Sunday, June 8, 2008

Race Report: Deuces Wild XTERRA

At the Ironman Arizona finish line, I had said "Ironman sucks! I'm going back to Xterras!" And that's just what I did. After my recovery from IMAZ in April, I didn't have much time to train for the Deuces Wild Xterra. I ended up cramming my training on the mountain bike, keeping up most of my swimming, and doing a little running here & there. So I wasn't exactly trained for this race, but it didn't matter as I was still looking forward to it.

The Deuces Wild Triathlon Festival (May 30-June 1, 2008) is such a fun weekend that we keep coming back each year. We left work a little early on Thursday and got to the Fool Hollow Lake campground in daylight. We found a great little spot for our RV and set up camp.

Fool Hollow Lake has a great RV campground.

This year Zac and I volunteered for the Olympic and Half Ironman races on Saturday. We bodymarked racers, stripped wetsuits, and pointed people in the right direction on the run course not far from our camp. I got to cheer for all of the Tri Girls, which was great. Leslie came through and was having a bit of trouble getting through a tough race, so I grabbed my mountain bike and took over the course sweeper job from another guy so that I could keep her company and chat with her a bit. I wasn't going to let her take an ATV ride back, and in the end she made it all the way to the finish line.

On Sunday, Zac and I got ready for our races. Last year I had done the Olympic on Saturday and relayed the Xterra with him on Sunday, with me doing the swim and run and him doing the bike. This year I wanted Xterra points to try to get the invite to Nationals in Tahoe, so he was on his own. Thankfully, Shari was up for the swim and run after doing her Olympic on Saturday, so she teamed up with Zac for the relay.

The swim is only 800 yards, but it always feels like the longest 800 yards. This year they changed the course to an out & back format. Either way, it still felt twice as long. We got in the chilly water (my estimate was low 60's for temp) and started after the guy's wave. Wonderful. I would be chasing the gorilla swimmers. Well, at least I wasn't mixed in with them. The gun went off and I reluctantly started swimming. I ended up going way left as I tend to pull left, and had to correct myself. I couldn't see as my goggles were fogging, and breathing was tough. I really hate swimming at altitude. After an eternity I made it to the turn and discovered an interesting point about an out & back swim course. If you and another person going the opposite direction go wide, you have a great chance for a head-on collision. One gal who hadn't made it to the turn yet and I came pretty close. We both pulled up before colliding and changed course. By this time I just wanted OUT of the water! This swim was on the borderline of needing a kayak to rest and get air, but I told myself to keep moving forward. I then made the next fun discovery of the swim course: the water was COLDER the closer to the dock you got. When I made it to the last TYR dorito chip buoy, I swear the water temp dropped 5 degrees. I was in with a bunch of guys now, so I just focused on the dock to get out of that water. I made a simple goal for this year. Get out of the water with a swim time starting with the number "1". My swim at Deuces is always horribly slow, and I just wanted to come in under 20 minutes. I met my goal (barely) with a time of 19:17.

The swim course.

I ran up the dock, peeled off the top half of my wetsuit, and got stripped and headed to transition. I wanted gloves for the mountain bike, and putting gloves on wet hands took about 10 seconds longer. Still, with a transition time of 2:49, I was the second fastest in T1 in my age group.

I got out on the bike course, and now it was time for the fun to begin. I love mountain biking! The last time I did this Xterra on my own (not in a relay) was 3 years ago, so my goal was to improve on my bike time. At Show Low's elevation, it always takes me longer to settle down and get into a groove. So folks were passing me at the very beginning while I got situated. The trail was mostly smooth ATV trails at the beginning, then switched to rocky babyheads.

Zac on the beginning of the trail (pre-ride photo).

We hit the powerline trail, and that put a smile on my face. If a trail points down, I'm riding it. If it's steep and rocky I'll ride it, and if it's rutted but fast I'll ride it even faster. I threw my bike into the big ring and pushed it hard on the downhill. My Blur danced over the trail as I yelled "on your left!" to those that had passed me earlier and I was now passing at 30 mph. They were twitchy, I was smooth. I was a gravity goddess!

I saw Tri Girl Karen at the bottom of the hill as she directed us onto a road, just after a wash with more rocks. I carried my momentum and flew through the rocks and up the other side to the asphault. The course took us across a field that was on someone's property. The property is closed before the race, so you can't pre-ride it, but the owners allow the course to go through there on race day. As I crossed the field I looked for anything that might puncture my tire, as there really wasn't a trail of any kind through there. Jim Stites was in the middle of the field and warned us of a sketchy section just before we passed through the tunnel that leads under the road. It was a short, steep hill covered in pine needle piles followed by deep wash sand. I could have cleared it, but 3-4 people in front of me were walking, so I had to dismount and slug through the sand with them. We climbed up the other side of the bank on the other side of the tunnel and continued on through a rocky section before hitting buttery smooth ATV trails.

Zac on the powerline downhill (pre-ride photo).

Zac crossing one of the many rocky washes (pre-ride photo).

Me on the trail (pre-ride photo).

The ATV trails were interrupted by rocky washes, but overall it was fast. Finally I hit the first forced dismount of the course, a tree that had fallen across the trail. In true Xterra fashion, they made us go over the tree. I hefted my bike over and was on my way.

Forced dismount! (pre-ride photo)

Hefting my bike over the log (pre-ride photo).

This is where the long climb begins. You climb for a couple of miles on a medium grade until the grade steepens in the last mile. This year I was riding much better and cleaned a lot more. I only got stuck in deep sand a few times. I hit the steep part of the climb, which was even more technical this year with loose babyhead rocks everywhere. I made it as far as I could before I had to get off and start the hike, like everyone else was doing. At least it gave my legs a chance to use different muscles (hey, gotta look for something positive).

At the beginning of the long, gradual climb (pre-ride photo).

One of the burned trees on the course (pre-ride photo).

Finally I made it to the top of the climb and got back on the bike for the flat section before the downhill. Zac and I had done a pre-ride of the trail on Friday, so I knew what to be ready for. And I was really looking forward to this section the most. As the trail curved and started down, I shifted up to put more tension on my chain to keep it from jumping off on the downhill. I pedaled into it to pick up more speed, then finally stood up to begin the dance down the hill. The hill was sketchy in a lot of spots, with loose rocks everywhere. I passed a guy at the very beginning and continued on my way. It was awesome! In some spots I was glad to have ridden the Globe downhill trails as those skills came into play and the terrain was very similar. Lots of standing, letting the suspension soak up the bumps, and using a lot of body English through sections. I caught up to another guy, who could hear me behind him, and I took the right line around him. Second guy passed on the downhill! I continued my weaving down the trail. In a few spots volunteers were stationed to warn us of a steep, sketchy section ahead. I thanked them as I flew by, totally flowing over the trail. The trail flattened out followed by rolling climb sections. I made it to the second forced dismount (another log) and caught another guy and passed him. I could finally breathe, my legs were warmed up, and I was tearing up this trail! I finessed my way around sand pits, fallen logs, and in one spot a sink hole.

At this point I was back on the ATV trails, which were flat and fast. It was time to get more fluids in in preparation for the upcoming run. At the racer's meeting the night before, they had warned us not to wash our bikes and get ready for a "surprise" on the bike course. I figured they were going to have us ride through one of the many cow ponds on this section of the trail, but they didn't. That left me wondering what the surprise was. All I knew was that it had to involve water.

Not suitable for drinking (pre-ride photo).

The course passed through "The Boneyard" where the fire had ripped through a few years ago, and then dumped out onto the purple dirt road. The purple dirt road is covered in purple cinders. I reached down and flipped the setting on my rear shock to stiffen it up, and shifted up into the big chain ring. Time to raise the average mph of this course by a few notches, as this part is fast for a few miles. The only thing you have to watch out for is the turn off of the road onto an ATV trail. The turn wasn't hard to miss as a volunteer was positioned there to point the way, and lots of arrows marking the turn. I took this turn like my former motorcycle roadracing days, apexing tight in the corner and accelerating hard out of it. I bombed down the ATV trail and made the next hard left turn which put us back on the ATV trail that we had ridden earlier. I made my way back through the Bison Ridge development and down through the rock field towards the tunnel under the road.

As I approached the tunnel, I discovered the "surprise." They had opened the water main and flooded the tunnel! The only problem was, I knew how soft the sand was under that water. I road through 8 inches of muddy water for as long as I could before having to stop 10 feet from the other side. As I set my foot down, my shoe sank in 4 inches of sticky mud. All I could do was laugh. There was a volunteer on the other side taking pics and mentioned not many had cleaned that section. I slogged through the mud and climbed up the bank on the other side, and headed out through the field back on the pavement. Once I hit the pavement I bounced the bike up and down, trying to free the 10 lbs of mud that had made its way onto my bike.

I slowly climbed up the powerline road that I had bombed down in the beginning. It was slow going, but I made it all the way to the top without having to dismount and walk. I remember having to hike part of that the first time I had done this race. Then it was time for another steep and fast downhill on the powerline. There's a sharp left turn that racers have to make at the bottom, and a ton of volunteers were down there to point out the turn, or disentangle riders from their bikes for those that had blown the turn. I flew down the hill, and finessed my way through the turn to the cheers of the volunteers.

At the top of the second phone line descent (pre-ride photo).

At the bottom (pre-ride photo).

There was just a short section of singletrack left before I hit the road again and headed back to transition. The transition chute was quite interesting, with a muddy line leading over the timing mat and into the transition area. I did my cyclocross dismount and parked my very muddy bike on the rack. I had taken my gloves off while on the road to save time in transition, but once I reached down to take my shoes off I realized that may not have been the best choice. My shoes were covered in peanut butter mud with grass and sticks poking out in all directions, which got on my hands. Oh well, a quick wipe of the hands on my tri shorts and was putting my running shoes on, followed by running out of transition. Total T2 time was 1:51, for the fastest T2 time in my age group.

Me covered in mud heading into transition (now back to race day photos).

Heading out onto the trail run/swim.

Liane heading out for her run.

I headed out on the run, and John Barr caught up to me. We chatted for a bit for the first little bit before he took off. I had hoped to average 12 min/mile on the run, but that went away with the rocky trail. The trail had a few short, steep ups and downs at the beginning, then dumped out onto the spillway of the lake, or rather the rock quarry. There was a tape line to follow over the boulder field to get to the other side of the trail, which, by the way, dumped you at the bottom of "The Eliminator" hill. Time to hike. I hiked all the way to the top and grabbed some water at the aid station. As I passed the Mile 1 marker I checked my watch to see 15+ minutes for the first mile. There goes that goal. So now my goal was to chip away and try to get into the 14's. With my pathetic running over the past 2 months I really wasn't surprised.

The trail flattened out and I saw Shari, who was on her way back. This section of the trail is flat and boring, but a nice break to catch the breath and get some Shot Blocks in. I made it to the turnaround and saw Lisa Anne not far after that. A little longer I saw Liane, and she said "I've given up on the 12 minute mile thing." "I did too" I said. "I'm glad we agree on this change." :)

I said hello to the volunteer who was at the top of the dam, as he was a friendly guy who remembered all of the racers. Rather than go back down The Eliminator, the trail turned to the left, and I knew what was coming up...the trail swim. In previous years the downhill lead to a shallow crossing of the lake. This year the lake was really high, so the water was several feet deep in the middle. Zac and I had kayaked over it the day before. I knew what my plan was. I put my Shot Blocks in my hat and made my way down the hill. I ran for as far as I could in the water, and once it reached knee depth I just plowed in and started swimming. I can swim faster than picking my way through deep water and trying to find footing on who knows what is down there. I had already been through mud, so there was no sense in trying to stay dry or clean. It was a quick swim, and once my hands touched the ground I was back up and running again. Actually, the little trail swim was nice, as it was getting warm out. No need to dump water on the head after that. It was hard to believe I had been wearing a wetsuit just a few hours earlier.

The downhill leading into the trail swim.

The other side of the trail swim and the uphill on the other side.

I hiked up the following uphill, then continued my trail run. The trail takes you back past transition and along the paved path that goes past the dock where our swim in/out was. Then we ended up on a nice little trail that skirts the lake. I made the last turn, which puts us on an evil uphill with stairs. I always hate this last hill. Rather than climb the stairs, I followed the line right next to the stairs and resorted to just climbing the hill. Some of the volunteer kids in this area were asleep on the trail, so I continued on past the restrooms and up onto the pavement. Finally the finish! I had enough energy left to push hard on the pavement to the end and over the line with a final time of 3:23:38. That's an hour faster than the last time I had done this Xterra 3 years ago!

Shari crossing the line for her and Zac's team.

Me crossing the finish line.

I grabbed some water and a popsicle and saw Shari and Zac right away at the finish. Nate was there too waiting for Liane, and Leslie was also there waiting for us. Shari took my chip off as I sat in a chair and rested for a bit with my popsicle. Overall it was a good race for me considering my training going into this. Next year will be much better as I will be training for this race and the other Xterras, not Ironman Arizona.

We saw Liane cross the line, then went and picked up our muddy bikes and stuff in transition. Zac and I stopped at the food area to grab a quick bagel, then decided to hang around for the awards. After that we rode our bikes back to our campground. That was another sign I was in much better shape. The first time I did this Xterra, Zac had to tow me up the hills to our campground! What a difference 3 years make.

I quickly made a lunch and promptly fell asleep in my camp chair while Zac set to work cleaning the bikes. After a 2 hour nap, I spent an our cleaning my shoes to free them of the mud, then finally got my shower and dinner. Zac and I stayed the night at Fool Hollow Lake, then set out for a vacation in the 4 Corners area before heading to Farmington, NM for the Four Corners Xterra the next weekend.

My muddy Blur in transition.

Zac's Cove post-race.

Post-race nap.

Check out Liane's photos here:

And her race report here:

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