Friday, July 20, 2012

Riding Dirty!

On a whim I decide to try an Xterra race.  For those not familiar with Xterra, it’s an off-road triathlon where your triathlon bike is replaced with a mountain bike and you swap your racing flats for trail shoes.  Why do an Xterra?  Why not!  I’ve heard great things about the group of people it attracts and that the races are a real blast.  I’ve also heard they are extremely challenging races and not to be taken lightly.  Race Revolutions host a series of Xterra races in Texas and Magnolia Hill Xterra was touted as a great beginner’s course.  The race sounded perfect, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve rode a mountain bike in the last 6 months and if I counted all the fingers on both hands you have pretty close to the total number of times I’ve rode a mountain bike in my life.  To say I’m a novice would be an understatement so a beginner’s course was a little comforting! 
Picture of Race Site
They say misery loves company so I talked my wife Erin and friend Sean Blasko into coming along.  They both have even less experience on a mountain bike than I do!  On Saturday morning we made the drive towards College Station to a ranch called Magnolia Hill.  This area of Texas is just awesome and the ranch was great with lots of timber surrounding a nice little lake. We went to packet pickup where they were handing out beer with your race number (loving Xterra already!).  It looked like rain was about to be pouring down so we all grabbed our bikes for a quick pre-ride.  The pe-ride was horrible!  What we thought was going to be nice rolling paths through the woods ended up being just the opposite.  The trail was winding with corners full of sand.  There were these little wooden bridges you had to ride across and plenty of ups and downs, the race organizers were nice enough to put skull and crossbones signs on the extra dangerous sections!  To top it off we were getting rained on turning sand into muck, falling off our bikes and wiping out at every corner.  We were all laughing hysterically after the pre-ride, lets just say it wasn’t the beginners course we had imagined.  Magnolia Hill is kind of out in the middle of nowhere but we found a great little country inn to stay at.  We ended up finding a little Mexican dive to eat at that night, we all agreed in hindsight that wasn’t the best choice! 
The next morning we got up at 6:30 threw down some breakfast and headed to the race sight for a 9 am start (another reason I love Xterra, late start!).  I was feeling weird that morning, this race almost felt like I was doing my first triathlon again.  There are just enough variables between Xterra and road triathlon that I had to rethink race strategy.  For example in transition I’d normally have my shoes pre-clipped into my bike pedals.  I’d run into transition, grab my bike, run out, execute a flying mount and be off pedaling saving precious seconds by not having to stop to put bike shoes on.  In Xterra though there is no nice smooth and straight road to allow you to slip your feet in your shoes while pedaling.  I opted to leave my shoes on the ground and put them on then mount the bike to pedal.  
I headed over to the swim start did a quick warm-up and lined up for the race to begin.  A few minutes later we were off swimming.  I was first to the first turn buoy and settled into a pace excited that I was leading the swim.  About half way to the next buoy I was swimming side by side with two other guys that were about 10 feet to my right.  I decided to tuck in behind the lead guy and enjoy his draft for the rest of the swim.  I exited the water second and over took the guy in front running up to the beach.  It was great to get on my bike first as I knew that any lead I had would be quickly swallowed up on the bike.  In my haste to get out of transition I forgot that my shoes weren’t mounted to my pedals (like a road triathlon) and ran towards the mount line.  When I was about to hop on my bike I realized there was no shoes there, I turn around grabbed my shoes and then excited Transition (see beginners mistake!).
The bike was a three loop course.  I spent the first loop working very hard to keep my lead and also spent a great deal of time falling off my bike!  The problem being my bike handling skills were not able to keep up with the speed I was moving the bike.  The more I rode the more I was learning and picking up tricks as I went along the way.  I managed to make it through the first loop in first place but was immediately passed starting the second loop by 2 guys.  When I watched them pass me I was in awe.  They made it look so easy, they were hardly pedaling! They seemed to be just floating over the ground one with their bikes.  I was stomping on the ground fighting my bike!  By the end of the second lap I was burnt up and tired of falling of my bike.  I was covered in rain, sweat, mud and even a little blood!  By this point I had been passed by several more guys and decided to just enjoy the rest of the bike and make sure I didn’t kill myself.  I was having problems with the shifting on my bike (probably due to the massive amounts of mud) and the chain kept dropping to the small ring on the front.  Apparently I spent the race with a death grip on my handlebars and wore out my hands and forearms.  At one point my chain dropped again, I took my thumb and pushed the shift lever to bring the chain back up and nothing happened.  I laughed out loud; my hands were so tired that I didn’t have the strength to push the shifter. I resorted to using the palm of my hand and chest to wedge the shifter forward when needing to shift.  I can’t remember once during a road triathlon my hands being tired!  I ended up coming off the bike in 9th place. 
I made it through transition without any problems and then headed out on the run.  The run was a two loop course totaling 4 miles.  It partially cut across a field and partially ran on a sand loop around the lake with a fifteen foot sand cliff that you had to crawl up thrown in for good measure.  I managed to run myself back into 3rd place.  The finish line greeted us with cold beer and cookies!  I grabbed a beer and then headed back out on the course to cheer Erin and Sean on. 
After the Race, we all survived!
I was super proud of Erin.  Mountain biking on these trails was way out of her comfort zone but she finished the race with a big smile!  The ride home was a blast with all of us sharing our own war stories.  In hindsight this was probably a good beginner’s course.  The sand and turns made for tough steering but also helped control our speed and gave us something soft to fall on.  There were no ledges to drop off and no rocky rough terrain.  I’m so glad I went and did this race and recommend everyone get out and try an Xterra you’ll have a blast and a ton of good stories to tell.  If you live in Texas check out Race Revolutions races at http://www.racerevolutions.com.  The race organizers Joel and Will I met for the first time at this race and they really go out of their way to make athletes feel welcomed.
Thanks for reading!
Wes