Sunday, July 15, 2012

Xterra Mountain Champs

Xterra Beaver Creek - Mountain Champs
Swim:  1440 meters/1574 yards, 7400' elevation
Bike:  15.5 miles, 3600' of climbing, 7400'-9350' elevation 
Run:  5.75 miles, 1300' of climbing, 8100'-8707' elevation
See course elevation maps here.

"Oh my good friend
let's start something
then throw it all out to the wind.
How many mountains 
will we conquer?
We'll never know 'til we begin.
Oh oooooh, begin."

-All quotes in this post by the Bouncing Souls from 'Ship in a Bottle'

This was such a perfect song, I had it in my head all day.  From the Bouncing Souls new lp called 'Comet'.  It sounds even better with the drums and bass but this acoustic version was all I could find that had good sound/video quality.

In short, this race was stupid steep and stupid hard.

Don't let the bedbugs bite
 My initial plan was to spend the night in Beaver Creek and have a leisurely race morning setting up the multiple transitions for this point to point race but I found out last minute that the hotel I booked had bedbugs.   The next cheapest hotel I could find also had bedbugs.  The only hotel I could find that was halfway affordable and did not have people ranting on the internet about parasites was $160 plus zillions of tax plus a 'resort fee' of $5.75 because ski resort towns can pretty much do what they want and this pushed me over the amount I was willing to spend on a night's lodging.

So I slept in my own bed and blinked awake at 4:08 a.m., 2 minutes before my alarm, and was on the road by 4:20 for the 2 1/4 hour drive through the mountains, awake as can be with no supplemental caffeine.  I made the mistake of watching of video of Elicia Calhoun explaining her ordeal with 'highway hypnosis' and her ensuing crash so I was extra paranoid about staying alert especially since it was so early but I cranked up the punk rock and was fine.  I made it to Beaver Creek without having to scrape any wildlife off my bumper.  Don't really think the early wake up call effected my race and I had plenty of time to pick up my numbers and set up all my gear.  In fact I was there early and got some reasonably good spots in transition.

T1 in Avon down by the lake.

It was a very scenic race, set in the ski resort of Beaver Creek which is just down the road from Vail and arguably even more snooty.  They're motto is, 'Not exactly roughing it.'

This is mountain champs so the body markers have fancy rubber stamps rather than hand writing your number.

I caused a bit of controversy because the number was marked on my upper arm before I put on my tri-suit and when I put it on I realized the sleeves completely covered the number.  So I went back to body marking and asked the nice volunteer to mark my lower arm instead.  'Oh I can't do that', she told me gravely, 'we were told specifically not to mark below the elbow or they won't be able to see the number when you come in.'  She tells me she'll have to check with someone about this.  I point out that you can't see the number anyway due to the sleeves and since it's getting a little chaotic with other racers waiting in line she decides to throw caution to the wind and mark my lower arm.  By the time I took my wetsuit off the number was illegible and mostly rubbed off.  Not sure what they need these numbers for either since I have a number plate on my bike and another number plate on me for the run.  Nonetheless I may have to splurge on a sleeveless tri-suit or tri-top to avoid future controversies.  I noticed I was pretty much the only one at the race sporting sleeves.  Apparently this is not very fashion forward.

Oh my teacher
what should I believe in?
And how will I stay strong?
How many misfortunes
will we conquer?
How will I carry on?
Oh oooh, carry on.

Swim - 1440 meters/1574 yards

The swim was billed as a mile but I stood on the shore of the tiny lake puzzling over the course.  The laps looked too small for us to be doing only 2, but 3 laps looked too much.  There was supposed to be a pre-race briefing but none ever occured and I was suddenly confused about how many laps we're doing.  Thankfully I noticed a guy on the beach wearing a jacket that said, 'Official' in big letters on the back so I figured he must know his stuff.  I sheepishly asked him how many laps we're doing and he said, 'two' and I said o.k. but they don't look very big.  And he said, 'Well, we'll see what you think about that once you start swimming.'  Then I explained that I meant it doesn't look like it adds up to a mile and he said, 'Oh that was a mistake, the course is only 1440 meters.'  Ah, o.k. then.  Xterra events, even Mountain Champs, are pretty laid back.  The bike course changed on Thursday and the time for keeping transition open?  That kept changing by the minute.  It closes at 8:00, no 8:15, no 8:20, ah heck, we'll close it for 10 minutes for the sprint racers then open it back up for the full course folks.  I could have easily slept in another 1/2 hour and still got all my stuff set up but I guess it was just as well to be able to do it without rushing about in the crowd.

Part of the swim course.

The lake is small and there were only 4 race waves going off at 2 minute intervals so it was a bit like swimming in a washing machine.  Almost all the races I've done in the past few years have had lots of small waves set off 7-10 minutes apart or a time trial type start so I wasn't used to swimming in such a mass of people.  I was fine up to the first buoy but shortly after turning the corner I started to get a little freaked out with the sight of all the other people up ahead of me.  I was fine with the people right near me but somehow the sight of all the people ahead was rattling me.  I had a brief thought of finishing the first lap and calling it a day but all I could think about was how much I hate driving and no way I was wasting that 2 1/4 hour drive through the mountains at 4:30 a.m. on nothing.  Plus nationals is a mass start, several hundred people in the water all at once so if I want to race at Nat's. I have to get used to navigating through a crowd.  So I banished all thoughts of bailing and got back to business.

About 3/4 of the way through the first lap I found some feet to draft off of, a big guy from the Clydesdale division, and it was awesome for a while but then he started to zig zag off course and as it turned out I was faster than him anyway so it was time to move on.  Near the end of the swim I felt someone from my wave pull up next to me and we were swimming stroke for stroke for a while but then she started swimming off course and I made it out of the water ahead of her.  Swim was a little on the slow side, 1:56/100 yard pace but it felt really good.  I think I lost time due to having to sight so much and navigating through all the people. Was fun though to have people to 'race' and draft off of in the swim.  Normally I'm mostly off on my own.

With every peak and valley
With every white knuckled fist
With everything I've lost and learned
I won't let go of this grip

Bike - 15.5 miles, 3600' of climbing, 7400'-9350' elevation

The bike course was 97% non-technical, smooth single track, double track, dirt fire roads and even some paved roads.  The only technical part, aside from a couple of ditches, was a trail called the 'Corkscrew' that was a steep descent with tight switchbacks one on top of the other made even more challenging due to the dry conditions Colorado has been having.  The dirt was so loose and even deep in places, almost like sand, making the descent a bit dicey in places.  I think I rode a good portion of it but I did get off in places where the trail was too steep coming off a switchback and the dirt looked too loose.  I almost think it was faster to run down on some places.

But not to fear, this was still a challenging course due to the extreme steepness and length of the climbs.  Stupid steep.  Stupid hard.  Right at the start of the bike 2 women from my age group passed me.  The field for Mountain Champs is very competitive.  To give you an idea, Wendy Ingraham, a former pro/triathlon icon who finished every Ironman she ever did in the top 10, and she did a lot, finished 5th in my age group (45-49).  So I was surprised there were even 2 women behind me.  But I figured they were it, I was probably last in my age group.  I was resigned to that before I started and my goals for the race were not based on placements.

About 15 minutes into the bike I passed a woman who was struggling on the steep switchbacks.  But she quickly caught back up to me and jokingly asked if I minded her drafting off of me.  When you're biking up a dirt trail at 4.5 mph there's little advantage to drafting.  She was from the age group below me so not in competition for placement points.  We swapped places many times on the eternal climb up the hill and it was nice to have someone to race with.  She dropped me on the final steepy steep climb up a paved road to highest point and end of the longest climb.

However I eventually caught up to her at the end of a long downhill portion and then as soon as we hit an uphill she dropped me again.  And so it went, I'd catch her on the downhills, she'd pass me on the hills.  I finally passed her on the Corkscrew trail and remained ahead for the rest of the bike.

I was tired for the last half of the bike.  I'd made the mistake of trying to ride every single climb at the start no matter how steep which was not a great strategy.  For some reason I was fine with walking up the steepy steeps on Curt Gowdy but somehow had it in my head I had to ride everything at this race.  After redlining several times so badly that I had to stop and catch my breath I realized my error and started walking the really steep bits.  There weren't all that many places I had to come off and this saved me a lot of exhaustion down the line but the mistakes at the start had taken their toll.

I also made the mistake of not eating enough.  300 calories for a 2 1/2 hour ride is not nearly enough.  I had an extra gel bottle, just never bothered to reach for it.  Eating on a mountain bike on trails is way more challenging than a road bike.

Pre-riding the course would have helped, there were downhill sections I'm sure I would have ridden faster had I known what they were like ahead of time.  The trails were pretty but there are plenty just as nice and nicer that are way closer to me so it was hard to justify the time, gas and driving just for a race where I was likely to end up in last place anyway.

With every storm we weather
I would never miss.
I won't give up, I won't let go
I'm going down with the ship.

Run - 5.75 miles, 1300' of climbing, 8100'-8707'

T2 took way longer than it should have, mostly because I was tired and loopy and not thinking straight.  I probably wasted a good 40 seconds trying to find my shoes and puzzling over how to rack my bike in the sea of bikes that were already racked.  Point to point races are new to me but again, that's what we'll have at Nationals so it was good to see what it's like.

I saw the woman I'd been riding with come into T2 just as I was leaving and nobody else was in sight behind her.  I figured she'd catch me pretty quick on the run since running is my weakest sport these days.  But I felt o.k., almost good when I started the run.  It felt like I was going faster than my normal post bike shuffle.

Once again there were steep hills but this time I remembered to power walk them rather than try to run them.  Though I doubt I could have run them anyway.  One of my goals was to have some improvement in my run so I put every effort I could into going as fast as I could.  Once again, knowing the course would have been helpful but oh well.  I won't have this luxury at Nationals either.

The woman did eventually catch up to me though it took longer than I thought it would.  She passed me on the long uphill climb and once again I passed her on the long downhill.  'Go get 'em', she said to me and I passed her.  I said, 'we can swap on the uphill and downhills', knowing we had another big climb and figuring she'd catch up to me.  I flew down the hill pretty fast, it was steep and a dirt road so nothing technical to worry about.  I took itty bitty steps and turned my feet over quick as I could.  I even passed up a guy who was running downhill in an odd sort of fashion.  But apparently the effort was greater than I realized because I started getting a side stitch.  I slowed a bit and focused on nice deep breaths.

By the time I hit the second and final big uphill climb the side stitch was nearly gone but I'd had to slow so much that I heard the woman behind me again.  Except when I turned around to ask her if she wanted to pass I realized it was a different woman.  She declined at first which I thought was weird but eventually she passed and it turned out she was from my age group!  I couldn't believe there was someone behind me the whole time.  Just goes to show you should never assume anything.  I managed to keep up with her and eventually passed her back, I think on an uphill.  It felt like she was fading behind me and I was putting some distance on her.  But I was starting to feel tired and woozy/bonky with the effort.  I managed to get half a gel down and some water at an aid station and it helped a bit but was a case of too little too late.  The woman wasn't nearly as far behind as I thought and with 3/4 of a mile to go she passed me.  I managed to keep her in sight until the top of the last hill.  Once she hit the downhill she took off hell bent for the finish and I simply couldn't keep up, even on the downhill.  Very quickly she was out of sight.  I could hardly believe it, my one chance at not finishing last in my age group evaporating into the ether with only 3/4 of a mile to go after all those hours.  But I was spent, nothing left in the tank, at least not for such a distance.

In fact at one point I was feeling enough dizzy/bonky that I had to remind myself of the goal of finishing.  No point going all that way to collapse so close to the finish line.  I suppose weighing on my mind was video I'd seen a couple days ago of Melanie McQuaid being carried off the course at Xterra World Championships just 50 yards from the finish line and a first place finish.  Obviously this was an absurd notion, I was nowhere near that level of degradation but nonetheless it's hard to shake those images of people collapsing and crawling across the finish line or having to be carried off.  I'll never care enough about beating other people to push myself to that point, or at least I hope I won't, but sometimes it's hard to stay rational when you've been exerting yourself for well over 4 hours.

But I did remember my goal of having a good run so I kept at it fast as I could go in the state I was in.  I started catching up with a guy so I focused on closing the gap as much as I could but there was only maybe 1/2 a mile left if that and he was too far away.  I couldn't quite catch him but it was good to have someone to chase to the finish.

In the end the woman in my age group beat me by 1 minute, 41 seconds and I can't help but wonder where on the bike or even the swim that I could have made that up.  Don't think I could have pushed much more on the run.  It's not that I wasn't pushing myself throughout the day but I'm sure somewhere I had an extra 1 minute, 41 seconds.  Ah well.  I did end up coming in 31 seconds ahead of the woman in the other age group that I'd been trading spots with all day.  Her name sounded familiar and sure enough it turns out she's raced Lory the past couple of years and had beat me by about 20 minutes so it seems I've improved some since last year.

My run ended up being 13:13 min/mile, a big improvement over the 16:26 min/mile pace I had at Curt Gowdy but it's hard to compare courses like that.  Other competitors in my age group that did both races had improvements of 1-2 mins/mile at Beaver Creek.  Still, it felt like an improvement.  And for the first time in I don't know how many years my overall placement in the run was better than my placement on the bike.  Run and bike placements among women only were the same.

I was guessing I'd finish the race in 4:30 but had a stretch goal of 4:00 and ended up finishing in 4:20 so I was pleased with that.

The post race food was non-existent for vegetarians.  All they had was hot dogs and hamburgers.  I tried to make a sandwich from the tomato and processed cheese slices and one piece of lettuce they had left but processed cheese is so vile, I could only manage a few bites.  Thankfully I had food in the car but unfortunately my car was down the mountain by the start.  I watched a bit of the awards but as soon as I stopped feeling dizzy I was out of there.  If they ever make me ruler of the world I promise to ban Queen and in particular 'We are the Champions' from all sporting events.  They played that song after announcing each age group winner.  I wanted to claw my eardrums out.  Queen were a lame ass band 35 years ago and they sure haven't gotten any better with time unless you're a wannabe hipster and think maybe they're ironic or something.  Except that, no, they're such a cliche and so bad, they're beyond irony.  Anyway I had to get out of there before I clawed my eardrums out or the eardrums of the lame ass DJ who thought he was being cute.  They played this at DOCNA Champs too.  The horrible cliche of this song seems to span all sports.

Weather was perfect, a little sun for the swim then clouded over for the rest of the race, cool, high 60's, maybe hit 70.  It started thundering during the run and we got a few drops but that was it for rain.  Of course until I had to ride my bike the 3 miles back down the mountain to my car down in Avon.  They not only made us park down by the swim start but they also made us put all our swim gear/T1 stuff into a plastic garbage bag and they hauled it up the mountain to the finish line so we had to carry it back down the mountain again as well as our running and bike gear.  I should have left a backpack at T2 to carry everything but I noticed most people didn't so I figured I'd manage the garbage bag.  This was not a great plan.  Especially when the skies opened up with 2 miles left to my car.  Trying to keep the giant wetsuit/etc. filled garbage bag from flying into my front wheel while braking with the same hand going down the steep, wet mountain road in a downpour with tourists flying up and down in cars was perhaps one of the bigger challenges of the day.  Then the fun of navigating the various roundabouts on a bike.  Those ski/tourist towns love their roundabouts and Avon is filled with them.  Somehow I made it to the car unscathed.

Had to drive through some downpours in the mountains on the way home but made it without incident.  Was SO tired though.  I had been planning to drive halfway back from Utah right after Nationals, get a hotel then drive the rest of the way the next day but even just 2 hours was challenging.  I may spend the night in Utah and do the whole 7 1/2 hour drive the next day.

So overall my lessons from this race for Nationals are:

1.  More food during race.  Need to work out better nutrition strategy.

2.  Put shoes in a more obvious place in T2 or leave a brightly colored towel sticking out from under them, some kind of marker.  Was so hard to find them in the sea of bikes even though I thought I had a good idea of where they were.  Also maybe arrange with my neighbor which way our bikes will rack.  I arrived at my shoes yesterday to find my neighbor's bike racked the same direction I needed to go.  I wasted time trying to squeeze my bike in.

3.  Maybe I can pre-ride just a part of the bike course the day before, maybe find some strategic downhill section or something.  Will have to find someone who's ridden it before who can help with that.

4.  Assume there is always someone behind me in my age group.  No letting up just because the competition isn't in sight at the moment.

5.  Walk the steepy steep hills on the bike, no redlining for climb after climb.  Same goes for the run.

Going forward I'm going to keep up with the running intervals/hill repeats.  Same for the bike and do more long, sustained climbs.  Don't need to focus too much on technical skills but would be good to keep up with them, they do help on the downhill.

Don't know if I'd do this race again.  Very pretty course but kind of a hassle and so stupid steep, stupid hard.  But we'll see how I feel next year when my quads have stopped throbbing.


Swim (1440 meters/1574 yards):  30:34 mins. (1:56/100 yards), 8/11 in age group, 60/79 women, 225/273 overall

T1:  2:39 (wore socks and gloves, struggled a bit with gloves, wetsuit came off easily)

Mountain Bike (15.5 miles):  2:12:45 (hours:mins:secs), 5.5 mph, 11/11 age group, 75/79 women, 265/273 overall

T2:  2:14  (had trouble finding shoes and racking bike)

Trail Run (5.75 miles):  1:16:06, 13:13/mile, 11/11 age group, 75/79 women, 256/273 overall

Finish:  4:20:37, 11/11 age group, 73/78 women, 257/273 overall

Note:  The following is of interest only to me.  There are inconsistencies within the placements and overall number of participants on the posted results.  For example, the bike only results have me at a different placement than the overall results show as my placement on the bike.  Overall number of participants varies between the different results.  For overall placements I went with the results shown on the overall results page.  For place in women I went with individual results since overall results don't show this.


  1. Wow! What a day out there! Congratulations on staying tough adn getting through it. It stinks that they didn't have better food options for you after being out there so long!

  2. It amazes me that people can do this kind of thing at all, and it sounds like you made your goals, so that's really cool. How do you know whether someone is in your age group?

  3. In addition to stamping the big numbers on your arm, they stamp your age group on your calf so you know who you're racing. Some people don't care, they'll just race whoever is around them but if you're going for points or a spot on the podium in your age group you don't necessarily want to waste energy chasing down somebody else.

  4. Huh. So it is kinda like a big meat market. :-)

  5. Well, you're not exactly looking or smelling your best I'm afraid ; )