Monday, August 4, 2008

Race Report: Snow Valley XTERRA

It's always great to start off a trip with chaos. During the week, Zac decided to do some work to the RV. Only it wouldn't start. A quick check under the hood revealed the ignition module had been chewed by pack rats. He ordered a new one from Checker, and once he fired it up, the dash lit up like a Christmas tree with warning lights. Brake lights, daytime runners, cruise control, speedo...that and much more all didn't work. The pack rats had gone to town on the RV. Unfortunately, the wires Zac had to get to that ran to the rear of the RV were along the top of the fuel tank. So the day before we were supposed to be leaving for California, Zac was removing the side panel, exhaust, and gas tank from the RV. Oh, and it had just been filled with 30 gallons of fuel. Fuel got offloaded to my Jeep, Zac's car and truck, all of the motorcycles, and all of the 5 gallon gas tanks that we own from the throttle-twisting race days. While he repaired the RV, I packed and did laundry. He repaired all of the wires, got the RV back together, and didn't go to bed until 4AM. I got to bed at 2AM. So we didn't leave at 7AM on Friday as planned. We got to the San Bernadino mountains at 7PM, just in time to meet Liane and Nate for dinner. Saturday we did a quick pre-ride of the course, then went to bed early to catch up on sleep.

Snow Valley is a ski park located 7,000 ft above sea level in the San Bernadino mountains. The road leading to Snow Valley reminded me of Mt. Lemmon, except there was no bike lane, and instead of seeing Tucson below we got a great view of the LA smog.

We discovered this race wasn’t very spectator friendly. To get to the lake, you have to ride up the bike course 1.3 miles. Or hike, or hike with your bike as Liane, Nate, and I chose to do. This was one of those goofy races where T1 and T2 were in different places. We set up our T2 stuff and allowed ample time to begin the schlep of our gear up to the lake. We got there and only 3 other people were there racking their bikes. Hmmm…strange, especially given we had 30 minutes until the start of the race.

I use the term “lake” very loosely here, as really there are stock ponds that are bigger than what we swam in. The other thing was, there was no pre-race meeting. Information was muddled as to if we kept the buoys on our right or left. Kind of key information if you ask me. Just before the race start they yelled instructions to us. Triathletes loose their brains on race day, so giving them important instructions 3 minutes before the start of the race goes in one ear and out the other. At least we learned we were supposed to say to the right of the buoys. The race was a 2 wave start with 34 and unders going first and 34 and overs going in Wave 2. Don’t ask me…I don’t know why it was this way. So when the horn blew I jumped in the lake behind a bunch of guys and started swimming.

I made it to the second buoy before I heard the horn blow again, allowing the second wave to go. I got to the 3rd buoy before the pro men caught up and passed by. Oh well, at least I was at the turnaround. The swim was pretty uneventful for me, other than the water tasted funny. My jokes the day before about this looking like a mining tailings pond may not have been far off. It was advertised as a 1000 yd swim, but I came out at 18:52, about a minute faster than the 800 yd swim at Deuces. So either my swim has gotten better, or the course was short. I’m going with the better swim. Just go with me on this.

I ran up the dirt incline out of the stock pond and got to my transition area. My husband Zac was on the other side of the fence and yelled “You were the 6th red cap out of the water!” “Why do you tell me these things?!?” I yelled back. Oh, and the other thing was, we didn’t have our ages on the backs of our legs, so I couldn’t tell who was in my age group. So all we knew was cap color. Once again we had to bag everything in T2 before heading out. In one swift move I picked up my bag and towel and chucked it over the fence to my husband. I thought my transition took forever, but it turned out to be 2:20. I was sure it was 5 minutes, but I’ll take 2:20. I got on my bike and headed out on the bike.

We immediately started climbing out of transition on a dirt road. We had pre-ridden the course the day before, so I knew where all the sketchy areas were. A billion people passed by me on the climb, but I wasn’t worried. The downhill was coming up and I would get my turn. The climb was boring. Climb, climb, climb, get stuck in deep sand, get off and walk a few feet, get back on and climb some more. Finally I reached the reservoir at the top and started the descent down. Have I mentioned how much I love going downhill on a mountain bike? Downhill is my thing. The jeep trail was rocky and twisty at the top, but I knew where the line was. I flew past people that were having trouble and had passed me on the climbs. The trail wound around and back down to the transition area, where we had to make a sharp right turn. It was really soft in this area, and guys were crashing everywhere. I took the far left line over some shrubbery and out of the deep sand. Find traction wherever you can, and shrubbery offers traction. Passed 3 guys here, one of which fell over in the sand.

The next downhill section was steep and loose as everyone was dragging their brakes down the hill. I went into downhill mode and got my butt over the back wheel and took the far left line all the way down, as everyone was on the far right line. I was going stupid fast, faster than traction normally allowed but the bike was sticking so I had to roll with it. I lost count of how many people I passed here. Heh. Dowhiller’s revenge on the climbers! There was a rough patch at the very bottom of this hill with a front wheel-sucking ditch. I picked the far left line, lifted the front wheel over the ditch, and apexed the corner at the far right as a guy fell over. I was literally thinking to myself “$%&* YEAH!!!” as I cleaned this section.

My downhill fun was interrupted by another climbing section. This is where I realized how much work finessing a bike down a hill is, as my heart rate peaked at redline when I started the climb. I got off and walked, which in a way was good as I could relax my hands that had been working the brakes and bars hard on the downhill. The climb wasn’t too long, so I got back on my bike and entered the next section. This section was a steep, loose, sandy downhill from about the middle of the mountain down to almost the bottom. It went STRAIGHT down the mountain. This is the one time I was wishing the trail was rocky. Rocks at least offer traction which helps in the steep areas. This was deep sand on a steep mountain face, so the only thing I could do was be careful at picking my lines and keep the weight off the front and over the back tire. All the rides I had done at Sunrise and Globe were coming in handy here. I can’t imagine what the newbie riders were thinking in this area. I cleaned the first section, but reached the steepest and sandiest part and got offline and ended up dabbing. This shot my bike sideways, so I had to get off and walk a few feet to where I could get back on and ride. I didn’t feel to bad as I looked back and saw everyone crashing there. I continued my descent down the hill, picking my line and powering through the water drainage ditches where I could. At the bottom there was a real deep, nasty, drainage ditch that was swallowing front wheels. I spotted a crossover on the far left, where there was a gap but less of a lip on the other side. I took that line and muscled the bike over the berm while passing a girl that was walking her bike over the area while straddling the top tube. Ugh. Recipe for disaster there. I was through the worst part and the remaining trail was back to fast doubletrack as we continued our descent down. I got to the bottom and did a jump over the berm that transitioned from dirt to pavement and pedaled across the parking lot. I passed T2 and continued straight for the second loop. I had gone all of 3 miles at this point.

As I started the climb I could see up ahead runners on the run course. This freaked me out as we were only 40 minutes into the race, and they were already 2.5 miles into the run. I found out from Zac later that there was a trail run-only race going on, and the trail runners had started at 9:30AM. That explained it. I climbed up the road, which was the same access road we had to take to get to the lake. If I’m going to climb, I feel we should get credit for it in the race, not before. Anyways, it was 1.3 miles of climbing back up to the transition area, where we started the second loop. The second loop was similar to the first for me except the really steep, sandy section on the mountain face. My rear tire wasn’t holding traction through here as it was even more sandy than before (if that’s even possible) and the rear of my bike started fishtailing. The rear came around, which caused the front to go sideways and I was suddenly headed for a thick pole sticking up in the side of the mountain. Thankfully the rear end continued around and forced me to dismount. Not too bad, and this was one area where I was happy to be off the bike before hitting the pole. My right glove had filled with sand and gravel, but I got back on and continued the descent. I cleaned the rest of the trail and came flying into T2 in the parking lot.

As I came running around the fenced area with my bike, there were 2 guys standing in the walkway between the fence and the transition racks, and one was holding a bike. I yelled “Coming through!” and split between them. Who the heck stands in the traffic way of the transition area??? I found out from Zac after the race that was Conrad Stoltz who was standing there, showing some guy his really cool bike. Conrad had already finished the race. So apparently I told the World Champion of XTERRA to get out of my way. Hey, some of us were still racing, ok! I got to my rack and there was a bike on top of my stuff and Liane’s stuff. I put my bike on the end of the rack and got my run gear and headed out. 29 seconds in T2. Not bad.

The run course was 4 miles, and headed straight up the side of the mountain. We got to go back down, but it was nothing but up and down the entire time. I walked all the uphills because they were extremely steep, and it gave me a chance to eat and drink. The only positive was that I wasn’t pushing a bike this time. The downhills were just as hard to go down when they are that steep. In many sections there was no trail, and we just ran down the side of the mountain looking for taped off chutes to run through. My shoes became 3 sizes too small with how much dirt they were taking on. The worst climb was the one leading to the water tower. Crazy steep and racers were coming down the other direction. I made the climb and got to the top and enjoyed the fast, rolling descent down to the turnaround point. As I came up, I could see women who appeared to be in my age group. My new goal was to stay in front of them. I came down the crazy steep hill from the tank and saw Liane at the bottom, starting the climb. I told her this was the worst of the hills, if that was even possible to imagine. I had a little bit of flat to run before heading back up the last hill. Some guy passed me there, but I didn’t care as he was a guy. I made the turn at the hill and started the final run descent down. My toes were screaming at me as they were getting pounded into the dirt that had made its way into my shoes, but we only had 400 yards to go. The final part of the run was on a fast downhill, and I was so tired it was hard to control my running. I had my arms out for balance and I looked like some spastic 8 year old in a game of Red Rover or something. I got to the bottom and ran over the timing mats for a total time of 2:36:29.

Zac saw me at the end, but all I wanted to do was take my shoes off. We walked over to the RV and my socks came off with a cloud of dirt. I got into clean clothes, picked up my transition stuff, and saw Liane cross the finish line. We agreed this was one crazy race. I checked my Garmin and the bike course was only 7.37 miles long. So I don’t think I’ll be doing this race again as I prefer longer bike courses (15 miles in an XTERRA is about right).

We waited around for results to be posted and the age group awards. I came out in 2nd place in my age group! The plastic medal I got didn’t say Snow Valley XTERRA on it (nothing a Sharpie can’t fix), but for me it was more important that I got those 2nd place points. And this was my first 2nd place in a triathlon! With the 3rd at Four Corners a month ago, this made 2 podiums in a row! So I was pretty jazzed about that.

With the points from this race, Liane and I should be in pretty good shape for getting the invite to the XTERRA USA national championships in Tahoe on October 4th. Woohoo! Nationals, here we come!

Saturday Pre-Ride:
Liane rides while Nate pushes:

There's Nate riding:

Who stole my lungs?

Oh, this is why Liane and I can't breathe. We're on a mountain.

The pond:

Are we in the right place?

We won't be swimming here.Don't fall off "The Edge":

Sunday - Race Day:
Liane thrilled about a personal photo shoot before the race:

Hoping my magical wetsuit will protect me:
While others swim, I decide to bodysurf:
I think I'm in there somewhere. If not, pretend I am.
Get me out!
I am alive...barely.

The mountain we were playing on that day:
Weee! Finishing up the fast section.
Liane finishing it up:

Heading into T2 where I'll scream at world champions:
Liane's done with the bike!

Hey guys! Wait for meeeee!

2nd place! Me with my plastic medal.


Joyce said...

Awesome job Elaine!

wndranne said...

Awesome! You are seriously my mountain biking hero.

After reading your last couple entries, it occurs to me that you must have the biggest garage on the planet. :)