Saturday, August 3, 2013

XTERRA Snow Valley, Part II: Points Triathlon

Saturday was the Points triathlon, the longer of the two tri options.  Karen and I were both excited to do our first XTERRA tri.  Karen was particuarly thrilled that XTERRANS, if you will, seemed to share her contempt for mornings.  The race started not at 5:30, 6, or even 7 am, but at a mind-bogglingly late NINE AM.  She and her slacker night people mountain biker cohorts would just be hitting their strides as I started to look for somewhere quiet and out of the way to nap. . .

We arrived at 8am, set up T2 at the bottom of the hill, and rode/walked up the 2/3 mile climb to the teeny, tiny lake and T1.  Setup was a free-for-all, so I just grabbed an available slot in the first rack, between a couple of really fast looking people.  None of them seemed to be setting out their elbow and hip pads for the bike leg.  And they all had clipless (meaning the ones you clip into) pedals.  Not this rookie.  Platform pedals only.  And my Hokas.  I'm not that good.  Yet.  If ever.

I felt pretty casual about the whole thing: It would be a quick swim, a few trips up and down the ski hill on the bike, and then a hilly 6.2 mile run.  Not much to stress about, and a good chance to work on pacing, nutrition, and of course, mountain bike skills. 

The swim was off fairly quickly.  I started off at a comfortable speed and didn't really get going until the last lap.  The expected hypoxia for a 7,000 foot swim was mitigated by my easy start.  XTERRA tri swimmers have a reputation, and it seemed to me not unfounded.  They were both slower and more aggressive: noticeably more jostling; pulling; hitting, a fair bit of it clearly intentional as opposed to the almost universally incidental/accidental collisions I've had in road tri swims.  A fellow competitior who had a hard time keeping his hands off my backside (repetitively) got to experience some of my old water polo skills.  >;-}  Per my watch, the swim was done in 14:30, about 1:28/100 meters.  Blah.  Pretty much IM pace.  Maybe I should have warmed up.  Or pushed it like the short swim it was.

Given the official swim split time, T1 took me about 2 minutes, which wasn't bad given that I threw on elbow pads, hip pads, a backpack, and sunglasses, in addition to the usual shoes and helmet.

Conscious of the fact that we had to climb the ski hill three times, I set my effort level deliberately at tempo pace.  My new platform pedals with little grippy knobs were money: they gave almost as much traction as if I were clipped in, but with the ability to stop myself from falling over given the high likelihood I would lose balance and/or need to clip out quickly. 

Falling on dirt shouldn't scare me so much, but there was that whole femoral neck fracture thing just eight months ago.  And on this bike. 

I'm going to need to get over that one.  Some MTB skills would certainly help that.  ;-)

I almost made it all the way to the top without walking, but I pulled out into a more scree-covered track to pass and spun out.  Overall, I had to hike the bike three times, all due to poor route selection or biking technique.  But mostly climbing went well.  With my feet free to move around on the pedals, I found that putting the midfoot, instead of the forefoot, over the center/axle of the pedal made a substantial improvement in my ability to climb.  This shouldn't be a total surprise, as I use midfoot position cleats on my road shoes.  Except when I leave them at home and need to buy new shoes for a race. . .

I seemed to be able to lean forward with greater ease, which made a pretty big difference on climbs with grades in the 15-20+% range.  With the same level of effort, I climbed past people with whom I had been merely keeping pace before.  Granted, they shot right past me on the downhill. . . 

Haven't seen this on a road course.  Yet.
In keeping with my general lack of MTB skills and experience, I went downhill cautiously.  Halfway down the first hill, the bike started feeling wobbly.  The rear tire had flatted.  I got to do a MTB tire change commando style, and like everything else, it was slow.  For posterity's sake, I hung onto the unsubtle culprit, at right:

This was, pun definitely intended, the nail in the coffin of any lingering competitive notions for this race, putting me abruptly back with folks more my speed, including Karen.  Like pretty much everyone else, she whipped past me on the downhill, but I caught up with her on the uphills. 

I wasn't knocking the cover off the ball in terms of raw speed, but neither was I cramping nor hyperventilating with effort on the climbs.  There was definitely a range of knowledge of pacing and nutrition out there, and if nothing else, I knew my limits well in this area.  Total time was 1:52 for 13+ miles.  Running speed.  Ouchie.

Bike leg elevation, HR, and speed

Exiting T2.  The dude's probably all like, whoa, check out the helmet-hawk on him.  (Photo by Elissa)

Speaking of which, the run was every bit as hilly as the bike, and even a bit more so on the 24% grade of "Diablo Hill," which everyone walked on the way up, and skid-slid-walked on the way down.  There weren't any flats to speak of on the run course, just ups and downs.  I worked on staying loose, efficient, and sub-threshold, even on the climbs.  Maybe some day, my mountain bike skills will improve to the point that I get off the bike with people as fast or faster than me in the run, but next I got to do something fun that I hadn't done since my first few months in road triathlons: Run down a bunch of competitors.  :-)

Woohoo! Passing skinny people! (Photo by Elissa)

Doing a new type of race was a good opportunity for me to contemplate triathlon and my relationship to it.  I didn't start off competitive in triathlon, yet here I am.  It grew bit by bit: Outswimming and running a few people down in my first tri; beating a bunch of skinny people; beating a few more skinny people in the next one; hitting an average speed on the bike over 20 mph; and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, being two spots off the podium at a World Championship qualifying race, waiting around for a roll-down slot, and thinking that what was once a distant and farfetched pipedream--qualifying for Kona--might not be all that unrealistic, or far off.  For the last 18 months, I have been deliberately and rather thoroughly dedicated myself to that goal, embracing my own competitiveness, even when rehabbing a busted hip. . . 

So it was certainly different to do a race in which I had no hope of excelling.  And I quite enjoyed it, which I think is a good sign.  My involvement in triathlon doesn't seem excessive to me, despite what your average Joe or Jane likely thinks about roughly 12 hours/week of S-B-R, ramping up to as much as 20 for the 2-3 months preceding an Ironman.  How this impacts the kids is another question worthy of another post, or two, or three.  Soon.

Karen finishes! Better-than-professional photo by Josh.
In terms of race logistics/support, this was an exceptionally well run and organized race.  My only complaint was that the race organizers wouldn't simply hand out awards: If we wanted to collect it, we had to wait 1 1/2 hours after finishing so Karen could collect her 2nd place in age group plaque.  This may not seem like much of a problem for most, but we spent not only our time, but our kids' free time/parent time/vacation time waiting around for us to collect our little codpieces instead of getting back to more family-centered activity, which wore thin for all involved awfully quickly.  One single quanta of race director flexibility on this one would have made a big difference in our kids' schedules, and correspondingly, our levels of parent guilt.

On the whole, though, it was a good race, a great MTB adventure, and a do-over.  Not to mention the piece de resistance: I won a lottery prize! Yes, that's right, helmet cleaner and deodorizer! The mind truly boggles to think of all those years I'd been living without, toiling under a grimy helmet, in blissful, stinky ignorance of the solution to (one of) my aesthetic problem(s).  But no more.  Now we'll get to be the family with the shiny, great-smelling helmets! 

Unless you want it and send me an SASE.


  1. Congrats to you and Karen! This race sounds amazingly fun.

    And, helmet-hawk. I cannot thank you enough for the turn of phrase. I will be using it frequently.

    congrats on running down the skinny people - those b%stards!!

  2. I have been wanting to try the Xterra Triathlon events for a while now. They look like they would be a lot of fun. But for now I'll stick with the trail runs until I get more confident on the MTB.