I convinced my neighbor to go up to the race with me this year. After a friend went with me last year who is a seasoned triathlete said it was the worst experience of his racing career he said he would never return. I had to recruit a new car mate. You see, off-Road triathlons are not like the road by any stretch - there is A LOT of single track. Sometimes you cannot pass and there are a lot of rocks. The climbs are steep (18%) with loose rock and sometimes branches will hit you if you pick a bad line. It is frustrating to say the least if your are accustomed to the road. What is appealing is they are more like a party and a triathlon broke out. The races start "around 9am." You want to rack your bike at 8:40am? OK, I hope you do it quick. Guess what - there are also lapped riders because the mountain bike is two loops which happens to share 3 miles with the trail run. Yes, sometimes tires do rub when running a pace line on mountain bikes through the woods on rocky descents. And yes, sometimes people run into trees. It is awesome racing. Your whole body will hurt after your 3 hours are over. You will question if you could have spent more time on the trails would your time be better.
The day before the race we headed up there and check in, get our numbers, etc. We pre-rode the mountain bike loop with storm clouds threatening overhead. After finishing the loop we head to our hotel. Yes the rooms were $40/night in Lavale (15 minute drive away) so what the heck, why are we sharing a room when we can each have our own? Good times. I tell my neighbor about an awesome little pizza joint outside of Cumberland I used to go to when rambling around western MD. We show up and go in through the back cellar door. "Are you sure this is how you enter?" he asks. Really there is an Italian restaurant upstairs but that is not where you want to be. You want to be in the cellar - the place where the stone walls are way more older than you or I and the brick oven is baking the thinnest of pizza, there is a stack of firewood outside the door, and where the craft beers flow freely. There is a vibe to this place that cannot be captured in words, but you all have been there.
The Tour is on the TV behind the bar and everyone is cheering and talking racing. Wait where did we just walk into, some kind of cycling utopia? Oh no way, the whole cellar is filled with racers, the XTERRA race director, his staff and volunteers! It is loud and it is all about racing. The server comes to our table and we order a round of Heavy Seas Loose Cannons. This is my kind or pre-race. After an excellent meal of REAL brick oven pizza and pasta we head back to the hotel in a downpour (did I mention my bike is on the roof?). The rain continues through the evening as I watch the final minutes of the days Tour stage. My bike drips dry in the hotel room.
The next morning is pretty uneventful. Just mill around and make sure my transition is set up just right. I did have a green umbrella set up in the parking lot for shade which proved Pavlov's theory - people kept asking if we were a Starbucks.
It is pretty incredible to swim in a lake and be able to see 10 feet into the water. I was dreading this swim because it is two laps around a peninsula with a run over the peninsula for the second lap. It is hard enough to run after getting out of the water, but doing it twice is tough. I lined up with good position on the outside. I knew to hit my goal of a 26 minute swim what had to be done. First lap I get out of the water - 13 minutes dead on. Out of breath I run across the peninsula and get back in the water. This time my breathing is more in sync and I do it again in 13 minutes. I was happy to hit my target for the swim. I felt like I took poor sight lines (and after reviewing my garmin data I did).
The run from the swim to the transition is about 250 yards through the park with picnicker's cheering for the craziness. BTW, they do not give you splits for transitions. Just your times every time you come into transition.
Jump on the bike and tear up the road. After 1 mile along the golf course and park roads, a dismount and run up 12 stairs is required. At this point my heart rate is through the roof and the course turns to rock and single track. The downpour the night before did a job of making the rocks and roots slippery. Good pace overall maintaining about 11-12mph. You have to dismount your bike for the second lap and run through transition again. Now some of us are catching lapped riders on their first loop. Passing on single track starts to become the challenge. Everyone is very courteous and moves over to let the faster riders though. I was happy with my bike time but looking back I should have maintained a little faster pace. The mountain bike is my strength of the three and I was concerned about bonking on the run if more effort was put in. I met my bike time so I was happy. The best part of the bike is going up the long road climb through the campground and the little girls at one of the campsites standing at the trail cheering and high fiving the racers. That is one of the highlights of this years race.
Nothing really to say here. According to my Garmin it was a little over one minute.
I was concerned about some walking in the trail run like I did last year (that is part of trail running steep sections that I have a hard time accepting) so I set out for a conservative pace to make sure I finished strong. First mile in I am constantly looking at my pace and slowing myself down to keep everything in check. At mile 3 you literally have to climb and scramble up a set of boulders to the top. I like how the photographers set up here to get the painful expressions on everyone's face. After this painful climb there is flat single track on the ridgetop before heading down the mountain back to the finish. I pushed a strong pace for the last two miles and finished strong. Looking back I did not leave it all out on the run but did do a little better than my goal time because of the last couple miles.
My neighbor said he will not go back next year (another one bites the dust). Next year I am filling my truck with my own support crew (wife and daughters with their cowbells). I am very happy with my AG and overall results and met my goal time within 12 seconds. Masters swimming this year has been a tremendous help but I would like to do more than one open water swim before the race. I need to learn how to push more on the bike but save enough for the run.
On to Charlottesville in August...