The XTERRA in Richmond, Virginia this past weekend was a full-on drag race. The race starts with a ridiculously short swim that is mostly downstream followed by a short and fast bmx-style mountain bike course. Add to that a fairly flat but notoriously hot and exposed run and this race leaves little to strategy and everything to fitness. Some construction on the bike course led to a detour eliminating a significant portion of single track and climbing making this year’s race even faster and shorter than ever before. This year the US Cup series is really demanding the most of an all-around athlete, as the chance to win these events on the swim, the bike or the run alone is truly non-existent and instead, a solid day in all three disciplines is required. Even Idaho and Vegas, very long races where we spent nearly all of our time on the bike did not necessarily favor cyclists over runners. Both required more fitness than finesse as very non-technical races meant bike specialists would not really find those races favorable. More than ever, XTERRA is going to well rounded athletes and I think this is certainly benefitting both Conrad Stoltz and I.
I got to my friend Jay’s house in Richmond on the Thursday before the race. After a casual evening catching up I went off to bed early as I was planning an early morning in the bike shop. I was greeted in Richmond by a present from Specialized. A brand spanking new Era was waiting for me at Conte’s Bike Shop for me to christen on the Richmond trail network. CJ did an awesome job in sorting out the build for me although he was deathly ill with some kind of flu and I unceremoniously detoxified the bike when he was finished with it with multiple antibacterial rinsings. Sorry CJ! You are an awesome guy but I was afraid of your germs. My first ride on the bike went perfect and the bike was fitting and running like a dream. I really do love the Brain forks and shocks as it requires no thought on my part. Just set them up and off you go. Read more for the race story…
My race on Sunday started with what was going to be an outstanding swim. I exited the water with Conrad and Craig in sight exiting on Belle Island and only a slow run across the island and a tentative water re-entry to swim back to Brown Island meant I lost the front group. I guess I expected that. Regardless of my caution, I still cut the bottom of my foot running back in the water. Nothing like what Conrad did before the race when he impaled the top of his foot on some rebar invisible beneath the surface. In fact, if you stood in the river to just above your knees even your knees would be invisible, the water was so murky. Conrad’s injury was really gross and I was super concerned for his long term health to have raw meat exposed to that nasty water. Of course, it was two minutes before the start of the race and Conrad had too much shock and adrenaline to warrant any common sense or self-preservation instinct so he chose to wrap his foot in a baggie and blast off into the river. He was exhibiting pure warrior instinct and I was stoked for him.
As for me, I missed our little whistle at the start but quickly thrashed off into the river dodging kayaks and half distance racers who clearly were not aware that we were coming. Half way across the James River I saw I was on fast feet and held on. Now “on” feet is kind of an exaggeration as I chose to go further upstream than the men in front of me so we kind of met at the turn buoy to the island. Once there, I was dropped by faster runners and swam back to shore alone. Still, I came out of the water just behind Mike Vine despite my time indicating I was further back. I chose to stop, take off my TYR Sayonara and put my mountain bike shoes on by the shore as last year I got huge rocks stuck in my feet from running to transition. Thinking about the race in Arkansas we are doing in only 6 days I decided to err on the side of body preservation and cost myself a bit of time running in order to treat my tootsies well. My 24 second transition was the result of this decision and I went out onto the bike in the lead.
I had a terrible first loop of the bike as I was not relaxed. Riding my dual suspension Specialized Era made me faster but being stiff and stressed out was making me less fluid. My legs were okay, but not great, and I was making dumb mistakes in the single track as a result. As soon as I rode down the stairs to start the second lap I managed to relax, focus on the moment, and get going. Of course, there isn’t much left of the race at that point but I rode well into T2. The course this year was much smoother than in the past due to more construction removing obstacles and more riders buffing the corners. It means that Richmond is a great event for athletes wanting a fun but accessible mountain bike challenge. For us pros it may be more technical to ride it fast but pretty much all the best athletes will ride it fast so making time on competitors is very difficult.
When I left T2 to go onto the run I was absolutely alone. Usually I have a couple of age group athletes or some pro men not having their best day (well, Seth Wealing was having a bad day but given he usually runs the fastest split of the whole race he wasn’t a good pacer) to help me keep focused but I was kind of in no-man’s land. I think that is why I had a slow patch in the middle of the race and it wasn’t until Matt Boobar caught me that I woke up and started running well again. I followed him into the finish to take my fifth race win of the year, with MelRad Racer Kristoffer Nielsen coming in just behind me to take the age group overall win. At the end of the race I had the fastest swim and bike splits and the third fastest run split.
Shonny Vanlandingham posted her second second place of the year with Danelle Kabush running her way from fifth up to third overall, Jenny Smith taking fourth and Sari Anderson rounding out the podium in fifth. Conrad won the race before heading to the med tent for stitches, Josiah Middaugh ran to second, Nico Lebrun was third, Mike Vine was fourth and Dan Hugo was fifth. Huge shout out to Kristoffer Nielsen for his age group win and to my friend and chiro Dr. Kathy Coutinho for winning her age group, acting as an onsite medic for Conrad and taking second overall despite a super long detour going the wrong way on the bike. You are a superstar sister! MelRad Racing wants you!
So another epic year of racing in Richmond is in the books and now we are off for more new adventures with a race in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is my first visit to that state and so far it looks like it might be HOT. Stinkin hot. We’ll just have to see. Thanks for reading and check back in six days for the next installment of the XTERRA US Cup Series.