XTERRA Aspen Valley
1200 meter/1312 yard swim, 12 mile mountain bike, 5k/3.1 mile trail run
Starting Elevation 6483'
El Jebel, Colorado (between Glenwood Spring and Aspen)
I'll admit I came this close to bailing on the race and driving up to the Maroon Bells for a hike on race morning. It's one of my favorite areas and it's perfect timing for wildflowers which I'll bet are epic this year due to the heavy winter snow and wet spring. So much more tempting than torturing myself again on that bike course. I barely made it through one lap yesterday on the pre-ride and now I have to do two laps and my legs are still a little stiff from yesterday. And run and swim as well. I'm not a fan of self-flagellation or being scraped off the side of a mountain but I'm also not a fan of bailing on committments. But can I finish this course in one piece? For the first time ever I'm not entirely sure. It's not just scary, it's also very physically demanding. So many hills I had to push my bike up because they were too steep to ride. But eventually I convince myself that I have to try. At the very least the swim looks fun.
The race doesn't start until 10:00 a.m. and transition doesn't open until 8:30 so I have a lot of time to kill. At 7:45 I have a plate of scrambled eggs from the Whole Foods across the street from the race site. It's a little nutrition experiment since I don't usually have solid food other than maybe an energy bar before a race. But no energy bars or Gu's for me this year, just regular food and Ucan. I had bought a Gu packet yesterday since the race was going to be nearly twice as long as I'd anticipated and I'm not sure if the Ucan I have on hand will be enough but I never use it. Two portions of Ucan gets me through no problem and the eggs are a great choice, enough to get me through to the race start without any stomach upset.
Some guy asks me to take a picture of his buddy while we're waiting around in transition so I ask him to do the same as long as we're doing photo shoots.
I get a great spot in transition and I'm ready to go in plenty of time. Surprisingly relaxed despite the challenges that await me.
Swim - 1200 meters/1312 yards
I'm most looking forward to the swim. The water is warm, around 74-75 degrees, and the air temperature is hot so I can wear my sleeveless wetsuit and enjoy the mobility in my arms. The lake is a man-made water ski lake that isn't super deep and only about 5' around the edges so if people panic they don't have far to swim to to be able to stand up. A perfect swim situation for first timers or nervous swimmers. It's a unique course in that the turn around buoys are little islands, one at each end of the lake.
There's ample time to warm up both before the race and after it starts for those of us in the later waves. I was initially in wave 4 of 6 but at check-in I asked to be moved to the last wave so I could take my time through the bike course. I start off waiting for my wave in the water because the sun is beating down and it's hot but a woman standing next to me has a crab crawl across her foot so I run for shore. Then get too hot again and decide to risk the crabs and whatever else may be crawling around. Thankfully nothing bites or pinches me.
The swim goes well, I push myself to experiment with pacing. At one point my hand scrapes the bottom and I realize I've drifted off course and I'm near enough at the shore. Not sure how that happened but I quickly get back on course. My wave is small so there's little congestion at the start and I quickly have clear water for the rest of the race, swimming on my own. I catch a few people from the previous wave and pass a few from my own but other than that I have no idea how I'm doing relative to the rest of the field. In the end my time is 25:30 (by my watch) or 1:57 per 100 yards which seems slow but the course feels a wee bit long and there is my off course yardage. Official time is 25:53 which includes the short dash to transition.
Mountain Bike - 12 miles
Now the fun starts. My goal is simply to finish with enough gas in the tank for the run. I'm not scared on the course like I was the day before because I know what to expect and where to get off and walk. I'm prepared for lots of walking due to the technical parts that are over my head, the super steep, loose downhills, and the super steep uphills that are too steep for me to ride.
The course is two 6 mile laps but those laps are composed of two different 3 mile loops that go back to the transition area so I'm never more than 3 miles from transition which gives me many opportunities to bail. In my mind I break the course up into those four 3 mile loops.
The first loop starts off a little crazy since lots of people from previous waves are starting their second lap. Also this part of the course is super steep and very narrow single track much of it on a ledge so passing is very difficult. I end up spending a lot of time pressed against the hillside with my bike as I have to wait for lines of people to pass. The only good thing about this is that I climb the steep part a bit then get to recover while letting people by then climb some more and on and on.
You can get an idea of the steepness of that first hill from the elevation profile. It's a max. 11.7% grade on the uphill and 14.8% on the downhill.
I start off the steep climb with a guy writhing in pain on the side of the trail, his bike blocking the trail. He dislocated his shoulder earlier, popped it back into place and now it has dislocated again and he can't move. A girl who has just made a big deal of having to pass me on a particularly narrow portion of ledge is now stuck with the task of moving his bike off trail. And she's not happy about it or the least bit concerned about the guy. Thankfully a medic is on his way down to help the guy. Rather than put her own bike down to move the guy's bike, she asks the medic to do it. Because apparently her race is more important than this poor guy getting help. A bottle neck is forming around all of this so I pull over and take a breather and let everyone by. I have to stop many more times and it's kind of a mess but in the end this probably helps me because I'm able to recover and tackle the next portion of hill. My second loop is clear of people but slower but this can also be because it's hotter and I'm more tired.
Anyway, there's a very steep portion of downhill with a switchback that I had tried to ride the day before and realized too late that it was too steep and nearly ended up in a tree but managed to stop myself. Today I notice it's marked with yellow caution tape so I have plenty of time to get off ahead of time to walk down it. It's even more dangerous today because the dirt is looser and deeper from all the previous racers. Some guy insists on passing me as I'm trying to walk down it and he's going too fast, misses the turn and goes down in the bushes/trees. He tells his buddy he's too hurt to go on. The race organizers have positioned medics all over the course so that if you notice an injured racer you tell the next medic that you see so I tell the next medic. So much excitement and only the first 1 1/2 miles and it doesn't end there. Throughout the race I see people covered in dirt and blood too injured to go on, one guy with his face cut up pretty good. Or guys on the side of the trail bent over their bikes hyperventilating. And a guy's tire explodes in a flat as he tries to go down a super steep rocky bit at an alarming speed. So much carnage. I've never seen so much in a race. Thankfully there were plenty of medics on hand.
The course then flattens a bit and enters a motocross track. This part is not technically difficult and yet I manage to fall. Since it's so wide and easy I decide to adjust my Camelbak hose and I'm not paying good attention and drift into the soft shoulder. My wheels go out from under me sideways and I land on my side just below my butt. Thankfully I'm not hurt, I just feel stupid for falling in such a ridiculous place.
There are no hard technical challenges but there are some super steep hills, more like walls, that I have to walk up. Pretty much everybody has to walk up these. And we have to go up them again on the run.
Then there is some steep climbing, so steep I'm mostly walking as is another woman. We end up walking/riding together for a bit.
At the top of one of the climbs. You can see a big wood structure at the top of the hill. Thankfully we didn't have to go on that thing though there are some wood bridges and structures later on.
One more big steep climb then it's a quick downhill to transition for the second loop of the lap 1. This loop has most of the technical riding and steep climbs, a lot of steep climbs. Lots of getting off and getting back on my bike. And all the bridges and wood structures. This one is the biggest.
The ramp to the right is a drop off , great if you're looking to get some air. The ramp to the left slopes down very steeply and then there's another drop-off but smaller than the one on the right. Still, I'm not for riding it and during the pre-ride I walk down it which is also sketchy. However after the pre-ride someone tells me there's a trail that bypasses the whole thing so I take that during the race. Phew.
But there are others with no bypasses. This one doesn't look so bad but you can't see that's it's a fairly decent drop-off and then there's another drop-off/rock ledge after it. There's a medic standing at the top of this ramp warning people. I tell him no worries, I'm walking down it all. On my second lap I'm so hot and overheating and tired that he looks a bit alarmed when he sees me and asks me if I'm o.k. And I tell him yeah, I'm just hot. There's a good steep little climb just before this ramp so I'm particularly red.
At least the views are nice, not that I notice much during the race.
There is still a lot of climbing, up and down, and I find myself riding/walking with a group of 4 other women, two of whom are friends doing the race together. It's their first Xterra. Full on baptism by fire. Only one other woman is planning on a second lap. After all the shell shocked people coming off the trail from the pre-ride the race director decides to offer the option of doing only one lap. Your time is 'unofficial' and you don't get points for Nationals or any awards but you're allowed to go on and do the run and you get a time so you can compare your results to the other one-lappers. 27 people decide to go for this option. Many people also opt to form last minute relay teams and many people simply bail. The race is sold out and limited to 200 people and only 142 of those finish the whole enchilada. So I'm tired and having the opposite of a lot of fun but I'm determined to finish and happy that at least one other woman is with me.
Lap two starts and I'm having a brief little chat with the other woman. We're encouraging each other on, telling each other how awesome we are for attempting another loop of this madness and a volunteer says to us, 'What is this, a social ride?' I respond, 'Are you crazy??!! A social ride??!! Maybe if my friends are sadists or masochists!'. He realizes his mistake and says he's joking and encourages us on.
After a bit I hear some women behind me and it's the two first timer friends. I tell them, 'Good for you' and they respond, 'Yeah, we decided we'd feel like shitheads if we didn't finish'. And so lap two goes. It's slower and hotter and quieter but we soldier on. Walking, riding, walking, riding. By the final loop I'm very hot and I have to stop a few times to let my core temp. come down a little so the others get ahead of me. But all of us finish the bike.
Run - 5k/3.1 miles
The run is only a 5k but it's so hot and I'm so tired. The start of the run is on some wooden bridges that go over some ponds. Before I get on I stop and the pond's edge and splash loads of water over me. I would get in all the way and dunk myself but there's no easy way so I settle for some splashing. It's not the nicest water but I'm not picky at this point.
Eventually I catch up to the pair of women. They tell me they're from Salida and I'm excited about this because Jonny and I are contemplating a move there at some point. Boulder has gotten so overcrowded and busy and full of traffic and rich people. Selling up and moving onward gets more appealing each day. They love it except for the lack of city amenities, ie shopping. I hate shopping so this is no problem for me. But we're all too tired and hot for too much of a conversation.
The course goes through some nice cool woods then spits you out on the hot, exposed motocross track. Up, down, up, etc. Then onto the singletrack and up a steep trail we did on the bike but it keeps going up and up, neverending. Such a cruel joke for the last mile or so of the run. But I can hear the finish line. I wonder if I'm going to be DFL for the first time ever but I hear a finish time announced that's way slower than what I'm likely to finish in. And I see a guy starting the motocross section as I'm finishing and despite the huge mountain we have to climb I don't think there's enough race left for him to catch me. Not that I care. I just want to finish and for the first time ever I don't care if it's DFL.
Finally the trail heads downward and spits me out on the road that leads to the final wood structure.
(photo taken from the Without Limits folks)
My coach's husband rides up on his bike and he's cheering me on to the finish. He isn't racing but he's there to cheer on his wife and many friends. He rides with me up to the final wood bridge and my coach is on the other side cheering me on and taking a picture as I descend. Then it's just a short run to the finish and she runs a bit with me.
Ah the finish!!!
SO so happy to see the finish. I can't believe I did it but I did. And I got third place in my age group. Apparently the course scared a good portion of my age group away. I got a nice medal, icing on the cake.
My poor socks. Shouldn't have worn my favorite pair.
But look, the magic of Oxyclean! That stuff is amazing.
I then had a not so fun drive through rain and flooding roadways in the mountains. Stopped at the top of Vail Pass in the hope it would blow through.
It lightened a bit then got worse again and I pulled over in Dillon. Where a guy ran a red light and almost hit the car in front of me.
Didn't get home until 8:00 p.m. So tired, so hungry but so happy to be able to say I finished that beast of a race.
Swim: 1200 meters/1312 yards, 25:30 swimming time (1:57/100
yards), official time 25:53
includes dash to transition [according to gmaps pedometer course is closer to 1300 m/1425 yards for a pace of 1:47 which is closer to what it felt like]
T1: 2:54 (struggled with gloves on wet hands)
Mountain Bike: 12 miles, 2:53:27 hrs., 4.9 mph
Trail Run: 5k/3.1 miles, 45:35/14:42 min./mile
3/3 Age Group
Swim: 2/3 Age Group
T1: 2/3 Age Group
Bike: 3/3 Age Group
T2: 2/3 Age Group
Run: 3/3 Age Group