On paper, the Xterra Eastern Championships looks like it should be “my race”. Short river swim with intermittent running? -Sign me up! Oppressively hot, humid weather? -I’m all about it! Technical East Coast urban mountain bike course? -Hellz yeah!
“That course is my Jawn, yo!”
“That course is tight!”
-As you might if you were from Philly.
But here’s the catch: I live in Boise. Where there are long climbs, no shade, not much humidity, and very little technical riding.
And they say “Howdy”.
Regardless, I haven’t nailed a race in Richmond (yet). In 2013 I sat out with boxer’s fracture in my left hand. Come 2014, I had a lack-luster swim that left me over 5 minutes down and fighting my way to finish just one place shy of a paycheck (8th).
I don’t know. I came into Alabama, in much the same state this year: broken hand in 2013 finishing 9th. Then a lack-luster bike split in 2014 left me running hard for 10th. But I came away with a strong showing there in 2015.
I had a fantastic block of training between Alabama and Richmond this year. 4 weeks of probably my most consistent and strenuous training to date. I was super confident going into this race. And why not be when your fitness is there? I honestly felt like I could ride and run myself into touch with the Josiah/Braden pain train at this one.
I mentioned in my last blog that I was looking forward to a fair swim this year. And Xterra provided just that. It might have seemed quite normal to Ben Collins who was joining us for this race, to have a “pro meeting” the day before the race. But for the Xterra folks, it was unusual and kind of funny. There just simply aren’t many things to discuss in a pro meeting for Xterra. So we don’t typically have them. But we did this time. And it was a good idea. We mainly all agreed that we’re here to race each other fairly, and discuss the fact that there aren’t “optional” buoys on this swim course. We also had the pro race bumped up by about 10 minutes to provide a clear 2nd loop for all pro women, not just the top few. -All good stuff.
They addressed the athlete’s concerns, and provided a level playing field. I think XTERRA nailed it.
Ahead of the race, I had multiple last minute bike mechanicals just before leaving Boise. I noticed a completely destroyed freehub bearing in my wheel and also that my brake pad was down to metal-on-rotor. A by-product of a bazillion relentless miles in the preceding weeks that left me with little time to even look at my bike when not riding it.
However, before leaving Boise the mischief was all managed. Cody and G-Fit Studio Boise rapidly replaced my freehub body and I replaced my brake pads as well as rotor.
Well, it was all sorted and made it to Richmond with some delays etc. All part of the fun I guess.
Race day came quickly and the mood was great on race morning. Fellow pro Craig Evans was calling this race his “last hurrah” as he accepted a position that afforded more time with his kids and a chance more steady income. I think this set the tone at the start, since most pros were joking and actually standing on the beach this time, instead of hiding upstream to get an advantage in the swift currents.
Knowing how strong of a swimmer I am, Craig Evans decided he’d ride me to the first buoy.
Box-Out The Swimmers
Just kidding. It was all business. Once the gun sounded, I started well in the second non-wetsuit swim of the year. I felt great in the combination of my Blueseventy PZ4TX Swim Skin over my Champion System Apex Tri Suit. I was face-to-face with Braden Currie for quite a while. About half way to the 1st buoy, he pulled slowly ahead of me. I pulled in behind him, and then just kind of faded into the group as we approached the first turn. This took us half way across the river, and we turned upstream. I found the pack in pretty much one straight line. I had a good view of this, because I was now the caboose. I had feet to draft off of, and I felt strong.
There’s a sand bar between the 1st and 2nd buoys, were we could run in ankle to knee deep water for about 20 meters or so. I dove back in on Ryan Ignatz’s feet. I took a more upstream line to the far buoy and came to the bottom of Belle Island back with Ryan. We ran together on maybe a hundred meter trail run and I dived past him in an attempt to bridge up to whomever was swimming just in front of us. Well, he swam on my downstream hip and re-passed me.
In Richmond, this is totally legal.
I came out of the water just a few seconds behind Ryan, last male pro as far as I could tell, a bit more behind Josiah this time. This is just about the same as the non-wetsuit swim in Alabama. Only, Olly Shaw was nowhere to be found.
Running into transition I saw both of them together going the other way on their bikes. Damn. That’s where I wanted to be. Ryan and I were about 50 seconds behind those two. For the last two years now, once the wetsuits come off, I have not been able to swim with Josiah.
I headed out onto the bike behind Ryan and worked hard to reel him in before the single track started. I got pretty close, but not close enough. I pulled him back to about 30 seconds at the end of the bridge, and he disappeared into the woods. I didn’t panic though; I just focused on riding fast.
My “Not 100% Confident” Face
But here’s the tough part of my day. Three days earlier I rode the course and was bucked around mercilessly and felt uncomfortable on such technical terrain. I concluded after the ride that my tire pressure was too high for the terrain. So I lowered it a bit and two days later felt very confident at race pace on the same terrain. However, today despite putting what I thought was the correct tire pressure, I was again fighting my bike.
I was “sketchy”, getting bucked around by the terrain instead of nailing technical sections. My feet were even being rattled out of my pedals. This is very unusual. I was cornering well, but I wasn’t taking the technical terrain confidently. My body felt fantastic. My nutrition was on, having used two full bottles of First Endurance EFS Pro. The legs and body were snappy, had I could tell my fitness was there. But I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t catching people as fast as the previous race.
After the race, I checked my tire pressure and it had gone up over 2.5 lbs. Turns out I should have re-checked tire pressure after my warm up and possibly allowed an extra pound or more for the sun heating them up in transition and during the ride. Live and learn. And those new brake pads and rotor that I installed myself? Yeah, they were rubbing. I’ll let GFit Studio double check my routine mechanical work from now on.
Whatever. Excuses, excuses. It was what it was while I was racing. I managed to catch Ben, Ian, and Alex. (Olly was having a ripper day, but had a mechanical) But I didn’t catch Brandon, Craig, Karsten or Ryan as I did in the previous two races. The fact is that I had the 6th bike split in this race. I was almost 7 minutes slower than Josiah on this day. In the previous two races I was 3 minutes off of his bike split. Yikes. Instead of coming off of the bike in 4th as I did in the previous two races, I was in 7th.
The good news is that when I got out of transition 2, I still felt strong. And luckily, my shoes don’t need to be pumped up. 😉 I managed to run into 4th place by the “dry crossing”. This is a super crazy pick-your-way rock crossing on half of the James River. It’s crazy fun and makes me feel like a kid playing on the Perkiomen Creek.
Chasing Branden Rakita (5th)
The heat was taking it’s toll on everyone by that point in the race. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t start to feel it. I managed my effort in the heat pretty well. I was governed a bit after the crossing, but I still finished with the top run split of the day. I’m pleased to see that. Because it’s not like my fitness wasn’t there. It definitely was. I could feel it. So I’m confident that the work is paying off. It just wasn’t my day. Too bad, since 2nd place wouldn’t have been out of the question had I ridden like I did in the previous races.
It was however, Ryan Ignatz’s day. After the swim and first few miles of the bike, I didn’t see him all race. He ran only 17 seconds off my pace, so the splits I was receiving to him in 3rd were always just about the same. Congrats to him for putting down a very strong performance to finish about a minute off of 2nd. I love seeing the racing heat up and US boys having good fitness racing up front.
Selfie with Alex Modestou (6th) and Ryan Ignatz (3rd)
After finishing on the podium in the first two races of the season, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with my performance in Richmond. But I’m pretty sure I know what my issues were. Rather simple, yet costly mistakes were made concerning my bike. Now, I need to say immediately that THERE ARE NO EXCUSES. Ignoring the specific issues I identified with tire pressures and brake rotors, etc… the fact is I had a weak bike split. I can just leave it at that and prepare better next time.
I finished just off of the podium. I was reminded shortly after the race that even if XTERRA chooses to bring 5 of us on stage, only 1st, 2nd and 3rd are the podium steps. Gold, Silver and Bronze are what matter in most sports. This time around I earned the “chocolate medal” (4th). The chocolate medal is a consolation prize that leaves you with cavities. The wooden medal (5th) should be used to light a fire under your ass, making you work to take the next step.
Disappointed as I may be with my performance on the bike, I won a paycheck. Also, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that only a year ago I was fighting hard for top 10 finishes. So in the big picture I’m feeling good about being able to get into the top 5 against strong competition on a less than perfect day. That’s consistency. You win some, you lose some. But if you’re consistent, when you “lose some” you just might still earn a solid paycheck. J
But I still think that Richmond is a course and environment that suits my strengths. I’ll keep stubbornly saying this until I either win it or go down trying. Just like Alabama this year, maybe 3rd year’s a charm! We’ll see in 2016!
I have to thank my home stay Cindi for providing a great environment for a race, and letting me joyride in her 1967 pickup!
Thanks to Emma Gerrard’s homestay Chris and Kate for inviting me over for dinner and for letting me use their endless pool!
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