XTERRA Alabama – Racing Ricky Bobby Style

Hot weather and rugged conditions created a formidable challenge in Pelham, Alabama for all of us racing XTERRA #2.


Did my best on a day where I felt less than stellar. This picture says it all… whoa.. this is rough!




XTERRA #2 in Pelham, Alabama was a challenge for all competitors and for me, despite loads of preparation, was a challenge just to FINISH by the end. Hot weather and a very challenging course was a formidable adversary and I think I was one upped by more than just the competition.

I was lucky enough to stay the entire week in Alabama with our good friends Mark, Dianne, Pettus and Virginia (the dogs). It was a super fun week with lots of laughs. I have to say that the people in the South are among the friendliest, most hospitable and have the biggest hearts. So many nice people said hello during the week I was there and I thank every one of you for being so amazing! I took a day off to tool around Birmingham, swam at the Wald Park pool (thanks Ralph!)and generally kicked back. Diane and Mark are insane. They are great triathletes that get up at 4am to fit swims in around work. Man, am I soft! I was sleeping in every day, often not finishing training until 5pm. I think I was struggling with two things, a weird schedule (for the pool) and the jetlag. Or maybe I am just a cupcake. Probably the latter, as my swim coach Neil will attest.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I hooked up with Casey Fannin, the local superstar, for some tough training at Oak Mountain State Park. I had a pretty bad race on Sunday but I thought I would stick to my original training plan for that week hoping that it was mostly jetlag and travel fatigue that got me. We did a great run on the course on Tuesday and a good ride on Wednesday with some repeats on the main climb. After those days I was pretty tired again. I was out Thursday feeling a bit crap but I thought it would be good because I often feel crap before the race and it magically comes around.

On Saturday Ross and I did a good ride down the main descent and I thought I was feeling pretty sharp. I had some good speed, especially descending, so I was ready and stoked to go fast. I did the XTERRA University clinic with Seth, Conrad and Jenny that afternoon and after a lot of laughs interspersed with some decent race tips, Ross and I went home to wait and relax. Being there the whole week was tough… I was so tired of waiting for the race to come. The new exciting addition to the race was the relay that Ross entered with Dianne and Tony. It was pretty fun having Ross thinking about what he was going to do for his race the next day, given that the furniture-boy generally is fairly uncompetitive. That is, unless it is the Woodhall Drive sprint at which point the elbows come out (that is the 200m sprint uphill to our house). He was on his new BMC Fourstroke with full XTR and a new Descente kit so he was feeling pretty good about it all.

On race morning we got up, had a quick breakfast of Nature’s Path flax n’ oats oatmeal with some super strong french press coffee. Immediately after coffee we were on the Gu2O electrolyte drink program to try and top of the hydration before the race. Forecast was mid-90s for the main portion of the race which is HOT. Finally it was time to go and we packed up to drive to Oak Mountain Park.
I hopped out early to spin on my bike to the race start as a warm up. I didn’t feel too bad on the way to the start line although I was feeling the heat a little which is unusual since I am a good performer on hot days. I did very little efforts on the way to the race thinking maybe I should conserve as much as possible. I set up transition, grabbed my speed suit and headed to the beach.

The water was the perfect temperature so jumping in to do a few warmup strokes was glorious. I did a couple pickups, a few stroke drills and then chose a spot to line up far right of the group. After being pummeled in Temecula I wanted to try to start in some clear water. Candy looked like she was on the same program as she started next to me. When the gun went off I had a good sprint. I could see I was swimming parallel to a group on the left on Candy’s hip. Then, after about 100m, Candy cut left when I wasn’t looking. So I started to move left and then saw someone fast on the right. I decided to stay put thinking Mr. Righthandside was going to be the dope shizzle. Ummm, Bruce Gennari swam away from me before I could look again to see where he was. Dangit! So now is decision time, do I cut over or just go straight hoping to catch the pack at the buoy? So I decided to catch them at the buoy. Perfect. Around the buoy we are all one big group. Unfortunately I ended up beside Josiah, who, as much as I love him, is the worst person on the planet to swim beside because he is like an eel. Oh well, we get to the second buoy, Candy is two people away, all good. Rounding the second buoy I was on the feet of a large person who kicks a lot. I kept my head down thinking the group would be fine but I was running into this large person who was blowing to the moon apparently. The next time I looked up Candy was at about 5 meters. So I pull out to go around the large person and by the time I am free Candy’s group is out of reach and I am leading Josiah in the next group. BAD spot for both of us since we swim the same speed and both of us want to be in that next group. So that is how it ended up, us behind the next group by about 45 seconds. Dianne ended up with us in that group and beat both Josiah and I out of the water! So that meant Ross had a gap on me already .

Out of transition I focused on gloves, some hydration and getting my legs turning over. It was pretty slow going. Ross only had a tiny gap and I could not catch him until the first dirt road section we came to. Not a good start. I told myself my legs would come around as the race progressed so when I passed him and got a cheer I smiled and tried to put the hammer down. Last year in that section was big ring. This year was middle ring. My time this year overall was slower than last year by a minute or so and the course was faster. It was very obvious to me that I was not going as well as I can. I got to the next section of single track and ended up in a bit of traffic so I just relaxed and slowly moved through, catching Candy and eventually breaking free on the main climb of the race.

Up the climb I thought about the repeats I did with Casey and just focused on cadence and maintaining momentum. However, it was feeling like both my tires were flat. Slow going the whole way up and along the long traverse to the descent. As I was descending Blood Rock and the sketchy section following that there were many flat tires for people around me so I was pretty cautious. Not cautious enough since I hit my back wheel on a root incredibly hard on one of the switchbacks. I thought for sure I would have flatted but I rolled on. When I came into the next section of single track I could hear something rubbing on my bike. It sounded like a branch was through my wheel or something but since I was still rolling and was within about 2-3 miles I decided to risk it and keep going. I later (after the race) discovered I had knocked my wheel right out of the dropout so my wheel was sitting a bit askew and it was the brakes rubbing. I had made the right decision to continue because it is doubtful stopping would have made up the time for the stop required to fix that, as I am sure it was a matter of seconds either way.

So I got to T2, totally screwed up my shoe removal, running in one shoe half off, one shoe on the pedal to the rack (dummy), threw on the Diadoras and hit the road. I could hear Jamie’s name as she was coming in just behind me, so I focused on getting things going as soon as possible. When I got to the single track I knew I was in trouble. I was blown. The shortest race of the whole season and I was blown at what would essentially be half way through Hawaii! Obviously, I had recovered a bit from last week but still not enough. It was a reprisal of the mountain bike race where I had NOTHING for racing. But I will never give it away. I was going down fighting. I think Jamie caught me as we entered the last two miles of the run and I had nothing to respond. In fact, I was wondering if I was even going to finish and was thinking about how much I hated the Kahuna Dave for adding more to the run, haha!

I ended up holding it together enough to get to the finish line in second, about a minute and change back. I stopped, hit the lap button (scientific Mel has to know her exact average heart rate for a run even if she blew to the moon) and then when I leaned over I guess I blacked out for a moment. Number three race on the east coast where Mel goes MIA for a little while. Luckily I had two strong men to pick me up out of the dirt and get me to the nice medical tent with the awesome fire department guys. They gave me the most amazing ice bags to pillow my head, were totally unafraid when I was getting ready to puke on them and then hooked me up with two IV bags. Still not as bad as the day in Richmond 2002 where I puked on Kevin (don’t remember portions of that run) or Hawaii 2003 (that I still don’t remember winning) but not a pretty finish anyhow. I gave it everything with nothing in the tank and got a second and I am proud of that. Candy, who I could barely pass in the single track, she was going so well, was coming for me. Jenny Smith, who took fourth, is starting to find her mountain bike legs again and came up with the fastest mountain bike split of the day and improved her swim and run from Temecula by a lot. Fifth went to Shae Rainer, who had a solid day overall. Ross, Dianne and Tony won the mixed team division and actually managed to scare all other mixed teams away from entering. They are going for the US Championships relay team title in September so if you think you have a team, get there, because the Diana Ross team is ready to kick your butt!

For me it seems obvious that my recovery from last weekend was still incomplete. I was much better but still not back to myself. In my defense, I figured I had to train before Alabama because it would be so difficult to recover from the XTERRA in the heat between the races. So a tough call on what would have been a better plan coming into Alabama and in hindsight the changes I would have made in that situation might have been a little different but maybe not much. I had no intention of detraining for these two races and because I wanted to do the awards night in Vail I would have without the days of hard work. It will all work out in the end.
Thanks to the wonderful people in Alabama and all the well-wishers at the race. Wish I could have bagged that one but I am happy with my effort. Here’s looking forward to my next chance in Richmond, Virginia.

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