Monday, September 24, 2012

Xterra Nationals 2012


Swim course distance: 1,500-meters (0.93 miles) Combines two 750-meter laps (no run in-between)
Elevation at Port Ramp Marina for swim start:  4,900-feet
Water temperature: Probably around 67 degrees
Mountain bike course distance: 28-kilometers (17.7 miles)
Total climbing on bike: 3,400-feet
Elevation at highest point: 7,300-feet (where Sardine Peak Trail meets the ridgeline)
Elevation at T2/Snowbasin Resort Lodge: 6,400-feet
Trail Run course distance: 10-kilometers (6.2 miles)
Total climbing on run: 700-feet
Total climbing on course: 4,100-feet

So happy I decided to go.  This was easily the bestest, most beautiful race course I've ever been on, mostly because of the time of year and the changing leaves.  Utah has those dramatic stands of red that we don't get get in Colorado and that I miss from my days living in the midwest.  This was also probably the hardest race I've ever done, certainly the longest.  I had a rough time goal of 4:40 based on my finishing time at Mountain Champs.  Looking at last year's results of both races most people that had done both took an extra 10-20 minutes for Xterra Champs so I added 20 minutes to my time and came up with 4:40.    In the end I finished in 5 hours, 19 minutes, the longest it's ever taken me to finish a race and the worst I've ever underestimated a finishing time.  The run was longer this year and on more singletrack so other people were in the same boat as me with finishing times longer than last year.  But no matter, I finished and had a great time and that was the real goal.  And I wasn't last in my age group as I thought I would be.

Here are some video highlights of the race.  Do you see me there at the swim start?  I'm the one in the green cap.

Pre-Race Set-Up

The race is a point to point which means 2 transition areas which means a fussy morning of setting things up.  First you go to the marina and set up T1 then you drive up to Snowbasin and set up T2 then take a shuttle back to the marina for the start.  I arrive at the marina at about 6:20 a.m. and it's pitch black.  Note to self and anybody else contemplating this race - take a headlamp for this part.  Transition is supposed to open at 6:30 but there are already plenty of cars and people there.  We're forewarned that there are lots of foxtails in the parking lot so we should carry our bikes so we don't get a flat.  I can't even see the transition area so I'm stumbling through a pitch black parking lot carrying my bike, huge backpack of stuff and camelbak which keeps slipping off my shoulder.  I don't know where I'm going but somehow I end up at transition eventually.  I get a good spot near the bike exit, set up my other stuff and head back to the car.  By now it's light but I realize I can't find the car because I have no idea where I parked in the dark.  I wander around for a bit wasting precious time then I finally find it.

I realize I don't know exactly how to get to Snowbasin and though you'd think there would be lots of signs directing you this turns out not to be the case.  I figure I'll follow the crowd.  Except when I exit the parking area, a man points the car in front of me the opposite way that I came in.  I follow the car and we're driving and driving and driving and it seems we're getting farther and farther away from Snowbasin.  Finally we reach an intersection and the person pulls over.  I stop as well and so does the guy behind me.  We seem to be the only 3 people who've been re-directed this way and we're all lost.  Thankfully there's a gas station and the guy gets directions.  More driving in a direction that doesn't seem right.  We go all the way around the huge reservoir and through little towns.  Finally we reach a road that lots of other people are turning onto from the other direction.  Phew.  Not sure why only we got re-directed but at least we're back on track.  But we've lost 30-40 minutes. 

I set up T2, another pretty good spot near bike in.  Then it's on to the shuttle bus to head back down the mountain.  I end up sitting next to the woman who was ahead of me of the crazy drive up.  Turns out she's the oldest female competitor there at 62 years old.  I'm duly impressed.  I so hope I'm doing races like this at that age.  She's come here all the way from Maryland.  I see her after the race and it turns out her shoulder dislocates during the swim with about 300 meters to go.  She goes on her back and manages eventually to sort of pop it back into place but she still can't move it properly, finishes the swim sort of one-armed back stroking it.  Then goes on to finish the rest of the race with her shoulder not quite right.  Can't even fathom how she managed the bike.  That's one tough lady.

I manage to get back to T1 with just enough time to make final arrangements to my gear and get a quick photo.  Not sure why my pants are falling down.

Somebody has arranged for skywriters to write a big 'X' in the sky over transition, very cool.

Can't ask for a much prettier transition area.  There's some lingering smoke from wildfires up in Idaho that puts a haze on the photo but still very wonderful.


I arrive at the water with just enough time for a short swim warm-up.  The water is warmer than I expect, maybe 66-67 degrees or so and when I get in I'm not greeted with that 'knock the wind out of you' cold feeling.  This is encouraging.  Despite all my preparation I had some concern about the swim in the days and weeks before the race because of the mass start and potentially cold water.  My swim warm-up goes fine though, not a moment of worry or nervousness and I know I'll be fine during the race.

I line up near the back of the pack and in line with the first buoy.  No point adding any yardage onto my day.  I'm excited at the start, not nervous but definitely feeling something, maybe anticipation.  The canon goes off and my long day starts.

Of course there's a lot of splashing and jostling and people swimming into me and general confusion.  But I'm fine with it.  I move out of the way best I can but I still have people running into me here and there.  It's actually worse as we approach the first buoy, everybody loses their mind for some reason and starts sprinting for the buoy.  I can't really get out of the way because I have to go around the buoy like everyone else.  My goggles get smacked but thankfully don't fill with water.  After that first turn things settle down a bit.  I'm able to catch a draft here and there but I swim most of the way without drafting other than whatever benefit I'm getting from being in a crowd.  During the second 750 meter lap I feel my body start to get cold.  I kick a little harder to keep warm and that helps a bit.

Even the swim course is beautiful.  You lift your head to take a breath and see the hills all lit up in red.  I realize this is my last open water swim for the year and savor it best as I can.

I'm out of the water in 39:10 (2:39/100 yards) which is not so great compared to my Stroke-n-Stride time of about 33 mins. (2:01/100 yards) from August.  I think the course must have been long, I've never swum a race even close to that pace, at least not in the past 4-5 years, and I swam pretty much on course.  I'm not sure I know how to swim that pace even trying to go slowly.


Some of the run up to transition is carpeted but some is not and the road is hurting my feet but doesn't seem to be bothering anybody else.  I'm reduced to walking and several people pass me before we hit the timing mat for the swim placements.  Not that swim placements matter for anything.

T1 takes forever somehow.  I put on a light fleece because supposedly it's cold in the canyon at the start and I'm already cold from the swim.  But absolutely no one else is wearing an extra top and one guy shakes his head and looks at me like I'm crazy so I take it off.  Also we have to pack all our gear into a bag to be taken up to T2 and somehow this takes me forever.  T1 takes me a whopping 4:30.  I can't remember ever having such a slow T1.  But I'm glad I took the time to take the top off.  I totally didn't need it.


I didn't pre-ride the first part of the course so I have no photos.  It's a long climb through a scenic slot canyon.  The sun is shining through the canyon walls though so I quickly warm up.  It's  a long, non-technical climb up this canyon and it's steeper than I expect it to be.  Lots of people pass me.  I try to go faster but somehow can't get my legs to go any quicker.  I decide that all I can do is ride my own race and I settle into a steady pace.  It's going to be a long day and I know what's waiting for me on the second half of the bike.  Never mind the run.

Once you get out of the canyon there's more climbing and you eventually move onto nice smooth singletrack.  I hear what sounds like a rider yelling but when I hear it again I realize it's some kind of animal, maybe a moose or elk.  I hear it a third time but I can't take my eyes off the trail to look for whatever it is.  It sounds far enough away so I don't worry about it.

The only downside to this race is that there are other races going on that leave after the regular Championship racers.  There's a non-qualifying long course and sprint course race and soon those racers, especially from the sprint race, catch up to me.  Most are locals who know the trails and they're flying, especially on the downhills.  I lose time and concentration to all these folks passing me.  The majority of them are polite (a couple not so much) but it's still nerve wracking and time consuming.

Finally at roughly the 10 mile mark the race splits off and the sprint course folks are out of my hair.  Now I have the fun climb up the single track at Sardine Peak.  I did pre-ride this part of the course so I have some photos.

This guy was also pre-riding the course.  He came all the way from DC.

View of Pineview Reservoir where I started with all these shenanigans.  You get an idea how high I've climbed.

It's a long climb up Sardine Peak, just a few miles but lots of elevation gain.  I have to walk up a switchback or two that are too steep and dry to ride and there's a short, rocky technical uphill bit that I have to walk but other than that it's all ride-able.  A few other rock gardens and a couple of drop offs but I manage them no problem.  I do manage to topple over trying to ride up a steep switchback and I did the same thing during the pre-ride.  As soon as I topple over I realize, 'Oh yeah, that part.  Doh.'  But I'm fine, not even a scratch.

The downhill portion of Sardine is a lot more fun during the race since I know what to expect.  Wheeee, fun downhill, weaving through the gorgeous fall colors.  Nonetheless, the trail is very dry and dusty as you can see from the video above.  So I don't go too crazy.

After Sardine there's a bit more climbing but it's not too bad.  I'm mentally prepared for it so it's not a big deal.  Someone is down in a little ditch and EMT's are tending to the person.  The course has to re-route around.  There's one more place that I have to get off for a step or two where a rock blocks the trail and of course that's where the photographer is.  I quickly get back on and he gets a photo of me on my bike so I save face a little.

One more fast little downhill into transition.  The bike takes me 2:59:30 by my watch.  I was hoping for 2:40-2:50 but I'm not surprised to see nearly 3 hours.  I'm just happy to be done and in one piece.


Finally something goes as planned.  I find my shoes no problem and this time no one has taken my spot on the rack like the last couple of races.  I rack my bike and I'm out of there in 1:40.  Sounds long for T2 but it's a big transition area.


The run starts out with a long, steep cruel hill.  Most age groupers walk it and I'm no exception.  Even though temps. are probably in the mid-60's the sun is intense at 7000' and it feels a bit warm.  I pour water over my head at every aid station.

I started having a cramp and some stomach issues on the bike which is unusual for me so I was only able to take in 300 calories.  Not nearly enough but shoving food down when your stomach is not going to hold it is asking for trouble.  The cramp gets worse when I start to run and I don't try to take in any more gel and only the bare minimum of water.  I relax, take nice deep breaths, think of other things and I'm able to forget about the cramp eventually but it does slow me down for the downhill at mile 2 that I could have otherwise taken advantage of.  But just as well because there's a lot more climbing until maybe 4.5 miles in then it's downhill to the finish.  I was expecting the downhill to start at the 3 mile mark because someone who had previously done the race told me it would.  But they changed the run course from last year to add in more single track and less roads so I have to wait a lot longer for my downhill.  The 3 hour bike and 3400' of climbing plus the big hill at the start of the run have taken their toll and it's all I can do to make it up the final few miles of climbing.  I'm reduced to power walking at lots of places.  At least the trail is pretty, more singletrack through the reds, oranges, yellows and greens of the woods.  So amazingly awesome, I can't help but smile despite being oh so tired.  And I manage to pass a few people here and there.

Finally I reach the top of the last climb and the volunteer directs me across a road to the next trail and says, 'Go get your downhill.'  Such lovely words.  I pass a few more people on the downhill though some if not all are probably from the other races.  I pick up the pace as the trail turns to a level of steepness that allows running and it feels so good to be on the final stretch.  I can see and hear the finish line.  I come off the trail, turn a corner and wham! there's one more enormous hill to climb.  I have to walk it as does everyone else around me.  Such a cruel joke.

But then it's a fun downhill sprint into the finish chute.  SO happy to be done.  I see a volunteer coming towards me with a nice surprise, a finisher's medal.  Xterra doesn't usually give these out at regular races, not even at Mountain Champs so it was a nice surprise.  Normally I'm not too bothered about finisher's medals but this one was hard earned and I'm happy for the souvenir.  I reach out to take it from the volunteer but she insists on hanging it around me neck, a nice touch.

I like how the medal says, 'Survivor' on the back rather than 'Finisher'.

Post race food was awesome for once.  Not one but two vegetarian options plus bagels and bananas at the finish line.  I opted for a Portobello mushroom salad.  Really nice greens and grilled vegetables.  The fancy pantsy restaurant at Snowbasin provided the food and it was so good to be able to sit and have a nice meal after a race.  I wasn't at all hungry but I was dizzy/bonky and it was good to be able to sit and relax and enjoy the awards presentation and get some nutrition in before the 2 hour drive to the hotel in WY.  It was funny, a random guy came and sat next to me at my table and it turned out he was from Boulder and also swims with masters.  Lots of people at this race from Boulder and from Colorado.  8 out of 10 people in my age group were from the Mountain Region and I think all were from Colorado.

I really want to come back next year but we'll see.  If so I want to be good enough to be more in the middle of the pack and fast enough to not get caught up by the racers behind.  But I've got a while before I need to start thinking about next year's goals.  For now it's on to USDAA Nationals.  Pulled all the piles of triathlon stuff out of the car and shoved the dog stuff right back in.  Here we go with Nationals Part Two.

Final Stats

Swim:  39:10 (2:39/100 yards)   307/330 overall, 96/107 women, 9/10 age group

T1 plus run up from beach:  6:37

Bike:  2:59:30   316/330 overall, 99/107 women, 8/10 age group

T2:  1:40

Run:  1:31:39    308/330 overall, 96/107 women, 8/10 age group

    Run Splits:

    Mile 1:  17:47
    Mile 2:  12:05
    Mile 3:  18:15
    Mile 4:  13:50
    Mile 5:  13:45
    Mile 6.2:  16:03

Final Time:  5:18:43,     311/330 overall,  96/107 women, 8/10 age group (includes one DNF


  1. Anonymous3:13 PM

    CONGRATS!!!!! looks like you had better weather than is forecast for Cynosport... hope to see you there!

    this prove you're not a robot stuff is nuts. i can't even read some of the words with a magnifying glass. i tried the sound instead, and it was worse!


  2. Sorry, I have the same problem when I comment on other people's blogs. If I leave it off then I get too much spam. I'll look into other options, maybe moderate the comments.

    I thought the weather looked o.k. Maybe a random storm passing through on Weds. but otherwise pretty good.

  3. Anonymous4:46 PM

    at least there is no snow in the forecast for denver, but nice and cool. and the rain could be worse, only 40% chance tues afternoon and weds. i might be driving through snow on my way over.
    i have the same problem with the robot stuff on every bogger site. i would guess it's better than spam for you, though.

  4. Congratulations!!! That looks like a CRAZY hard but BEAUTIFUL course. And an awesome medal too! Hope you are recovering OK, good luck at Nationals!

  5. WTG Elayne. glad you had a great time. see you this week sometime.

  6. Crazy is exactly the word i'd have used just after reading the race stats at the beginning. There's about 2 seconds of the video at about 1:40 of the swimmers that just looks insane, like a school of fish being chased by sharks or something like that. Scenery is gorgeous, I'll give you that. Congratulations on doing it, on not being last in your age group, on not hurting yourself when you fall, and on keeping a good attitude about the whole thing.

    Now for my nitpicky insignificant question--what do the different colored swim caps indicate?

  7. Though it was a mass start, there were different races going on. Also the pros got a 30 second head start on the regular age groupers. The pink caps were pro women, baby blue caps pro men, green caps were age groupers who had qualified for Nationals. There was also a regular race on the Nationals course that anybody could do and those folks left 20 minutes behind us and then a sprint race that was roughly half the course and those groups had different caps as well.

  8. Thanks. Interesting.

  9. Holy mackerel -- I was really enjoying the read, and then suddenly my jaw dropped when seeing the photo of Pineview Reservoir showing how high you'd climbed. I'd be exhausted after that ride alone, nevermind the swim before or the run after.

    My hat is definitely off to you for surviving such a race -- and your passion for the sport really comes through. Awesome!