technical sections, but I couldn’t get into a good rhythm on all of the tight corners. With a lot of work in the offseason, I’m hoping to shave off several minutes by honing my technical skills. For the first time all season, I was forced into my granny gear (25-34, which means more than one pedal revolution per full turn of the wheels) on the two most difficult climbs. My heart was beating out of my chest as I crested these hills.
Although I rode the entire bike course alone, it definitely felt like hard racing trying to keep ahead of the competition. When I arrived in T2, my better half told me to get my butt moving because my compatriot Daryl Weaver was following close behind. Josh Lauren, another frequent racer on the Mid-Atlantic XTERRA circuit, also had a stellar bike ride and was around ten minutes ahead of the next racer into T2.
While it doesn’t feel great in the moment, I do appreciate the times when I can push my body to its absolute limit. I don’t race with a watch or HR monitor, but for the entire five miles, my heart was pounding harder than I can ever recall. I focused my energy on scanning the terrain in front of me, and safely navigating the roots, rocks, bridges, and hills. I felt a rush of relief when the singletrack finally ended and I hit the concrete for the final half mile sprint to the finish line. I crossed the finish first, 45 seconds ahead of Daryl, with Josh Lauren rounding out the podium.
In two weeks I’ll race the last Mid-Atlantic XTERRA of the season in Charlottesville, VA before heading out west for National Champs in September.