Sunday, June 7, 2009

XTERRA Del Valle

XTERRA Del Valle - 5/10/09

At the start of this season, XTERRA announced that they were going to use the best of 4 races to score us in standings. I wanted to get the invite to the XTERRA national championships (in Ogden, UT this year) so I added XTERRA Del Valle to the calendar as my 4th race (even though it was 2nd in schedule order). AFTER I got home from this race, XTERRA sent an e-mail stating something along the lines of "due to the economy, 4 races is turning out to be a bigger pain in the ass than we thought so we made a rule change and will now be counting only 3 races." (I'm paraphrasing and adding my own interpretation). Great! Glad this decision was made well into the season and all.

Lake Del Valle is just south of Livermore, CA (in the San Jose area). So yes, it was quite the drive. But, it was at 2,000 some feet in elevation. Finally...a race not at crazy elevation! My hopes increased going into this race. At packet pick-up I also found out there were only 4 in my age group, so I just had to beat one person to place. I had my goal all set.

The swim was 2 laps of a 600 meter course with a beach run in between. What is it with the beach runs in XTERRA? It was a mass start, with the full-course people leaving first, then the short course racers would leave second. My goal was not to get caught by the second wave. My first lap went well, although quite a bit crowded. I came out of the water at exactly 12 minutes, ran down the beach (Zac said I passed quite a few people here) and dove in for the 2nd lap. The 2nd lap was a bit more bearable as far as traffic went, and I got out of the water in 25 minutes.

To get to the transition area, we had to run across a huge field. I decided beforehand I was NOT running a significant distance in my wetsuit. I ran up the beach and stopped at a picnic bench that was right on the course and removed my wetsuit. Then I ran across the damp grassy field to transition. Everyone else was still wearing their wetsuits. I threw my suit down, got my bike gear on, and ran out. Zac said I passed a huge group of people in transition because of this. According to my watch, it took me 3 min 28 seconds to transition (thanks to the crazy long run).

I hit the bike course, and Zac and I had pre-ridden much of it the day before. This was by far the most surprising course. XTERRA prides itself on insane bike courses and run courses. This course had a few sections of singletrack, but was mostly Jeep and gravel roads. I could have done it on my cyclocross bike! What the bike course didn't have in technical features, it made up in hills. OH my gosh we were climbing the entire time! And what made it worse was that you had to keep speed in check on the downhills from the loose gravel to keep from binning it in the corners.

I caught 1 girl in my age group on one of the first uphill climbs. She was walking, so I decided to redline it and rode up the hill to pass her. Another girl in my age group passed me at the half way point, and I didn't see her again. The frustrating part was the layout of the bike course. It was 2 loops, kind of shaped like a paper clip with an outer loop, and an inner loop with areas we crossed twice. Unlike some races, there was no one to mark our numbers to tell who did a first loop and who did a second. I'm pretty sure some didn't do their second loop. There were also people that got completely lost out there, and with the short course people sharing the same bike course in spots, it didn't make it any easier. All I know is, I did the entire course as it was laid out.

Some of the uphills were so steep I had to get off and walk. And unfortunately they were on sections of the loops that we did twice. So I got to look forward to walking those sections twice. Yay! We climbed and climbed and climbed far above the lake. Transition was down by the lake, so I was so happy when we turned to head down to the lake. By this time I caught 2 women that were very "recreational" in the way they were riding. One was in my age group as I passed by, and I was sure she was on her first loop. But she followed me after the turnoff on the second loop! My legs were fried, but even at that slow pace I dusted her on the remainder of the course. This is where marking our numberplates would have been handy.

Right when I though I was going to turn into transition, I was told by a volunteer to climb up a hill and go through a gate. Noooo! Not more climbing! Sure enough, we climbed yet another mountain to a water tank, and came back down. Zac said a lot of people stopped there and stared because they couldn't fathom the thought of climbing more. I could relate to that. I wanted to cry. Overall it was 17.63 miles with 4,800 ft of ascent! (From my Garmin's data). That's like climbing Mt. Lemmon on my mountain bike. Overall this was a roadie bike course. I was not a fan.

I got out of transition to the run ahead of the second girl I had passed on the bike. My goal for the run course was to RUN and not walk the majority of the course like I had in Vegas. The trail started out well with nice singletrack. That is, until we crossed under a bridge and turned into a river. We had to run down the river forever. It was a significant distance, but unfortunately I didn't have my Garmin on. We were supposed to follow flags tied to tree branches, but in some spots it was hard to tell where they were. I finally found a makeshift trail made by eariler racers on a bank and ran on that rather than in the river like the girl in front of me was doing. I finally came up on a long XTERRA ribbon across the stream and figured that meant we were supposed to get out. I scrambled over more boulders and found the exit onto a singletrack trail. All the river running did was fill my shoes with wet rocks.

We ran up a paved hill in the campground, and a volunteer at an aid station told us to run up a singletrack trail going up the side of a mountain. I headed up that trail. Not long after 2 racers came down saying they hadn't seen any markers for a long time. One woman was in the 50+ age group and said she had gone "all the way" and didn't see anything. They were heading down. I breifly stopped to look for markers, but decided the race directors probably thought the singletrack was obvious for us to stay on. I hadn't seen any other trails and this was the trail the volunteer told us to run. Triathletes loose their brains as soon as they hit the water, so I figured I would keep going.

Not long after, the girl I had passed on the later section of the bike passed me with another woman. We were now hiking a steep section, so steep I had to use my hands for part of it. Another woman came up and said this was the right way, and the aid station was just at the top. Sure enough it was, and we hit a dirt road with more climbing. We were now way above the lake and had just climbed a mountain.

We finally hit a downhill section, and now all the rocks in my shoes had moved to the toe part of my shoes. So as I ran downhill my toes smashed into the rocks with each step. BANG! BANG! BANG! It hurt so bad, but I didn't want to stop on the downhill. Once the trail flattened out I dumped some of the rocks, but it was impossible to get them all out. I followed a lady and some guy, as we came back down to the campground. At this point there was a volunteer, and I asked how far we had to go. "Just one more mile" she said. I took note of the time on my watch and kept going, happy we had just another mile.

Well, that person didn't know what they were talking about, because it wasn't another mile but OVER 2 MORE MILES! I wanted to go back and shake that person and yell "If you don't know, don't make crap up!" Sometimes it's all a racer has to cling to knowing they just have to suffer 1 more mile, and when it's over double that it's unbearable. We climbed another mountain and were now on the OTHER side of the lake. We descended down and ran through the day use picnic area. People were grilling and partying and having a wonderful time, and here I was trapped on the wrong side of the lake, now knowing it was much longer than a mile to get back. After all the hills on the bike and climbing 2 mountains on the run, I was DONE and wanted it over. I crossed the river again and headed up the same trail we came out on. There was no one around me. Was I the last one out there? I hit a bridge and Zac was there, and I just had a short run across the field before I hit the finish line. They were already giving out awards when I finished.

I collapsed on a picnic bench, got some food, and waited for the results. Many people had gotten lost or turned around on the course. But when I picked up my printed slip of paper with the results, it said 3 out of 4. I had met my goal! I picked up an etched glass as a 3rd place trophy.

Oh, and it had been 30 minutes later after the volunteer told me "1 more mile" that I finished. So it was well over 2 miles!

The beach run between swim laps:

Starting to remove my wetsuit on the long trip to T1:

Wetsuit off and cruising into T1. You can see how far the lake is in the distance.

The start of the bike course:

Some of the singletrack. At least the scenery was better than the weekend before at the Vegas XTERRA. (Photo taken the day before during the pre-ride):

Finishing up the bike course:

The last bridge crossing on the run:

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