Cross-training with an Xterra

October 1, 2007

Saturday my brother, Rush, his dog Helmutt, his friend, Sam, and myself loaded into the VW van and headed up to the Xterra venue for a pre-ride. This was all Wendy Simms fault, she suggested I do an Xterra as I have run, swam and cycled competitively and Xterra have prize lists the likes of which are not even dreamed about in mountain biking.

After arriving at Yellow Creek state park and securing a campsite at a shady (not just from trees) campground we headed out for a preview of the mountain bike course. For the most part things went really well. Along fire roads, up some single track, down some more fire roads across a creek ... then it all went wrong. Not with my bike but with Sam's bike. He ripped his derailleur right off the bike. My brother was off the front somewhere so I told Sam to start walking while I caught my bro and got a chain tool.

Several miles later I caught up to Rush and we headed back to find Sam. Another racer had stopped to help with the singulation of Sam's bike. This took a long time and it didn't work out so well because the hanger had broken off high up and the quick release did grab enough so the wheel kept going crooked. Rush and I realized that the course went right past the campground so we sent Sam to the campsite then headed off to the van. At this point the sun had set and the evening was just getting started.

I had told my brother that I was taking care of the food, assuming that he would bring kitchen stuff for cooking. He did, kind of. As Sam worked on his bike and Helmutt wandered off, I made the discovery that we had no pot for cooking our pasta. Crap. It was wonder doggie to the rescue, Helmutt had packed a stainless steel bowl for drinking which us humans quickly conscripted as a pasta cooking bowl. With dinner out of the way it was time for bed, three of us and the doggie squeezed into the tent in hopes of a few hours of shuteye.

Morning came much too soon with not enough sleep. At registration I asked how we started, being a complete newbie I wasn't sure if we split up between men and women or age groups or beginner and expert. Mass start was the answer, we can walk into the water then it's a free for all. That's something I can deal with, it couldn't be nearly as hectic as the start of a World Cup cross race or bunch sprint in a crit.

After having numbers sharpied onto my leg and arm and receiving a fluorescent green swim cap I was all set to organize my transition area. To make up for a lack of experience I used my obsessive sense of order and organization to carefully and artfully arrange all the things I would need for the second and third leg of this journey. With gels pre-taped to my handlebars in an eye pleasing arrangement I was ready to wander around, scope out the competition and get ready to race.

My parents showed up to cheer their children on and take care of the dog. It felt good to get in the water, as it was warmer than the early morning air. Using my well honed mountain bike staging skills I waded up towards the front of the group. No one leaned on me or stuck an elbow out, these triathletes were very nice. It felt good to get swimming, to be one of the many bobbing about in a murky lake. I've swum plenty in my life, but never in a race where I couldn't see where I was going. I'd like to extend a general apology out to those swimmers that I inadvertently cut off or swam in front of--sorry!

After the turn-around things seemed to thin out a bit. In the transition I donned socks as quickly as one can with wet feet, popped on my helmet and shoes and took off after receiving word that one woman was already up the road. One beautiful 'cross style remount later and I was on my way. About five minutes in I passed the other woman, a few minutes after that I came up on my brother. As I rode along swoopy buffed single track I passed several guys and really began to enjoy the ride. It was bit strange to ride in shorts and a sports bra, I really missed wearing a jersey. I had taped my gels to the handle bars which worked fine but had no place to put the empty packets and I am not into just tossing them trailside.

In this transition I changed my socks again (I couldn't help it, they were soaked from a creek crossing and I didn't want a blister), put on a visor to deflect sweat from my eyes and stumbled off. I started with both of the guys but they quickly put some time on me as my legs didn't seem to want to move in striding motions. After a brief flat section the trail headed up and down some steep hills. Another man passed me like I was standing still and I tried to speed up but the legs wouldn't have it.

I passed an aid station and was told to turn right. Part way down a rather steep hill I saw three of the men in front of me running back and yelling that we were going the wrong way. Dammit, as if the run wasn't long enough already! Being the slowest of the group I ran the least distance in the wrong direction, but it was still the wrong way. The end of the run couldn't have come soon enough. The entire time I was expecting a woman to come bounding past but none did. I crossed the line in good cyclist fashion with my arms in the air, I had won my first Xterra!! My brother came in a bit behind me, he had run into bad luck in the form of a flat out on course.

The promoters ordered pizza for everyone but my stomach really didn't want to eat. Just as awards started, the rain did too. It wasn't a bad rain like the one at Sea Otter that had everyone running for shelter and putting on winter clothing. It was a nice warm gentle summer-in-the-Appalachians rain. Winning the race was a great way to end my trip to Pittsburgh, as the next day the bike went back into it's box and we both flew home to California.

Tune in next week for the start of 'cross season and Barbarella at Interbike!

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