Thursday, November 03, 2016

Pre - Xterra Worlds

I'll write up a race report but it's so rare that I make a trip like this anymore that I thought I'd write a bit about the build-up to the race.  Also to remind myself in case I ever get a crazy notion that I want to do this again and to give others an idea of what's involved in case they're on the fence.

I don't travel much anymore outside of Colorado and the states surrounding it, lost my wanderlust years ago.  Plus I love it so much here, why go through the hassle when everything I want is no more than a day's drive?  Hot humid tropical places don't appeal to me to visit let alone race in.  And I've been struggling with heat regulation this race season even in the dry cool mountains.  But I qualified for Xterra Worlds again this year and I had a notion that I should give it a go, have the experience of a World Championship.  I knew it would be a hard race, my coach warned me of that but I was feeling like I wanted a challenge and this race would be a challenge in so many ways.  Plus the losing of Strummer so suddenly and unexpectedly, I'm feeling a sense of urgency about things I might want to do in the future.  No more waiting for stuff, the time is now.  Though I have to admit that this is a helluva way to have a mid-life crisis.

Travel is extremely irritating for me, especially on planes.  I knew adding the hassle of traveling with my bike would only make it worse and I was right.  As I wrote in my previous post I arrived in Maui and my bike did not.  Plus the Maui airport is one of the dirtiest, grimiest most unpleasant public places I've ever been.  Mold everywhere on the walls and ceilings, the floor seemed sticky with who knows what.  No air conditioning which is probably why everything was so moldy and sticky.  Not a great place to wait and wait and wait for your bike that never comes.  There was another guy on my flight with the same issue, a guy who'd come with his family and his teenage son was racing.  Like me he'd come on the Tuesday so that his son could pre-ride the challenging 20 mile course on Wednesday in enough time to recover for Sunday's race.  Thanks no thanks to Hawaiian Airlines.  And they weren't the least apologetic about it nor would they deliver the bikes the hour drive to West Maui where we were staying.

But as I wrote below I had a beautiful view from my condo and my coach helped me scramble to arrange a reasonable rental so at least I could experience the course.

I woke up to spectacular rainbows from my balcony almost every morning.

As well as spectacular sunsets as shown in the post below.

But I couldn't spend too much time on rainbows and unicorns because I had a race to prepare for.  Had to get to the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua first thing in the morning to get my race packet and number because you had to have your race number to access the big upper loop of the bike course.  Not only that but you had to check in at a checkpoint before 2:00 at the latest and check out again by 3:00.  Because I had to deal with renting a bike I didn't get on the course until 10:30 (11:30 at the checkpoint).  I stopped at the checkpoint, about 3 1/2 miles into the 20 mile course, to adjust the bike seat because I felt like I was starting to get a saddle sore and the saddle creaked and squeaked for the entire rest of the ride.  I stopped numerous times to try to fix it to no avail.  I did my best to avoid letting it annoy me.

Part of the reason I was so hell bent on riding the course ahead of time was so that I could experience it and enjoy it at my leisure.  Stop and take some pictures.  Make friends with the natives.

On one of the numerous times that I stopped to futz with the saddle, a guy with long purple and grey hair and a parrot on his shoulder stopped to help me.  He concluded that I needed some grease which neither of us had but I figured all was not lost if he'd let me take a picture of his parrot.  He responded to my request by insisting I give the parrot a ride and he'd take some photos.  He was a very nice, sociable parrot and happy enough to hop on my shoulder and hang on by gripping my helmet with his beak.

There had been some showers over the bike course for the past couple few days, I'm not sure exactly how many days or how much rain and you can see that the trail looks a bit muddy.  This was a particularly wet area right after a big mud/water bog.  But for the most part the trail was dry and ride-able.

I stopped many times along the way to soak up the sights, sounds and smells.  I kept thinking I smelled cocoa powder, especially when I saw these flowery bushes (trees?).

Strangely enough I saw what appeared to pods of cocoa beans, or what I imagine them to look like, and I stopped to smell them.  Sure enough they smelled like cocoa but were on different trees than these flowering shrubs.  So I dunno.  Probably should have done my homework a little better regarding the flora on West Maui.

Everything so green and rich and lush.  This is in stark contrast to the dry, brown, drought conditions we're having in Colorado right now.

For the first 8 miles or so there was a lot of riding through the woods without any views of anything.  And climbing.  Lots of climbing.

But finally you come out on Razor Ridge and you have a nice view of the hills and the ocean.  Pretty sure this is the view from Razor Ridge anyway.  It's easy to see it from the helicopter views of the race, in fact it looks like a scary knife edge situation with lots of exposure but I never noticed anything like that while I was riding.  There's still another steep climb before the big descent where you get lots of views of the ocean.

Finally the nice views on the way down after all the steep climbing.  There's a nice descent so that you can recover and then you meander through the pineapple fields for a bit before more climbing.

And this was when I started feeling the heat of the day.  It's around 8-9 miles to the top of the big climb and by the final climb I was so hot and sweating.  I drank plenty of water, even took some electrolytes and food but by mile 16 I was ready to be done.  And there's still plenty of climbing left in those last 4 miles.  The miles seemed interminable and I spent them getting more and more dizzy and nauseous, similar to the way I felt in the last miles of Xterra Nationals, Mountain Champs and Buff Creek.  By around Mile 18-19 I turned a corner to see yet another steep punchy climb and I pulled off the trail to let my core temp. go down a bit and the dizziness subside and my stomach settle and I was close to tears.  This did not bode well for race day.

Fortunately this was the last steep climb.  Unfortunately with about 5-6 minutes of downhill trail left the skies opened up with a sudden downpour.  Someone else on the course warned me to be careful but there's only so much you can do when the trail turns slick and greasy.  It was like nothing I've ever ridden on and I took a few minor slips on some switchbacks even with being very careful.  It was like driving on black ice in winter, nothing you can do to gain traction.  Thankfully I was quickly out of the woods and on to the last paved part of the course but yikes, what if it's like this on race day?

That was one of the more humbling pre-rides I've ever done and for the first time in forever I doubted whether I would finish a race or not.  At the  Race Expo they were selling nice bike jerseys that said 'Xterra Worlds' on them and I wanted to buy one but they were spendy and I figured it would only be salt in the wound if I didn't finish.

But I realized a few things about the ride.  First of all, I'd forgotten my ice cube packs.  I would have those for sure on race day provided they stayed frozen in the little soft sided cooler I had.  Also I was out on the course in the heat for much longer than I would be on race day.  In the end I was out there 5 1/2 hours with only 3 1/2 hours of it being riding time.  I'd lost a lot of time with stopping to fix the seat post and to take photos and to cool off.  And of course parrot photo ops.  In fact I was a bit worried about making the 3:00 cut off for being off the big loop.  Wasn't sure what they did if you didn't make it.  There were dire warnings about being arrested and disqualified from the race if you strayed from the official course on that big loop.  But I made it through the checkpoint with about 15 minutes to spare, phew.  Still, it had added some pressure and stress to those last few miles.  I figured I'd probably only be out on the bike 3 1/2 hours or less on race day depending on the heat.  Also I was hopeful that I'd be better acclimated to the heat and humidity with 3 more days in Maui.  Plus the jet lag, lack of sleep, travel fatigue, etc.  I had many reasons to be a bit more hopeful about race day.  But I realized I'd have to pace myself well for the swim and bike in order to be able to make it through the run.  And there was a cut-off for the bike.  When I signed up for the race the cut-off seemed super generous but after riding that course I worried more about it, especially if I had another bout of dizziness in the heat.

The one other big advantage I would have on race day was my bike.  The rental was a nice light weight hard tail which means it has front suspension but not rear suspension.  My bike is a bit heavier but has full suspension and is much more comfortable.  I didn't feel great on the descents on the rental but reasoned that I could make up some time with more confident (ie speedier) descents on my own bike.  Which did eventually arrive but thanks to TSA who had let all the air out of one tire allowing the Stans to leak everywhere I had to make another trip to the Expo to have the bike shop fill the tube with Stan's (sealant for tubeless tires) and use the air compressor to re-inflate it (it would not re-inflate with a regular stand pump).  $29 for just a few minutes of work and a splurt of Stan's but I was grateful I was able to have it done.

I spent the next 2 days practicing swimming in the ocean.  There was some big surf the first day and even bigger surf the second but both days paled to actual race day (more about that in the race report) so I was very very thankful I'd practiced.  My coach's husband was an avid body surfer and knew how to swim in waves so he gave me some instruction on the first day and the second day Xterra had a clinic with some of the pros.

Some photos from the clinic

This looks super intimidating to someone who has only ever swum in reservoirs.  Mostly nice, calm, smooth as glass with maybe one rough day of almost whitecaps reservoirs.  I forgot all about the sharks and realized I had more imminent things to worry about.  But I practiced both days, getting in, getting out, getting in, getting out, diving into the correct part of the wave, swimming all different directions in the current.  I got some good mouthfuls of water and some inelegant exits onto the beach but no major problems of getting severely tossed or my hip slammed into the sand like a lady I met during the swim.  I felt like I had the hang of how to dive into the wave, at least enough to get me through the race.  Sorta.  Kinda.  I felt o.k. about it.  Little did I know what race day had in store.

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