Race Report: 2015 XTERRA East Championship

XTERRA RVA Buttermilk Trail Bike Shot

Fully focused heading towards the “Rock Face” on the Buttermilk Trail in the James River Park System at the 2015 Xterra East Championship in Richmond, VA. Photo Credit: Andy Thompson / Richmond Outside

The Xterra East championship in Richmond, VA is easily my favorite stop on the US Pro tour. Taking full advantage of Richmond’s status as the best river town in America, the swim, bike, and run are in and along the James River. The race is equally challenging from a mental, technical, and physical standpoint and is arguably the most exciting and dynamic triathlon on US soil.

After missing last year’s race due to GI distress from swimming in the James after a deluge for the Pro Relay Challenge, I stayed clear of the water until the bellow of the starting cannon. My race preparation however, was (yet again) far from ideal. I picked up a  stomach flu that messed me up for about a week just before the race. In my pre-ride and recon run of the course I knew my endurance was solid but my body still felt lethargic.

Sure enough, when the start cannon fired, I quickly found myself slipping off the back of the charging swim pack. In the past few races, I’ve settled in no man’s land between the front and chase pack, but this time I was fighting even harder just to stay within sight of the chase pack. Every stretch of the swim required intense focus. A fellow competitor sums it up well: “Gnarliest swim ever in my book. Currents, zig zags, seal slides over submerged rocks, Jesus runs on sand bars….insane!”

A view of the James and the river city from the flood wall segment of the run course.

Once on the bike, I went in full time trial mode, pushing hard to stay in the fight. After passing a few on-road triathlon specialists, I was caught by Ryan Ignatz, who was tearing up the course will impressive skill and power. I stayed with Ryan for a good stretch, until I carried way too much speed into a tight turn on the “stairway to heaven” bridge and ate it.

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I was hauling the mail, carrying way too much speed into the “stairway to heaven” ramp that leads straight up into the trees on the left.

XTERRA RVA Wipeout

Speed is usually your friend on the bike… unless your making a tight 90 degree turn on a slick wooden bridge. Photo Credit: Trey Garman / Xterra

Fortunately, I immediately regained my focus and composure, and rode the rest of the course smoothly, including the same wooden ramp on the second lap. I fought to keep Ryan within ear shot and did my best to stay hydrated and fueled whenever I had a split second to take a hand off the handlebars.

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The bike course is filled with a wide array of technical features, such as this super tight switchback.

Had to scrub off some speed before hitting this rock drop-off leading to the Forest Hills culvert

Had to scrub off some speed before hitting this rock drop-off leading to the Forest Hills culvert

Later on the second lap, I was caught by American standout Chris Ganter. We rode together for a good stretch, but eventually he made a gap that stuck. I pushed on solo, having as much fun as I can remember trying to pin every trail segment with my newly emerging bike skills acquired from Ride Kore.

Rowdy Spectators at the XTERRA East Champinoship

Rowdy, costume-clad, cow bell and vuvuzela blaring hecklers lined several technical sections. Photo Credit: Andy Thompson / Richmond Outside

I was riding great, keeping the gap ahead to Chris and Ryan to a minimum until disaster nearly struck. Despite yelling out repeatedly on a blind corner, a lady was standing across the entire trail with her dog. With almost no time to react, I steered away, but grazed her with my left shoulder as I went flying down the steep hill off the trail. Fortunately, neither of us was harmed. I warned her about the ongoing race and potential for other riders and pedaled on.

The rest of the bike ride was smooth and I entered transition in 8th place, relatively unscathed. The sweltering heat and humidity played into my favor on the run, and I charged hard to move up into the money placings.

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The Richmond run course has it all. Urban street art seen here on the canal walk. Mayan ruins, boulder hopping along a dry river bed, and plenty of technical single track.

A shot of the Mayan ruin staircase

Nothing gets the heart rate spiking like running up the “Mayan ruins” staircase.

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This boulder hopping scamper across a dry portion of the James River is my favorite stretch of the run. It handily beats the usual sidewalk or highway shoulder fare of on-road triathlons.

With about two miles to go in the run, I moved into 7th place, then into 6th place a mile later. I kept pushing right up to the limit crossing the finish line in just under two and a half hours, just two minute shy of the podium.

Especially considering my recent illness and minor blunders on the bike, I’m very happy with the 6th place performance. The race was a tremendous learning experience in staying in the moment, and not letting setbacks interfere with the race at hand.

Thanks to my amazing home stay family and my better half, the trip was a phenomenal as well. I’m looking forward to getting in some solid work before my next race at the XTERRA Mountain championships in mid July.

This entry was posted in Mountain Biking, Nature, Race Reports, Trail Running, XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Race Report: 2015 XTERRA East Championship

  1. John Lindros says:

    Great race Alex

  2. oshri says:

    Awesome race, Alex! Congratulations!

  3. Paul Hoyle says:

    Great race, Alex! This was my first XTERRA, and I read your photo essay of the course before the race. It was truly very helpful.

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