Sunday, June 7, 2009

XTERRA West Cup - Lake Las Vegas

XTERRA West Cup Lake Las Vegas – 5/2/09

I am VERY late in getting race reports done. The XTERRA west races are all back-to-back, so it’s been nothing but packing, racing, unpacking, training, and packing again for the past month. I am finally getting caught up while on vacation.

The XTERRA West Cup regional championship at Lake Las Vegas was a new race for this year. I figured it was worth trying since it was in Las Vegas, and the drive wouldn’t be too terrible. Zac and I arrived in Vegas on Thursday and met up with Nate and Liane. I had rented a condo off of VBRO.com in Henderson, which worked out well as it was just a mile or so from the race. On Saturday, Zac headed out for some downhill riding at Bootleg canyon, Nate went to Boulder City, and Liane and I headed to the mountain bike course to pre-ride it. The pre-ride didn’t last long. The bike course was on an open lot of what will be Phase 3 of future condos. There really wasn’t a “trail” to follow, more like arrows in random dirt areas. There was a lot of climbing, and I was pretty sure the “mountains” we were riding were the fill dirt that was excavated to make Lake Las Vegas.

We saw a gnarly downhill that people were walking, and decided to at least ride up to that part. Of course, that meant climbing the evil climb leading to it. Absolutely no one ever cleaned the climb. It took forever to push the bike up the slope before getting a little bit of downhill and then climbing again. We reached the downhill and I started down it on the right side, only to find out in the middle that that was the wrong line and we should be way left. It was a very steep scree slope covered in loose sand and rocks, and the only way down was to ride the rear brake all the way down with your butt off the saddle and over the rear wheel. There was going to be carnage there the next day.

We ended our pre-ride, figuring it was going to be more of the same stuff. Besides, it would be a surprise for race day. Liane and I headed back to the condo and the pool area, and watched people riding and running the course across the street. Hmm…the runners seemed to be climbing up the mountain awfully high.

The next day, a storm blew in causing the lake to get very choppy. XTERRA actually had to change the buoys at the last minute. We started at the Lowes hotel and swam out of the protected cove, under a bridge, and out into Lake Las Vegas. I quickly figured out they only had 3 buoys out and didn’t have any of the intermediate basketball-looking buoys in between. After the first turn, I couldn’t even see the next buoy. So instead I just followed the bobbing heads in front of me, hoping that many people couldn’t get lost. After the second turn, things got bad. We were going against the chop and it was very rough and wavy out there. I was SO glad I had done the La Jolla rough water swim back in September, so I had already been used to waves while swimming. Thank goodness this wasn’t ocean water. I was now in the thick of the men’s wave, and the guys weren’t looking too good. I just told myself to get to the next buoy and then I would turn and head to shore. I tried timing my sighting with the waves, but unlike ocean waves, wind chop waves on a lake are a little less predictable. A couple of times I was able to get down under the wave and let it go over me, while other times my head was falling and slamming into the trough several inches below.

I reached the third buoy, which was a zoo, and headed in to the swim beach. There was nothing but guys all around me, and they had a head start! I was hoping for under 30 minutes for my swim, but given all of the chop I figured that was out the window. I got to the beach, stood up, and hit my lap button to see 29 minutes. I’ll take it! I ran up the beach that had dead grass everywhere. Our transition area was in a dirt lot, and I had decided to take my suit off in the grass before getting to the dirt to keep my wetsuit from filling with mud. As luck would have it, I spotted a huge rock in the grass off to the side. It was exactly bench height, so I sat on it and stripped my suit. Apparently the announcer girl was right there because she could easily see my number, had enough time to look up my name and where I was from, and could read my Tucson Tri Girls jersey (I heard all of this while I took the suit off). I ran up to the transition mat and got to my bike rack. There were a ton of bikes in transition still! I got my gear on and ran with my bike out to start the course. I subtracted out my wetsuit time (took 45 seconds to remove my new sleeved wetsuit) so overall swim was a little over 30 minutes with a 2 minute transition.

The bike course was 2 loops of the world’s ugliest bike course. No views to take your mind off the pain you are going through or anything. It was very much like riding in an open pit mine or on Mars. Building condos is probably the best use of the land there. I started out in a group of people and climbed as much as I could of the first climb before dismounting and running the bike. From the pre-ride the day before, I learned it was better to dismount and run than redline the heartrate trying to ride the entire first hill. There would be many more hills and we still had 18 miles of riding to go. I did most of my passing on the rocky downhills where people were having trouble in the technical areas. Then it was time for the evil climb. I made it a few feet up before dismounting and joining the parade of hikers up the hill. The hill was getting worse from everyone hiking up it, and I dreaded to think of what it was going to look like on the second lap. I got to the top and started riding and rode the downhill before the second uphill and the next dismount to hike-a-bike. It was at this point the pro men passed me. I was surprised to see a different guy out front than Conrad, but Conrad was on the guy’s heels.

I rode the sketchy descent down to the aid station, skipped the water, and climbed up to the top of the nasty downhill. Lots of people were getting off, but I was determined to ride it. I shifted up to keep my chain from falling off, got off the saddle and over the rear wheel with my seat in my chest, and started the descent. I had to stay completely off of the front brake, because that would have led to disaster. I feathered the rear brake as I went down the hill, and unfortunately the front brake has most of the braking power so I had to go faster than my personal safety limit. It was one of those times where you have to commit to your speed and line because bailing would hurt worse. I basically skied the bike down the hill with the rear wheel sliding everywhere. It took all of my technical ability to get down, but by the end I could let go of the brakes and carry the momentum on the flat part. I passed a ton of people by riding the hill while they walked.

I flew through the next section, which was all new since we didn’t pre-ride it. It was mostly rolling hills, and we made a sharp left turn down a hill and into a wash. The wash was very similar to the wash in Starr Pass with deep gravel and rocks everywhere, except we had to stop in the middle to cross over a drainage pipe. Then more climbing and flats before another dismount and hike-a-bike. It was a rutted boulder garden, and unless you are a world-class trials rider, you were hiking across (all of the pros hiked here too). Finally we reached a really fun singletrack trail along the lake, which lasted all of about 2 miles. This is where the pro women caught me, and they were all very nice and encouraging as they went by. I got back to transition, got my numberplate marked, and headed out on the second loop.

By this time the wind had died down, the lake was FLAT, and the temperature was over 90 degrees. All of the hills felt twice as tall as the first loop. The evil climb felt like forever and I almost felt like I couldn’t push my bike any further. It was nothing but climb a few steps, push the bike, climb a few steps, push the bike. No trees, no shade, nothing but heat and sun and rocks and dirt. On the flat section after the aid station, a girl in my age group passed me. I stayed with her up the climb to the top of the gnarly descent. She got off and started walking. My legs were shaky and at this point I didn’t know if I’d have enough strength to ride down the technical descent. People don’t realize that riding a technical downhill takes a lot of strength to keep from crashing. But I knew riding would be much faster. I passed a guy at the top and started my way down the scree slope. My rear tire dug in hard as I slid down the hill, steering where I could and trying to avoid the drop-offs on either side. I got to the bottom where I could finally let go of the brakes, and that is where the girl in my age group was walking. I flew past and kept riding, allowing the bike to dance over the rocks and ruts. Thank goodness for full suspension! I powered through the wash, finished up the rest of the climbs and the hike-a-bike through the boulder field. There was one last climb before the lake singletrack, and I felt the last of the strength leave my legs. I hit transition and knew the run was going to be ugly.

I got on my run gear and started out on the course, which was very similar to the bike course. The temperature had climbed even more. Even though I’m from Tucson, it still takes a few days of high heat for me to get used to it, and this was my first workout in hot weather. I tried to run but my legs had nothing left. We climbed up the side of a mountain, descended for a short amount before climbing the out & back to the aid station. Each time I tried to run I got nauseous, so I decided the best I could do was walk to keep moving forward. I got to the aid station and slowly trotted down the hill. As I started the climb up the steepest climb on the run course, I could see people crossing the desert below me. This was insane. This is exactly what you are not supposed to do in the desert. I made it back to transition for my second lap, and took a short rest break at the port-o-potties and the aid station before heading out. I actually sat down on the Gatorade container to remove both shoes and dump all of the rocks and dirt out. There was no way I was going another 5K with that much junk in there.

By the second loop I had stopped sweating, and I was getting chills. I had no craving to drink anymore. These are all BAD signs! I knew I needed to force water down, and it worked if I sipped the water like a drinking fountain. The nausea was bad but I had to keep walking forward, even if it was just a walk. Thankfully the aid station at the out & back still had water and ice. There was a biker there who decided he wasn’t going to finish the bike course or the race at this point. I grabbed ice to put in my hat and sipped on the water that I could. The last climb just about killed me. I tried to run the downhill, but my stomach threatened to toss the Shot Blocks and water out, so it was back to walking. Oh, and while I was out on the run course, I heard all sorts of interesting phrases. One young guy was a few minutes in front of me, and on one of the out & backs he kept saying “I’ve never had to walk in a race!” Another comment was a volunteer to one of the racers: “If it was easy, they’d call it Ironman.”

I finished up the run course and hit the finish to find an empty finish area. At least Zac and Nate were still there. I grabbed some random food and a Gatorade bottle and proceeded to the nearest shade tree to collapse. I had been out there over 5 hours, well over my expected finish time. Zac had heard the interviews of the pro winners and said Conrad had to hike his bike several times on the bike course, and Melanie said this was the hardest XTERRA course ever, even above the world championship Maui course. So even though I had finished, I was still disappointed, mostly because I had worked on my running all winter and ended up walking much of the course. That’s probably also why it took so long to write this race report, because I hate writing about races that go wrong.

Zac and Nate, our sherpas:
Me and Liane after setting up transition:
The start of the women's swim wave:

Me getting out of the lake. Note all the guys getting out too!
Wetsuit combat:The reason I removed my wetsuit earlier...all the dirt in transition:
Exiting T1 and heading out on the bike course:
One of the few areas of green on the bike course (down by the lake):

Starting lap 2 of the bike:
Yes, it was hard not to get distracted by the picturesque views:
Finally off the bike and heading into T2:
Starting the dreaded run in the heat:Yep, that's the run course. Following random arrows in the dirt:

Not a fun run at all:

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