Thursday, September 22, 2016

Xterra Nationals - Pan Am Champs - It's Like Triathletes Who Watch a Lot of Hockey

Can't believe Nationals has already come and gone so quickly.  I look forward to it all year and it always zips by but this year particularly so because all of a sudden I'm focused on Worlds and the details of my trip to Maui.

Anyway, I had a great time though not the best race.  Swim and bike went well (mostly) as did the first 2 1/2 miles or so of the run but then I became dizzy and had to slow down, walk some hills, etc.  The temp. wasn't as cool as last year but wasn't terribly hot either.  According to my Garmin it was 61 degrees for the bike and 72 degrees for the run.  Apparently my new normal is for 72 to be too hot.  Xterra Buffalo Creek was 75 degrees for the run and I struggled with dizziness there too.  Maui is going to be interesting, not sure how I'm going to manage mid-80's and humid.  Got 4 1/2 weeks to figure it out.

Nonetheless I had a fun trip.  Jonny graciously stayed home to look after Lola who we thought would struggle with the trip.  But I went with a woman I know from racing and my coach, we've done some riding together.  It was fun to go with someone else interested in Xterra, not too many of us out there let alone women from our age group.


I got there on Tuesday and attempted to pre-ride the bike course on Wednesday.  It had rained the previous day and night and weather was cloudy when I started riding.

Started at Snowbasin, rode down to the Green Pond trailhead and picked up the upper portion of the course.  Ran into a moose family last year on this portion of the course so I was on watch for them.  This year did not disappoint, saw some big hoof prints and eventually this guy.

He stared at me for a while, went back to browsing then back to staring at me.

These photos are zoomed and I was a decent distance away but still close enough that he could have easily charged me if he wanted to.  I got off my bike and slowly passed him on foot.  Thankfully he was more interested in brunch.

A bit down the trail I ran into a runner who told me she saw a calf right off the trail but I never saw it.  Wildlife can move off so quickly.

The trail was a little muddy in places but firm and rideable.  Such beautiful views even in the cloudy weather.

I had dropped my friend at the start of the course since she wanted to ride the whole thing and just as I was thinking I would text her that I was cutting the ride short and stopping at Snowbasin due to deteriorating weather, I got a call from her that the lower portion of the race was super muddy and unrideable in some sections.  She was going to get off the trail at Green Pond and ride up the road to Snowbasin.  Since neither of us made it up to the Sardine Peak loop which is the latter part of the course we decided to ride it the next day and hope for better weather and trail conditions.

Thursday was more cool and cloudy in the a.m. so we stalled for a bit and waited for the predicted afternoon clearing which eventually came.  Unfortunately my friend had a broken shifter cable and had to drive back to town to get it fixed so I was on my own on Sardine Peak.  The pre-ride up Sardine is the highlight of my trip.

 The race was a week earlier this year so not quite peak time for the leaves but still some great color.

The colors were even more brilliant 2 days later during the race but it's hard to enjoy them when you're going as fast as you can.

The sun was finally starting to come out.  It was full on sun and blue skies by the time I finished my ride.

The peak in the photo below is Sardine Peak.  The race doesn't go up there, not sure if there are any official trails or climbing routes.

Another view of Sardine (the peak to the left).

I stopped a lot for photos.

So much for the bike course.  No photos of the run course, didn't do a pre-run.

Friday is my rest day and obligatory trip to Antelope Island State Park.  Didn't see as much wildlife as usual but there was an antelope.

 And buffalo having a siesta on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

Lake was super low this year.

Compared to last year.


It was a perfect morning.  Wasn't even cold while setting my gear up in transition.


For the first year I didn't go to the pre-race briefing and for the first year there was actually something significantly different about the course.  Normally the swim is 2 laps but this year it was only1 big lap.  Which would have been fine except I couldn't see a single buoy for the course from shore and I never saw a map showing the buoy layout so I had no idea where the course went.  Also they set the women and relay people off in a different wave from the men this year so we didn't have a huge 300+ person mass start.  Had only some very minor crowding at the start on the swim this year.  I ended up following the crowd to the first turn buoy which magically appeared in front of me all of a sudden.  I was right in line with it so I think I had swum a pretty straight course.  But the next turn buoy?  I could sorta see a buoy way off in the distance but the crowd of people veered way off to my left and I worried that there was a buoy out there that I couldn't see.  Even when I saw a kayak go off to re-direct the crowd I still kept wondering if I was on course.  Thankfully I was and I'd swum a much straighter line than if I'd followed the crowd so I'm glad I trusted my instincts but still, wasted some time and energy keeping an eye on the off course crowd.

Air temp. was 55 degrees per Garmin, water temp. 65 degrees but felt warmer, maybe 67-68 ish.  I swam 1713 yard per Garmin, 1678 per Strava, either way a pretty good number compared to other folks on Strava.  Time was 33:17 or 1:57/100 yards (per Garmin).  This is a bit slow for me but I knew it would be a long day so I was holding back a bit and I was unsure about the course.  Overall was pleased with my swim and had fun out there despite the confusion.


I was having a good day on the bike for the first climb up Wheeler Canyon and all the way to the descent at Green Pond and then . . .  I got stuck behind a guy on a fat bike.  And he was going SO SLOW.  Coming from me that's something.  I'm very conservative on that descent.  But this guy was barely moving and absolutely positively refused to move over to let anyone pass him.  And his bike was so huge that it was impossible to squeeze by without him scooting over any.  We came to a place where we crossed a paved road and he could easily have moved over and let the 20-30 people stacked up behind him pass but no, he still refused despite my pleading.  I'm pretty polite about passing but not pulling over at the road crossing was super super obnoxious.  Lots of irritated people behind him.  Maybe I shouldn't have been so polite.  Finally the trail widened out enough that I was able to squeeze past his tank of a bike.  Sheesh I think Xterra needs to ban fat bikes if the folks riding them don't have the etiquette or the skills to pull them over off the trail enough to let people pass.  The other weird thing about this guy was that he had a number 990 (or maybe 909) written on his calf.  Typically you only have your age group on your calf, not your bib number and while there were number in the 900's in the sprint race (none in the champs race), there was no number 990 (or 909).  So something was weird about the guy, maybe was pretending to be in the race?  Maybe blocking the race on purpose?  I dunno.  I didn't notice if he had a chip or a number plate, I was focused on trying to find a space to pass.

Edited to add:

I found the Fat Biker in the race photos and he was actually #996 not 990.  He was part of a Sprint Relay.  I didn't realize there was a Sprint Relay and didn't initially notice it in the results.  So yeah this dude held up people trying to qualify for Xterra Worlds for a Sprint Relay.

Once I got past Mr. Rude Pants it was all good though.  Had a good climb up Sardine Peak trail, rode some switchbacks that I sometimes have to walk, legs felt strong.  Had a bottle of UCAN and 2 packets of Justin's nut butter (chocolate and vanilla flavored, both have sugar).  Added in the nut butter in case the dizziness I've been feeling during the run portion of the race is due to not enough food.  Normally I'd only have the UCAN bottle and maybe a UCAN flask.

Up until I ran into Fat Bike Boy I was thinking I would be faster than last year but those hopes were dashed with the cluster created by Fat Bike Boy.  I ended up with a time of 2:50:35 compared to 2:47:38 last year.  Ah well, still a good effort.


The run started off so promising.  I felt good off the bike, ran the first portion of the big hill out of T2 all the way to the super steep bit.  Normally I find myself walking well before that.  No cramps on the downhill at mile 2, I've been working on a breathing technique to avoid those and it worked great.  Then around the 2 1/2 mile mark the wheels suddenly fell off.  Once again I found myself struggling with dizziness and I had to slow down and even walk in some places.  I found myself stumbling and even fell though wasn't hurt.  So weird.  I finished but with my third slowest time ever, slower than the past 2 years.  Nonetheless the run course is so beautiful.  I kept looking up and gushing at the bright reds and yellows and oranges.  Even a bad day on the run course is still pretty spectacular.

Race Participation Stats
This year the Xterra Nationals were called the Xterra Pan American Championships.  They still served as U.S. Nationals but also somehow involved their Pan American Series which included a lot of races in other countries.  There was no qualification, anybody could enter.  I'm guessing this was an attempt at gaining a wider participation field by encouraging folks from other countries to come to Utah to race.  I think.  The whole thing is a little baffling.  There were also 2 less qualifying races for Worlds in the U.S. but more opportunities in other countries.  I know, kinda baffling but I guess they had their reasons.

So how did this effect participation at Nationals this year?

There were 334 people entered in the Nationals race this year, 310 started.  Last year 313 started, not sure how many were entered.  The Sprint race had 286 entered this year and 268 started.  Last year 235 started.  Last year there was a Long Course race that was the same as Nationals but did not require qualification and there were 108 starters in that.  This year there was a relay with 8 teams or 24 starters, can't find anything in the results about a relay last year.

So overall in all races there were 602 starters this year and 666 starters last year.  Curiously there were 13 less starters in the Nationals race this year despite the fact that there was no qualifier and last year there was though admittedly it was very easy to qualify as long as you had an Xterra near you.  The really curious thing is that there were 106 people in the Long Course race last year, presumably mostly locals who didn't bother to travel to get a qualifier for Nat's. (there are no nearby races in Utah).  I fully expected those folks to enter Nat's. this year since there wasn't a qualifier and thus no separate Long Course race.  Yet the Nat's. race had 13 less people.  The Sprint race did have 33 more people and there were the extra 24 people in the relay so maybe some of those Long Course folks entered Sprint and Relay.  But why?  There was a Sprint race last year.  Puzzling where those 106 people went.

Edited to add:

There was also a Sprint Relay this year that I didn't notice in the results when I did this post yesterday.  There were 16 teams starting or 48 people.  There was also a Champ relay with 8 teams or 24 people.  This prompted me to check 2015 results and there was a Long course relay.  Long course had 14 teams or 42 people.  Results for 2015 Champs and Sprint are overwritten with 2016 results so I don't know if there were relays (probably there were) and if so, how many teams.  So the overall total of people is 674 for 2016 and 708 plus probably more for the Champs and Sprint relays for 2015.  Still curious about where all the Long Course folks went and if some went to the Sprint race then why when they could have entered Champs which was the same course they'd done last year?

Triathlon is seeing a decline in participation across the board, all types and distances as is the marathon.  Some speculate that the millennials need zombies and fire pits and other gimmicks to hold their interest (gotta have a dramatic photo and story for Facebook).  But participation in the 20-29 age groups has always been low.  That demographic is dealing with college and financial stresses and doesn't have the time and funds for hobbies, especially time and money intensive ones like endurance sports.  The same is true for dog agility.  I always laugh when people say the kids are the future of agility because while it's great to encourage kids in sports, the middle aged ladies are really the past, present and future of agility.  Many millennials also suffer from chronic health issues starting in their 20's.  Many are not physically capable of competing in endurance sports.

I think another reason for the triathlon decline is the huge emphasis on Ironman.  Folks see the Ironman melodrama on t.v. and decide to do it as a bucket list thing, one and done.  And as the older folk cross it off their list and the younger folk with no interest in competitive sports are running from zombies and getting e coli at the mud runs, race participation is declining.  Not sure what the future holds but it's both interesting and discouraging to see the trend hitting Xterra.

Final Stats

Swim:  33:17, 1713 yards, 1:57/100 yds., 26 strokes/min.
            (Last year 34:00 swimming time/1842 yards, 1:51/100 yards)
             277/338 overall (258/323), 73/86 women (58/86), 6/6 age group (6/11)

Run Up Ramp to T1:  1:24 mins. (1:44)

T1:  3:18  3/6 age group (4/11)

Bike:  2:50:35, 17.45 miles, 6.1 mph (2:47:38/17.65 miles/6.32 mph)  298/312 overall (294/323)
           74/85 women (88/96) women, 6/6 age group (9/11)

T2:  1:53 (1:53), age group 4/6 (5/11)

Run:  1:35:12, 5.96 miles, 16:00 min./mile (1:26:08/5.87 miles/14:40 min/mile)
          305/310 overall (290/342), 81/84 women (85/96), 6/6 age group (9/11)

    Run Splits:

    Mile 1:  17:23 (17:24 last year)
    Mile 2:  12:50 (12:47)
    Mile 3:  17:33 (15:57)
    Mile 4:  17:57 (15:49)
     Mile 5:  16:25 (14:32)
     Mile 6:  13:11 (9:39)

Final Time:  5:06:43 (4:54:33),  294/310 overall (286/323),  79/86, (84/96), 6/6 age group (9/11)

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