Monday, May 17, 2010

XTERRA King of the Hill

I was scheduled to be in Boston for a week of training May 10 – May 14. Before the trip I checked the national XTERRA race schedule, and noticed XTERRA King of the Hill was scheduled for May 16 in New Jersey. Google Maps showed a 5 hour drive between Boston and the race site in Lebanon, NJ. Not too bad. So I set to work figuring out the logistics of getting to the race with all of my gear.

My first preference was to rent a mountain bike. I searched Google. I posted on the regional forums of Beginner Triathlete and Mountain Bike Review. I called bike shops that were sponsors of the race. I e-mailed the race director and people in AZ that I knew were from NJ. The result: mountain bikes are not for rent in NJ. Well, I should clarify. Mountain bikes that would hold up to an XTERRA bike course were not for rent. This is where I met my first division between west coast mountain biking and east coast. I’ve rented mountain bikes in the west with no issues, and no one even batting an eye at the thought. But on the east coast I got a lot of “Um, no one rents mountain bikes. This isn’t really a tourist area for mountain bikers.” If you want a beach cruiser for rolling along the Jersey Shore, no problem. But a bike for XTERRA racing…no dice.

Ok, on to Plan B, which was to disassemble my Blur and pack it in its flight box and fly it with me. The problem with this are the airline fees. Some think UPS or FedEx would be cheaper. And years ago they were. In 2003 I shipped my Bullit in a larger hard case from Tucson to Downieville, CA for $45 with insurance. Now it costs $150 to ship a bike via UPS or FedEx. I decided on Southwest, because a bike flies for $50, and there are no fees for the other checked bag. Also in my logistical planning was where to fly into. Into and out of different airports would mean I would get stuck with a hefty fee from the rental car place. So I decided on the halfway point and to fly into Hartford, CT.

I spent several hours cleaning the bike before packing it because it still had dirt and residue from Saipan on it. Then I removed both pedals, wheels, disc brakes, brake calipers, real derailleur, and handlebars. What follows next is padding the bike so that it would survive in the box. I used a lot of old race T-shirts to wrap parts, and foam insulation tubing for around the bike frame. My floor pump, Camelbak, and bike and trail running shoes all went in the box with the bike as additional padding and stuffing to keep the frame from moving around.

Mountain bike ready to fly.

The entire bike box was 67 lbs, along with 47 lbs of a roll-on luggage bag with all of my race gear and clothes for 10 days. Pulling those two items around the airport alone can be a pain, but I learned you just have to go slow. People in airports are also very curious about a girl toting around a huge, plastic trapezoid. In Hartford I got about five questions of what was in my box. I was too worn out and tired to make up something cool, but then again an entire mountain bike in a box that small is pretty impressive. It also makes everyone think you are some big wig bike racer. Who else would haul all that stuff around an airport?

The next hinge in my logistical plan was the rental car. I absolutely had to get an SUV or something of the like. I had Emerald Isle service through work, which meant I would be eyeing an HHR, Dodge Nitro, or worst-case a PT Cruiser. When the shuttle dropped me off there was a lone, red HHR left in the isle. Score! I folded down the rear seats and loaded the bike box on its side, followed by my luggage. It all fit, no problem.

I drove to Boston, and the next day put my bike together. I labeled all of my foam pieces so that disassembly and packing after the race would be much easier. During the week I rode a local trail that was only 3 miles from my hotel (see the Merrimack River Trail post below). I was stuck in a classroom from 8 AM to 5 PM every day, but it was awesome to have my bike with me and hit the trail before or after class. I took advantage of the extended daylight the east coast has and rode the trail any time I could.

On Friday our class ended early, so I loaded the bike box, luggage, and my assembled bike in the HHR and drove the 5 hours down to New Jersey. The drive wasn’t bad, and the next day I hit the bike course for a pre-ride to see what I would be in for the next day. While out on the course I ran into a guy named Kenny, who was stapling XTERRA arrows to trees. He worked for Green Brook Racing (the race company putting on the XTERRA) so I chatted with him for a bit and asked about the course. After my pre-ride, he and the race director, Joe, and the rest of the crew headed to lunch and invited me along. A very friendly bunch and a great group of folks!

The next morning I didn’t have to be up until 6:30 AM. The race didn’t start until 10AM! This was awesome! Joe, the race director said that it was usually cold and overcast in the mornings and beautiful by that time of day, so they found they got more competitors when they pushed back the race time. I got to transition early, set up my bike and gear, and got my numbers at registration.

Transition area in The Garden State.

I got a great spot in transition.

We had a pre-race meeting at 9:30 AM, and then it was time to get in the water for a warm-up. The race was held at the Round Valley Recreation Area, where there’s a huge lake. But we weren’t swimming in the main lake, and instead were swimming in a smaller lake over a spillway. It was kind of nice because there was a nice beach, no boats, and it was small for easy sighting. I got in the water, which was 66 degrees, and did a quick swim before getting out and heading to the start up the beach. This XTERRA started with a beach run (rather than the run being in the middle of two swim laps), then two laps of an out & back along a line of buoys. The beach run took me 1.5 minutes before I jumped in the water. There were 126 racers in the XTERRA and only 20 women, so when I got in the water I was already at the back of the pack. I tried to calm down on the first lap since the heart rate had shot up on the run. I turned at the buoy and found the major disadvantage to an out & back swim course. People like to follow the buoys, which means a higher probability of having a head-on collision with someone coming from the other direction. I moved over a bit and kept sighting every 4 strokes so that I wouldn’t crash into anyone. I got out and ran around the marker pole on the beach, and jumped in for the second swim lap. With everyone getting out and in the lake in the same area, the mud had churned up so it was hard to see until I got to deeper water. I started pulling hard on the second lap, and came out of the water in 15:50. Not too bad for an 880 yard swim including a beach run.

Super easy swim course.

I got to my transition area and looked behind me. Some of the other girls that I knew were in my age group were behind me, and I wanted to beat them out of transition. I got the wetsuit off, threw on the bike gear, and ran my bike up the hill out of transition. This being XTERRA, there were cement stairs heading down the hill, and we had to ride the stairs to get out on the bike course. It was so much fun! I love riding stairs! Many elected to walk their bikes, or take a small dirt trail around the outside. We had a small stretch of pavement before the trails began, so I got my cycling gloves on in this area. Then we hit the trails and immediately began to climb on a fire road. The climb wasn’t too bad because there was an awesome and fast downhill right after. The guys that passed me on the climb were now getting passed by me as I flew down the hill. I swear I’m going to give up this triathlon thing and race Super D.

The start of the bike and run courses.

The first climb on the bike course.

View of the lake from the top of the first climb.

It was important to get out in front of as many riders as possible, because we had a switchback section coming up on singletrack, and there wouldn’t be much room to pass. I entered into the top of the switchback section with a guy right on my tail, and I wanted to ditch him because I knew he was already looking to pass and was probably thinking I was going to be slow in this section. The trail headed down and I pushed the bike around under me while standing to limit braking and hold as much speed as possible. I caught another rider, but he hopped off on a slight incline and I was able to ease by and start the next section. The switchbacks weren’t too tight but still required some control. There were also a ton of tree roots that formed drop-offs in the middle of the trail. I grabbed the big ring to keep my chain from bouncing around and snaked my way down the switchback hill, catching air off of the roots. I was now at the speed where you “float” over objects in the trail. The guy behind me was nowhere to be seen. I was annihilating this section! Towards the end I caught up to a train of slower riders, but thankfully the two front guys dismounted and moved off to the side so I could get by. The trail popped out onto an open, grassy field, and then started up a gravel road. The very beginning involved another set of switchbacks on the climb, and riders all around me were getting off their bikes. I got into the inner ring and set to work spinning up the hill in a fast cadence, passing those that were walking.

The open, grassy field after the switchback section.

Riding through the trees.

A tunnel of trees.

The fire road was the easy part of the climb. It was steep but the gravel made for good traction. The fire road ended and we split off onto another singletrack section, which was the major technical climb. I was in the granny gear now, but I was still spinning at a high cadence and climbing on the bike. I wanted to stay on the bike as much as possible. Riders were dismounting all around me, but I moved off to the side around them and kept going. I made it to a rooted section of trail before finally having to get off the bike and hike. But once I was through the roots I was back on and climbing. The trail was in the shaded forest now, but the shade wasn’t helping much. The humidity was super high, and combined with my high heart rate I was completely drenched.

I climbed and climbed, pushing as hard as I could to stay with the group of riders I was in and staying on the lead lap. The course would double-back on itself, and I wanted to be done with the out & back before the leaders came through. Then, it happened. As I shifted gears on the climb, my legs suddenly spun with no resistance, but my back wheel was making an awful noise. I looked down to see the chain on the inside of the inner ring. I figured I had just dropped a chain on the climb, and hopped off and grabbed it to slide it back over the inner ring. The chain whipped around, revealing two open ends. I had broken a chain in the middle of my race!
I grabbed my bike and laid it on the ground off the trail. First things first, get the Camelbak off the back to get water weight off the body. I then assessed the mess in front of me. The chain was broken and wrapped in a mess in the rear cog. I grabbed the chain and set to work on unraveling the mess. My hands were shaking like mad and sweat was dripping off the front of my helmet. Going from race mode and Zone 5 heart rate to 0 in 2 seconds causes the body to do strange things. But I HAD to get this fixed! I was at the worst point in the trail. I was 3.5 miles in, so to hike out would be forever and would mean DNFing. I did NOT come all this way to DNF! But I couldn’t break the chain further and had to be careful. It was like diffusing a bomb. I carefully un-wedged it from the rear cog, then got it routed correctly through the rear derailleur.

I reached into my Camelbak and pulled out my powerlink. I had been carrying this powerlink with me ever since I started XTERRA racing, 6 years ago. An entire link had broken, and the pin was long gone somewhere on the trail, so at least I didn’t have to use my chain break tool to push a pin out. I tore open the package, and one half of the link went flying onto the forest floor. GAH!!! I slowly dug through the leaves and rocks and finally found the tiny gold link. As I worked, the entire world passed me by. People would ask “Need any help?” and I said “No, I broke a chain.” Most would quietly say “oh” and keep riding because they couldn’t help. One guy that rode by responded “Did it fall off or is it really broken?” THAT comment sent me into a fury. WTF!!! Here I am working on my bike with two halves of chain in my hands trying to link them together and I have some IDIOT asking if it “just fell off?!?!” Like I couldn’t tell the difference between a chain that had broken and one that had fallen off?!? I mentally pushed him off his bike and gave him a Shimano heel to the nads.

I put the pin ends of the powerlink through the open ends, then spent some time connecting the eyelets together. This is normally an easy operation any other time, but in the middle of a race with adrenaline spiking and hands shaking it becomes tough. Finally there was an audible snap as the link joined. I stood the bike up and shifted a few times to make sure it was working, then grabbed my Camelbak and got back in the line of bikers. I was now back with the stragglers. You do all this training to specifically NOT be a straggler and then one mechanical issue sends you back there. Many were walking, so I pedaled hard, trying to make up any time I could. I had lost about 10 minutes dealing with my chain, so there was no way to catch back up to the group I had been racing with. Thankfully there was a downhill, so I shifted into the big ring. Each shift made me cringe, wondering if the chain would snap in a different spot. But I had to keep going. I was now in the “irresponsibly fast” zone on the downhills but I didn’t care. I was dancing over the rocks and tree roots, and then hit the rock garden. Two guys were in the middle of the garden and going much slower. I grabbed the left line and said “on your left” and made it past. I was now free to pick up momentum again and make it through the garden. Then there was a hard left turn and we were on the campground road.

The campground road is another gravel fire road about 2 miles long. Here I was passing other stragglers with mechanical issues. One guy couldn’t change his flat, but I couldn’t stop because I had already lost a ton of time dealing with my chain. Another guy that was in front of me stopped to help him. Another guy was walking his bike out with a tube draped over his handlebars. He had gotten 2 flats, and walking a bike means he obviously didn’t carry any patches with him. He had about 3 miles of walking to do at that rate. I climbed up onto another singletrack section that joined back up with the out & back of the course. I was finally headed back to transition. I hoped my bike would hold together long enough for me to get back there. On my way down I passed the course sweeper heading up the hill, and he said I had a mile of downhill. I took advantage of this and once again entered the crazy fast zone to make up as much time as I could.

Flowers alongside the singletrack.

I crossed the open green field again, and started climbing the switchback section that we had come down earlier. It was much tougher going up than down, but I climbed what I could. I was demoralized at this point, just trying to salvage what I could of my race. But it was really hard to push with the same vigor that I had before the chain broke. I got back out on the last fire road, and started the last downhill on the fire road. I could see the lake at this point, and only had about a mile and a half to go. The next section I dreaded. It was a climb back up the fire road, but at this point the bike and run courses would intersect and I could see all the runners finishing up their races. It was horrible to see people I had been racing against out on the run course while I was still on the bike course. I made the turn onto the pavement, and had a fast downhill all the way back to transition. I got to transition and people were already done with their races and packing up. I racked my bike, threw on the running gear, and was out of there in 45 seconds.

Toboggan Hill

The run starts on the same pavement as the bike course and leads to the same fire road. But runners get to make a right turn and run up “Toboggan Hill,” which is where the race gets the name of “King of the Hill.” Toboggan Hill is covered in grass, and is huge. I resorted to walking like all the other racers around me, due to the insane slope. Once at the top there’s hardly any rest because you get to run down the back side, turn around, and then run up the backside before being able to run down. The views from the top are fantastic though, and I tried to take them in to try to bring some sort of positive light to my race. The run down Toboggan Hill was pretty tough, just because of all the pounding your legs take on the steep slope. I was happy to get to the bottom, then continue on up the fire road. The last part of the run involved the same fast downhill on pavement as the bike course, then an extra section of trail looping around the lake. I ran past a playground, and the kids on the playground cheered and yelled “Girl power!” as I ran by. It was pretty funny. I got onto the beach and finished up the last bit of the trail run, crossing the line in 2:36:58. Had I not had the chain to deal with it would have been under the 2:30 mark.

The Finish Line!

I picked up my transition area as they did the obligatory XTERRA pushup contest. I decided to hang around for the awards, just to see if results would get posted. I was absolutely shocked when they called my name for 1st place in W30-34! I waited afterwards and talked to Kenny (the guy I went to lunch with the day before), who was also doing the timing for the race. I wanted to be sure of the results. We went back to the timing shack and he pulled up the results. Sure enough, the others behind me had longer times. I was given a cool bobblehead doll as an award. So as they say, don’t ever give up! You might just be in first place. ;)

Bobblehead Trophy

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Merrimack River Trail Ride

This week I'm in Tewksbury, MA for work, and brought my bike for a race next weekend. Since I had Sunday free I decided to explore some of the local trails. Unfortunately, it poured all day yesterday. In Tucson this wouldn't be an issue because the trails are rocky and sandy and drain fairly quickly after a rain. Out east the trails have fluffy dirt which turns to sticky mud, and the trails don't dry out for a few days. I had originally planned to hit the Henry Parker State Park trails, but didn't want to drive out there if the trails were still muddy. I took a walk around the hotel and saw the woods behind the hotel area were wet and muddy. So I decided to try to find the trails closer to the hotel, and if they were in bad shape I could always bail out and ride the road.

Just 3 miles from the hotel was an access point for the Merrimack River Trail. There's a map of the trail system here. I left directly from the hotel and hit the pavement. An odd thing that I noticed was the lack of cyclists out on the roads. In Tucson you get used to a ton of riders being out on the roads. But I never saw another cyclist on the road, despite seeing several "share the road" cycling signs. I took the road to a residential street where I found a sign for the trail system. I entered in at the Raven's Bluff access point and headed east. The trail is all singletrack that skirts along the Merrimack River, with bridges over creeks. It was chilly and very windy out, but thankfully the bank of the river is below a large hillside for much of the ride, which offers some protection from the wind. The trail was covered with fallen leaves and tree roots, but the trail was surprisingly in good shape. Most of it was dry with just a few wet spots that had boards over the top to prevent trail erosion (very similar to the Pit of Despair stunt at our house).

The trail was rolling singletrack, with just a few short, steep climbs here and there. At certain points it got very close to the river. It was a ton of fun! I saw a few hikers, a couple of trail runners, and only 2 other mountain bikers. I was surprised at the low amount of traffic on a weekend. I took the trail all the way to I-93, and continued on after crossing under the freeway. I could only go about a quarter of a mile further until I hit a bridge that had fallen in the creek, and a downed tree on the other side. The trail continued after this, but I decided this was a good point to turn around. I took the trail back to the access point and continued west for a bit. The trail is marked with white blazes on trees, and I think I figured out two blazes meant easier trail, and one blaze was a more advanced trail. I took the trail to another access point, and decided to turn around and head back to Raven's Bluff. I rode about 10 miles on the trail before the wind got too cold to continue.

After I checked the map when I got back to the hotel I found that I turned around just before the power lines, and there's more trail to the west of the power lines. I found the access point on my ride back to the hotel. If I get a chance to get back out on the trail during the week I'd like to take the access point by the powerlines and see what the trail looks like to the west. But it's awesome to have such a great trail network just 3 miles from the hotel!

Official trail sign:

It was wonderful to be in the sun when it was out!

One of the many bridge crossings on the trail. This one is just after you get on the trail at Raven's Bluff.

Singletrack, greenery, and the Merrimack River.

This was the only bridge I came across with railings.

Open view of the Merrimack River.

One of the rare times the sun came out from behind the clouds while I was on the trail.

The trail crossing under I-93.

Riding in the forest.

Through the trees.

And through green fields.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cinco de Mayo 10K

The Cinco de Mayo 10K was a last-minute race for me. Coach Scott suggested it, and I had been thinking about it, so on the Saturday before the race I signed up. I’m glad I did because they had awesome Zorrel shirts as the race shirt. I also need to do races as motivation to train, so it was either do the race or make myself go run alone. Running in a race is much more enjoyable!

On race morning I found Shari, Beatriz, April and Kathy. We chatted for a bit and then decided to do a warm-up jog. We did an out & back and had a great time chatting away. It was almost hard to remember that we were there to do a race. We lined up at the start and took off at the gun. I was next to Shari and because of the crowd we were moving around amongst all of the people. She moved forward through a hole, but suddenly the hole closed behind her and I got cut off. I moved off to the side to have a bit more room, but lost Shari. So I continued on, focusing on trying to get up all the hills. There were quite a few on the first half of the course. We ran along the golf courses, and picked up speed downhill heading towards the turnaround point. I dreaded this because that meant we would have to go back up the hill. After the turn I wasn’t feeling too well, so I just focused on getting up the hill. I looked for friends on the course and waved and cheered across the street as we ran.

At the mile 5 aid station I grabbed some water, but suddenly got a cramp right after. I raised my arms to try to stretch it out because it was so painful. Suddenly Shari appeared and ran with me. There was a guy behind us, and I fell back to where he was. The last part of the course was the toughest, but the guy behind me kept saying “Come on! Let’s go!” When someone is so encouraging when you’re hurting it really makes you want to cry. I caught back up to Shari, and we crossed the finish line. I finished in 56:55, which was a 9:05 average! My goal was to go faster than the 9:40 average at Sabino, so this was great. Shari and I walked around to cool down afterwards. It was only in the 70’s but it felt like 100 degrees out. We walked over and got some awesome burritos in the food area, along with eegee’s. We sat in the grass with the rest of the Tri Girls, and the burritos and eegee’s were the best thing ever! SAR really picked great post-race food for this one. It was a fun race, but boy did 10K feel like 10 miles on that course!

Urban Assault Ride

This was a back-to-back race weekend, with the Sabino Canyon Sunset run on Saturday, and the Urban Assault Ride on Sunday. Zac and I had done the UAR last year as team PirateGirl and Mr. PirateGirl dressed as pirates, and we would be repeating our appearance this year. During the week the UAR folks posted a quiz, and the results of the quiz would place racers in their starting waves. I love doing the online quiz! It is truly an exercise in Google skills. Zac and I split the quiz up, with me taking the first half and him taking the second, and then we would both attack the questions we were stuck on. The quiz did require us to buy the latest issues of Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times magazines to get two of the questions. For the ones we didn’t know we guessed. We turned in our results and scored a 95%, which put us in the first starting wave!

The Urban Assault requires teams of two to ride their bikes around Tucson to various checkpoints. Five of the checkpoints are known: Sunflower Market on 1st, Tahoe Park, Summit Hut, Fairwheel Bikes, and TriSports. Two of the checkpoints were mystery checkpoints. For the first mystery we had to solve a crossword puzzle online, and that revealed we would be going to Himmel Park. We would only find the clue to the next mystery checkpoint there.

You can ride to the checkpoints in any order that you wanted. On race day Zac and I staged our bikes in the bike area, and got at the front of the starting corral. We would have a 2 minute head start over the other wave. I had figured out how to get to each checkpoint, so once the gun went off we were running for our bikes and hitting the streets of Tucson. I had decided to go straight to TriSports first, to get away from the crowds. Crowds can cause lines to form at each checkpoint, which can slow you down. We hit the bikepath with a group. I dove behind an alley and onto the Aviation bike path, with another guy from the crowd right behind me. I turned around and the guy wasn’t Zac, and Zac wasn’t there! Oh well. I knew he knew we were going to Trisports, so I wasn’t going to wait. We crossed over the snake bridge, and Zac finally caught up. Then it was onto the basket bridge and the rest of the Aviation bike path. I’ve done a lot of commuting in Tucson by bike, so I knew the routes pretty well. I pulled the lead with Zac drafting 6 inches off of my rear wheel. We were flying down the bike path at 20 mph. I could feel my legs from the previous night’s run in the canyon, but I had to hold up my half of the team.

We were dicing back and forth with a girl team. I guess they didn’t like getting passed by people dressed as pirates? Anyways, they got out in front and pushed it hard to ditch us. However, I had superior navigation skills because they didn’t pass us again until Palo Verde road, just before Trisports. We hit the Trisports parking lot in 21 minutes and got to the first checkpoint. Each checkpoint requires teams to perform a challenge to earn a colored bead before they can proceed to the next checkpoint. Trisports had a flag course setup and we were to ride kid’s bigwheel bikes around the course twice. It was awesome! I grabbed a pink bigwheel and set off after Zac, who was already out on the course. These things have no breaks so to get around the corners you tend to slide out. I flew around the course on the first lap, and passed Zac when he had to reach across the cones to grab his wallet and phone that had fallen out of his pocket (amateur misake). I crossed the line and started lap 2. But the transition between laps was on a downhill with a turn, so as I slid around the corner my inside wheel lifted. I corrected by leaning hard to the left to weight the inside tire. Dang these things could use softer compound tires! I punched it out of the corner and caught up to another guy on a pink bigwheel. He was NOT smooth in the corners, so when he spun out I tried to pass but couldn’t get by. I was being held up on the bigwheel course by a guy that couldn’t handle the pink! I finally made the pass and crossed the line for the conclusion of the second lap. We parked our bigwheels, got our bead, and got back on our bikes to head to Summit Hut. It took us 2:33 to complete the challenge. Yes, I took splits of everything!

We rolled out of Trisports and immediately our legs felt funky from pedaling the little bigwheels. That sensation subsided after about a minute and we were back to cruising on the bike path. The girl team was ahead of us, but we got held up by a red light. Red lights are death, so since there were several ways to get there, we dove up 22nd street to cut over rather than wait at the light. The goal was to keep constantly moving. We got to Summit Hut in 22 minutes.

The challenge at Summit Hut was human bowling on skateboards. One team member had to sit on a skateboard with their hands tucked under and their feet out front on the board. The other member pushed them up to a line and let them roll down the course like a bowling ball towards a set of pins. Since I was smaller I was the bowling ball. Zac’s first inclination is to brute-force everything, so he pushed me hard. I only had to roll about 20 feet, but I went unstable and careening down the course from the force of his push. My legs came off and I drug my feet to keep from falling. “Oh my god I almost died!” I yelled at him. We had to do the challenge again, and this time I told Zac to push me easier. This time I coasted into the pins, and we were awarded our bead. Total time for this challenge was 2:33. The split would have been smaller had I not had gorilla boy shoving me through the pins on the first pass.

Next up was Mystery Checkpoint #1, Himmel Park. We weren’t allowed to ride Speedway, so we shot down neighborhood streets to get to the park. We arrived in 17 minutes. The crossword puzzle clue told us to look under the jungle gym for someone wearing an afro wig and a tutu. We found the guy in this outfit, who didn’t look too happy about his attire. Maybe he lost a bet? Anyways, I had no sympathy for him because we were roving around the streets of Tucson dressed like pirates. We got our bead and our next clue was printed on a board. The clue said “find this” and pointed to a photo of a city pool. All you could see was a shallow kid’s area and a water slide. I immediately knew what it was! It was Quincie Douglas pool. There was a crowd standing around looking at the photo trying to figure it out, but I grabbed Zac and we got our bikes. I told him it was Quincie Douglas on 36th and Campbell. I had swam there a bunch during lunch workouts. It paid off to be a swimmer! Zac admitted he would have had trouble with that one, so we got on our bikes and rode to Tahoe Park. We decided to hit Quincie Douglas at the end. Besides, since the checkpoint was at a city pool, most likely we would be getting wet. Total time at Himmel Park was 2:43.

We made the short trip to Tahoe Park, which was just a few minutes away, and arrived in 17.5 minutes. The challenge at the park was for one teammate to climb piggyback on the other and swing a mallet to move a ball down the course, around a tree, and back. I climbed on Zac’s back and we started to smack the ball. The only trouble was, with how tall he was the mallet wasn’t long enough. I kept telling him to bend forward so that I could reach the ball. We got around the course in 2:23 and rode off to Sunflower Market on 1st Ave.

It took us 14 minutes to reach Sunflower Market. The challenge here was the newspaper toss, which was the most difficult. One teammate had to grab their bike and join a carousel of riders that were riding clockwise in a circle. They were given a sachel with rolled up newspapers inside. While riding around in the circle they had to toss a paper to their teammate about 25 yards away, who had a cardboard box to catch the papers. The tough part was that the catcher had to stay behind a roped off flag line. Since Zac is a trials rider and can trackstand, he was the tosser and I was the catcher. On our first round gorilla boy appeared again and I caught the paper, but he had tossed it so hard that it bounced out of my box. I told him to aim behind me and loft the newspaper, rather than chuck it. The volunteers at the challenge told us we didn’t have to catch the papers thrown by our partner, so then things got violent with the elbows. It was a good thing we were wearing helmets. We had to catch 3 papers, and I finally got 3 of them. It took us 6:28 to complete this challenge.

By this time it was getting hot out. We were filling our water bottles at each checkpoint to stay hydrated. Our next stop was Fairwheel bikes down by the university. As we rolled through town, people would honk their horns or yell to us to cheer for the pirates. We got to Fairwheel in 19 minutes, and the next challenge was a puzzle. The puzzles were just square pieces of carpet that had been cut into triangles and trapezoids. We had to complete the puzzle within 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes was up, if our puzzle wasn’t done we could move on. Since Zac is a mechanical engineer, and it’s tough for two people to do one puzzle at once, I let him take the lead. At first he was told by the volunteers that he was being “too scientific” about it. Finally we realized that you had to look at the grain of the carpet to solve the puzzle. Once that happened the puzzle was together and done. We spent 5:07 at this checkpoint, which still got us out before the 10 minutes was up.

Up next was Quincie Douglas, Mystery Checkpoint #2. We took 15 minutes to get there, and there was a board identifying it as the correct checkpoint. For this challenge one partner had to remove their socks and shoes, get in the pool while wearing their helmet, and swim to a guy in the middle of the lane floating on an inner tube to get the bead, then swim to the other side. Once I heard the instructions I was pulling off my socks and shoes and Zac said, “Well I guess you’re doing this one.” Um, yes, of course! I ran to the end of the lane, hopped in, and did the lifeguard stroke over to the guy in the tube. Swimming with a helmet on wasn’t that easy, but at least it was only 25 yards. I got out, got my shoes back on, and we plotted our course back to downtown. Total time for this challenge was 2:40.

We got back to Maynard’s in 12.5 minutes. We had pushed hard to each challenge because they said we had to be back by 3:15 PM to get a time. We arrived at 2:50 PM. We parked our bikes and the last challenge was the inflatable. You climb up a slope on one side, and slide down the other into a pool. Once Zac and I were down the slide we were able to check in. We arrived at 2:50 PM with all of our beads. It turns out they left the course open over an hour later. I think they realized it takes people longer to get to all of the checkpoints.

We rode a total of 32 miles that day. We had an awesome time terrorizing the streets of Tucson dressed as pirates for the second year in a row. I can’t wait until next year’s assault!

There were a ton of photos from the race photographer posted here:

Some of the favorites of Zac and I:

Zac and I at the start line:

Arrr! I be bombin’ your photo pirate style!

The start of the race:

And another:

Rolling out on the streets of Tucson:

Sabino Canyon Sunset Run

All XTERRA courses seem to be incredibly hilly. So I decided to do the Sabino Canyon Sunset run as a good race to practice going faster on hills. I had done this race once before, a few years ago, but that was when the road was still under construction from flood damage, and the course was only a 10K. This year we would be going all the way to the end of the road and back. A few months ago I made it to the end of the road for the first time. On previous runs I would usually run to Shuttle Stop #8, then turn around. On my first run to the top I realized the worst hill was saved for the end. Where Shuttle Stop #8 is at is the start of a very steep, long, and ugly climb. Once I reached the top my heartrate spiked into zones that probably don’t exist (Zone 6.2…really?). But it was a glorious downhill afterwards. So at least I knew what to expect.

I had done a training run a few weeks prior to this race and ran it at an average of 10:39 min/mile. My goal for this race was to run it at an average of 10:00 min/mile flat, or better. It was a stretch goal, but I thought I could get there. I told Coach Scott my goal, and he agreed it was doable, so I spent the weeks leading up to the race working on hills. It’s always good to get confirmation that your goals aren’t completelty out of whack.

Race day I got to the parking lot pretty early, and set off in the opposite direction up the Bear Canyon trails. This section of trails was away from the race crowds and gave me a chance to run for about 15 minutes to warm-up. I got to the starting line and picked a spot in the middle of the crowd, but off to the side. This way I could move off into the dirt if needed depending on how much the crowd pushed me around.

The gun went off and everyone took off running. I tried to stay at a steady pace at the beginning, because I knew this section was flat and would lead to the first uphill climb. I didn’t want to blow up in the first mile. I got to the top and freewheeled it down, then hit the first water station where the Tri Girls were. I was gasping for air, so didn’t have a chance to yell hello, but still got cheering from all the ladies there.

The first couple of bridges were pretty easy, then we hit the flooded bridge. I ran across and made sure I picked up my feet real high to not trip on anything I couldn’t see under the water. I settled into a group of runners that were running a similar pace, and we would trade positions back and forth. I also noticed that when you wear clothing that shows off your tattoos you get a lot of cheering from the tattooed crowd.

I hit Shuttle Stop #8, and it was time to settle into the climb. My goal was to not walk, no matter how bad I wanted to, and no matter how slow I went. I was going to do some sort of stride that was nowhere near running, but definitely wasn’t walking. This meant that I would get passed by those walking. I didn’t care. My goal was to run the whole thing and I was going to “run” no matter how slow my pace was. The road wound around the mountain side, and at points it looked like there was no end in sight. Just more winding road covered with people. I put my head down and focused on the ground in front of me, and just getting to that turnaround point. Finally the pavement changed and I crossed over onto the smoother section, which meant the top was near. I reached the turnaround and saw Jim from Master’s swim and the TriTucson series handing out water. I grabbed some water and started the wonderful downhill.

Running downhill is almost as painful as running uphill. The legs take a beating trying to control speed to where you don’t go rolling down the hillside. I flew down the big hill I had just climbed, and settled into an easier pace. My heartrate had been in zone 4-5 for much of the uphill climb in the canyon, so this was a chance for it to come down and recover some. I had forgotten my shoes had been soaked by the water crossings until I crossed them again. My shoes had squeezed out most of the water but once again filled up and started sloshing again.

I passed the TriGirl water station one more time and knew I was almost there. I just had to get up the last uphill and then it truly would be all downhill to the end. I reached the base of the hill and others around me started walking. I settled into my granny gear and got up the hill. The previous hills had taken a ton out of my legs and I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the end in time. I tried to run the last downhill and flat as hard as possible. The sun was now almost completely set by now, and I was chasing what little daylight there was left.

I pushed it hard over the line and hit my watch. I finished the 7.4 miles in 1:11:09, which was a 9:40 average pace. I had blown my goal time out of the water! Of course my legs were going to pay for it. I grabbed some water and spent some time stretching before getting in the car and heading home. Overall it was a great race on a really challenging course.