Thursday, June 26, 2008

Race Report: Four Corners XTERRA

Doing this race was Liane's idea. I'm to blame for the Dawn 2 Dusk and 24 Hrs in the Old Pueblo, but Liane was the one that came up with the crazy idea of doing the Deuces and Four Corners Xterras back-to-back. And of course I went along with her. Just like she goes along on the mountain bike races. Somehow a race is always better when you can convice your friends to share in the suffering. But she had a point that Deuces in Show Low was already at the half-way point in the drive to Farmington for the Four Corners Xterra. See, somehow this reasoning seemed cost-effective. I'll be getting back at her though, as we're planning on doing the Snow Valley Xterra in August for our 3rd Xterra of the year. But then all of this is based on her plan (which then became my plan) of us qualifying for the Xterra nationals and getting the invite to Tahoe. Do you see how this circle of insanity flows?

After a nice little vacation in the Four Corners area, we arrived in Farmington with Liane and Nate on the Thursday before the race. The weather was crappy and chilly and overcast. We hit the Pizza Hut, then checked into the Courtyard Marriott before begrudgingly deciding to pre-ride the mountain bike portion of the course. The course didn't seem too bad. No long, awful climbs, and the singletrack was very rolly, similar to Fantasy Island. The back section of the course was really cool, with whoop-de-doos everywhere. You could go stupid fast through here, and at some points I was worried about timing the whoops wrong and smacking my front teeth with my handlebar stem. They used the Road Apple Rally course, which is the oldest mountain bike course in the country. But for the Xterra, we were riding it backwards. This explained all the "wrong way" signs and locals we saw riding in the opposite direction.

Friday we spent playing disc golf and attending the pre-race meeting. Saturday was race day. I must say, it's nice to have a Saturday race once in awhile. This meant we could drive home after the race and have Sunday to recover. Saturday morning we got up early and I asked the hotel about a late checkout. They said no, that a whopping 5 people had already requested it. Now I know hotel rooms in Farmington are at a high demand, but this seemed kind of rediculous. Heck, I was able to get a late checkout scheduled on a Thrusday for the Monday after Ironman in Tempe. But the Courtyard Marriott in Farmington couldn't accomodate. We got a little peeved later in the day when we saw they were a sponsor for the race.

We quickly packed everything up and headed to the T2 area. This race was different in that T1 and T2 were in different places, AND it was a swim-RUN-bike format. This was because the lake was 5 miles from the Road Apple Rally course, which they wanted to use for the bike portion. Though I'm not sure how much difference it made since we were riding the Road Apple backwards. So we dropped our bikes in T2, and headed to the lake to setup T1 with our run stuff. After our areas were setup, Liane and I checked out the lake. The course was a triangle with a 50 meter beach run in the middle. Xterras seem to like the beach run in the middle. But for Liane and I this would be our first, since the AZ Xterras don't do this. I looked across the lake and wondered why we couldn't do a point-to-point swim across the lake.

We donned our wetsuits and headed down to the beach. They made us walk across the timing mat, and then we lined up at the start. Liane and I stayed to the far left of the group. The gun went off and it was time to swim. My goggles immediately fogged up (time for new goggles!) and I swam too far left at the beginning on my way to the first turn. At least the elevation wasn't bothering me as much on this swim. I couldn't see too well, so I followed the people in front of me. We made it to the second turn, and started the swim back to shore. I hit the timing mat and saw 14:XX on my watch, so I was right on pace where I wanted to be for my goal of a 30 minute swim for the 1400 yards. This is where I learned the advantage of a beach run: I had a chance to clear my goggles. I didn't "run" though, and instead strolled along and got back in the water for the second lap. The second lap went much better, and my goal was to beat a guy that was next to me in a shorty wetsuit. After the first turn we could see a hot air balloon right over the mountains, and for a little bit I could sight off of that until the last turn. The last stretch I passed the flailing guy in the shortie suit and got out at 30:07, right on target.

I climbed up the hill and got to my spot on the T1 carpet to get my wetsuit off and put my run stuff on. I bagged everything and headed out onto the run course. The course skirted along the lake, and I could see people were still swimming. At the first aid station, the course turned and headed up a powerline trail. It was a ton of climbing and flat spots at all. The trail wandered behind some houses, and that's where it finally flattened out. But that section was short before leading us to the disc golf course that we had been on the day before. I had to hike over the granite rock sections because they were steep leading up to the parking lot. There was one more steep hill before T2, and I could finally get on my bike.

This is where I quickly became not a fan of the swim-run-bike format. Normally when it's the normal tri format I can pass a lot of people on the bike and hold them off on the trail run. Now the runners were way ahead so T2 had a lot of bikes already gone. I got on my bike and headed out to the course. I immediately felt my legs gone on the first climb. The trail run had zapped most of the strength in my legs and now I had the longest leg of the tri to complete. I felt like I was going MUCH slower on the bike than the pre-ride. At the beginning, the only people I was passing were those on the side of the road with flats. Towards the middle I passed a few slower riders, but for the most part I was alone on the trail. The swim-run-bike format also completely messed up my nutrition plan. Usually the bike is where I get all my calories in, with my Infinit mix in my Camelbak. Then on the run I can eat my Shot blocks and keep topping off the fuel. But by the bike I was already low on calories, and it's impossible to play catch-up. I had stashed a Cliff bar in my Camelbak, and by the mid-point I was desparate and hungry enough to stop at the aid station and pull out the bar to scarf it down. I was on the edge of bonkdom.

At the aid station was also where I saw a gal with an ice pack over her nose and mouth and a ton of blood on her face. It appears she had wiped out hard on the whoop section and knocked a few teeth out. She was waiting for a ride back to the start, and an ambulance came rolling up right as I left the aid station. She appeared to be in her 30's so she was either in my age group or Liane's.

I got back on my bike, and my goal was to get to the dirt road. I knew the dirt road wasn't far from the finish, and I would be able to coast on the road. My legs were completely dead at this point, and I had to walk up a lot more hills than I did on the pre-ride. It's always a bad sign when you walk more in the race than the practice ride. Finally I made it to the dirt road. I spun it in pretty easily until the turn where we hit a new trail. We couldn't find this trail on the pre-ride, so I really didn't know where I was going. The course started to look familiar again when I got onto the road leading to the disc golf course. I must've looked confused trying to follow the chalk lines, because some guys playing disc golf told me to go straight. Sure enough they were right, and the finish line came into view. The coruse folks didn't want us riding across the finish line, so we had to dismount at some cones and run a few feet to the finish mat. I did my cyclocross dismount and hit the mat. They took my chip, gave me a cold, wet towel at the end, and I walked over to Zac and tossed my bike down on the ground. I was cooked.

The towel was nice to have to get the salt off my face and the sand off my legs. I was starving, so I immediately went to the food area. I had put my lunch ticket in my T2 bag so I was able to get some Mexican food they had for us at the end. Apparently several folks forgot their lunch ticket. I told the guys working the counter that the other races use wrist bands that are waterproof, and they thought that would work well for their race. After my lunch I was feeling much better. I ran into Liane at the end and we sat at a picnic table, checking out the awards. They were cool hand-painted bells. I really wanted one, but I've never podiumed in a tri. They were printing out the results and putting them up, so we stayed to see where we finished. It turns out the gal with the knocked-out teeth had been in Liane's group, and she DNFed. So Liane was in 3rd (and she had kept all of her teeth). I was in 4th and had finished just 2 minutes before another gal in my AG. But, the overall women's winner was in my AG. I wondered if that would bump all of us up a spot in the AG standings. If so, I would get the 3rd place bell!

We watched the push-up contest and snacked on more food while they got the results sorted. Finally they got to the 30's age group. Sure enough, the winner was bumped from my group, so they called my name for 3rd in Women's 30-34! I got to go and get my bell, and right after Liane got her bell for 3rd in 35-39. So the Tri Girls swept 3rd at Four Corners. :) It was awesome to get such a cool award for my first podium in a tri.

Overall, the race went really well for a first time race. Sometimes races have snafus when they are held for the first time, but this one didn't appear to have anything major happen. I'm not a big fan of the swim-run-bike format, but if they keep it that way for next year I'll have a better idea of how to plan. I'm hoping they keep it close to the Deuces Wild Xterra, as that really helped in reducing the drive time for us Tucsonans.

Zac and Liane on the pre-ride.

View from the bike course.

Official signage.

Zac coming down one of the steep sections.

Liane coming down the steep section.

Time for us to head down to the water.

The guys were yelling at us to look at them for a picture, but of course we couldn't see in the sun.

My definition of a "beach run" in between swim laps.

Finished with the swim!

Battling the wetsuit in T1.

Heading out to the run course.

Liane in hand-to-hand combat with her wetsuit.

On the trail run where we played disc golf the day before.

This looks like a good spot to hike.

Liane on the trail run.

Me heading out on the bike.

Liane heading out of T2 onto the bike.

My cyclocross dismount. Step 1 - Unclip left foot, swing right foot over saddle.

Step 2 - Coast next to bike and bring right leg around.

Step 3 - Step through with right leg and bring it in front.

Step 4 - Step off pedal and hit the ground running.

Run to the finish!

Liane and I with our cool bells.

The guys made us pose a bunch with our awards.

Check out Liane's race report here.

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