Xterra World Championship Race Report: What Time is it There?

I’m tempted to make my Xterra World Championship Race Report incredibly simple and short. Here is the draft circulating in my head:

The swim was crowded and fucking hard. I got kicked and drank saltwater.

The bike was hilly, hot and fucking hard. I had to walk parts.

The run was hilly, hot and fucking hard. I had to walk parts, and almost passed out.

I finished.

I was tired.

I ate a lot, then watched Furious 7.

-FIN

I think that sums it up pretty well, but I would hate to deprive everyone from the enthralling details about my cadence, what zone(s)? I raced in (none), and my intricate nutrition plan (don’t pass out as my secret “A” goal, don’t die as my normal goal). So, I will delve into the minutiae that triathlon dorks everywhere love (note: I won’t do that).

It seems that race reports are supposed to follow a certain format. You’ve got your “Pre Race/Prep” section, your “Swim”, “Bike”, and “Run” section, then your “Post Race/Final Thoughts” section. I’m not going to follow this method, mostly because I have a severe case of EOG, so naturally, I want to be contrarian. This is going to be more a Race Story. So buckle up, because you’re in for a helluva ride.

HAVING THE SAME DAMN CONVERSATION FOR 5 DAYS: SURVIVING A VACATION WITH YOUR PARENTS

Support crew in action
Support crew in action

It is a long way to Maui, and there’s this thing called “time zones”. I pretend to not understand them, but, in reality, I do. My mother apparently legitimately does not fully grasp the concept, bless her heart. This led to many, many exchanges that followed this basic outline:

SCENE: Taking off from Phoenix, 6 hour flight to Maui

DEB (counts on fingers, mumbling to self): 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. We’re not going to get in until 8 o’clock at night!

BIG RON: There’s a time difference you have to account for. It will only be 4 pm in the afternoon.

DEB (wrinkles brow): I know that!

BR: Do you?

Yea, this was gonna be fun. I won’t even get into the confusion the ending of daylight savings time brought on, and the fact that Hawaii (along with Arizona, fun fact) does not participate. Suffice to say, it was difficult.

I would be remiss not to mention one major advantage of Deb’s ability to become confused. She successfully stole someone’s seat in an exit row on the flight to Maui, claiming that she had switched with (direct quote), “a little boy”. The flight attendant looked all around for said child with a confused look on her face, but he was no where to be found. Deb persisted in her claim that she had switched seats with “a little boy”, to the consternation of the flight attendant and my undying amusement. After ten minutes of an Abbot and Costello routine, the flight attendant gave up, exasperated, and let Deb stay in some random seat she had claimed (to be fair, there was a little boy that she had spoken to, but he clearly did not understand what was happening, and the seat she so proudly claimed as her own was not said child’s seat to give in the first place). As it turns out, the person whose seat actually was stolen by Deb got so angry he stormed off the flight and waited for the next flight, and her the Three Musketeers were able to sit next to each other , huzzah. We all fell asleep, and when Deb awoke after about an hour, she was convinced that we only had 30 minutes until landing. It took some convincing, but after about 45 minutes, she believed me. Finally, we landed in Hawaii, the land of constant leis.

One quality my father and I share in spades, and are constantly commended on, is our extraordinary patience. This was on full display when, despite two flights, one of which was delayed by nearly two hours, a long delay, a hassle getting the rental car, and a 45 minute drive to the hotel, the Three Amigos walked into the hotel room, dropping four letter compliments at the top of our lungs at one another. Just really loving stuff. Someone was called (I’m paraphrasing here ), “a little shit” and a “damn hothead” among other endearing terms. We didn’t even limit our lovefest to each other. I’m pretty sure the baggage claim people, Hertz employees, other drivers on the roadway, and hotel staff were brought in on the love. It’s amazing what embracing the journey and going “zen” can do for your mood.

The zen we exuded.

We huffed out the door for dinner, in silence, feeling overwhelmed with affection and love for one another, and indeed, the world. By far, the best part of the trip was that I got at least two meals every time we went out. Neither Mark nor Deb wanted to eat all of their meal, and they are constantly concerned that I am too thin, so I got to be the doggie bag. Amazing.

Day two saw more struggles with time zones, as Mark referred to the time in St. Louis as the actual time. He insisted that “We slept until noon!” despite the fact that they very clearly awoke at 7. The day was pretty low key in all.

By the third day, we were starting to figure out how to read a clock, and our internal clocks were adjusting as well. This was the day that I could officially sign in for the race, pre ride the bike course, and have the privilege to give Xterra more money for some stuff with their logo on it. One great thing the Expo had was a coupon for a free “Mana” pie. This plays an important part in our story, but for now, just be aware this coupon was out there (this is what’s known as “foreshadowing”). After feeling I was sufficiently “Xterra” for the Xterra World Championships, I headed out to get my first taste of the bike course. I had only read about it, and assumed it was going to be hard. I was definitely in for a treat.

I was lucky enough to make a friend in the parking lot, Kelli, who won her AG the year before and introduced me to a bunch of pro women. So, I got to “ride” with the pro women (they cruised off into the distance, probably wondering who the weirdo in the collared shirt was), so that was pretty cool. We rode/pushed and chatted for the majority of the ride. In fact, I was so into talking that I ran directly into a tree limb, with my face.

Prepping for the preride.
Prepping for the preride.

The bike has quite a bit of climbing, 3,500′ in 20 miles according to Xterra (more according to my Garmin, who to believe?!), with much of the climbing in the first 8.5 miles. The gradients are often quite steep, for extended periods of time. Maui had also gotten legendary levels of rain, so the course was…muddy. Really muddy.

Xterra World Championship Bike Course
Mud City.
Xterra World Championship Bike Course
Absolute mess.

This made riding the incredibly steep inclines even more of a challenge. It was like trying to ride up an ice hill, on tires made of a…slippery-er ice. Yea, that makes sense. The fork legs and chainstays routinely got clogged with mud, requiring a dismount to declog. Needless to say, this was disheartening. Then, all of a sudden, you are out in the sun, and going downhill! On dry earth! Hallelujah!

Xterra World Championship Bike Course
New switchback portion, after 8.5 miles of climbing.
Xterra World Championship Bike Course
Little bit of flat. Very exposed to the sun.

The next 6-7 miles are mostly dirt roads/paths, all very exposed to the heat and sun, but a nice respite from the climbing. There are a few final steep pitches just for giggles, then you get to the last 5 miles, mostly downhill, tight twisty singletrack. It is a tough course.

My best friend for the day, and Woman-Beast, Kelli.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sweet eye, bro.

I had done hardly any riding like this course for the entire summer. I mostly just had fun on the bike, seeking out some of the gnarliest, most technical terrain I could. Optimal training for this course would be riding hill repeats on your road bike, or finding a gravel hill to climb over and over on a mountain bike. But, I bet no one had trained for this race by riding the VMBT, so I had that going for me. Here is the intimidating data for the ride:

Total distance: 18.85 mi
Download

 

I finished feeling exhausted. And worried. How in the world was I going to “race” that course? What if it doesn’t dry out? I got back to the car, my support team waiting for me. Mark doing what he does best, napping, and my mom holding some water.

Support crew in action!
Support crew in action!

The next day, I did the run course, which follows the bike course for the first 3.5 miles (pretty much all uphill, including plenty of steeps) before descending back down to the beach. It is significantly easier after the first 3 miles or so, but becomes very exposed as you run through sugar cane fields. It was only about 8:30 am in the morning, and I was already feeling the heat. The run finishes with a nice jaunt on the beach for a few hundred yards before one final small climb to the finish. Shit, this thing was going to be hard. The pre ride had taken 3 hours of riding, with lots of walking, pre run about an hour, with some walking. Maybe everything would flatten out when the race started?

Xterra World Championship Swim
Swim start, highly dangerous. Still undecided if I swam the other day.

After the run, I hopped into the ocean for a little swim. The surf was kind of large, but it wasn’t too hard to get through the waves. The water was clear and gorgeous. At least I would be okay for that part. My mind was still swimming (heh) with thoughts and worries and fears.

Now, back to this “Mana Pie” coupon. Deb was not about to let that baby go to waste, and had been talking about it pretty much nonstop since I got it. When we first got home from the expo, she confidently announced that she was going to go out to get her pie, and come right home. I had to calmly explain that I highly doubted the coupon was for an entire free pie that one could just go pick up and bring home from the restaurant. It took a little convincing, but eventually, I did. In fact, you had to spend quite a large sum of money on dinner before getting a freeĀ slice of pie (as one would expect such a coupon to work). At any rate, there was no debate, we were going out for dinner that evening to get some damn pie, regardless how much it cost.

On the walk to the restaurant, I had a classic exchange with my parents. I was in the middle, with Mark on the left, Deb on the right (I shit you not, this exact conversation happened on at least two separate occasions).

DEB: So, did you swim today?

BR: Yea, I did.

DEB: How was it?

BR: Pretty good (gives an amazingly detailed account of the swim).

MARK (three minutes later): So, did you swim today?

BR (sighs, patiently): Yea, I did.

MARK: What? Did you swim?

BR: Yes! I swam!

Ahh, good family times. Once at the restaurant, Deb immediately showed the coupon to the waitress, intent on getting the pie. The waitress explained that, yes, we could get the free pie, but had to order two entrees first (and finish them, lest we ruin our appetites). Begrudgingly, Deb ordered dinner and choked it down, before finally, FINALLY getting a slice of Mana pie. It was pretty damn good, I’ll admit.

Mana Pie
Mmmmmmm, pie
I hear ya, kid.
I hear ya, kid.

The day before the race finally arrived. I spent the majority of the day relaxing and resting. I may have even started to get a little stir crazy. I flipped through the guest book in our hotel, and found this little gem, which I could absolutely see 10 year old me thinking.

There was an athlete briefing at 4 pm in the afternoon, which I attended. My folks went out for happy hour, with the plan being to meet back at the hotel for an early dinner, then bed. I got back and let my support crew know I was home. They immediately sprang into action, “We’ll be home in an hour”, came the response. An hour went by, I ate some broccoli. Two hours went by, I’d eaten three heads of broccoli, and the broccoli was gone. Finally, nearly 2.5 hours later, they got home. Mark cooked the chicken halfway, came back from the grill saying something about the grill not working properly, and went to bed. I made my mom a grilled cheese, and she went to bed. I went to bed with a stomach full of nerves and medium rare chicken breast.

GETTING HIGH IN MAUI: CLIMB, CLIMB, CLIMB

 

Popeye looking freak.
Popeye looking freak. Head looks photoshopped, got a weird, tiny claw arm and a nice black eye. Ready!

Race morning dawned the same as any other day. I started the day off with some coffee and very mature, very classy “That’s what she said” jokes, courtesy of my girlfriend. The support crew jumped straight into action! No time to waste, this was their time to shine! Four alarm snoozes later, they were up, loudly asking me if I had swam the other day. I then made the mistake of showing Mark how to use my camera. He began taking all manner of pictures, blurry kav shots, accidental pictures looking up his nostrils, 12 minute videos of the sand, and, my personal favorite, lots of photos of Deb looking exasperated and annoyed. Thus, the scene for the next two hours was set. My mom stood and watched, as I hauled my gear around, and my Dad stood even further back, taking pictures, yelling about how he is “documenting the adventure”, followed by “support team out!”.

Support team doing what they do best.
Support team doing what they do best, watching and documenting.

As the morning went on, nerves started to wear thin. I felt bad that I was going to abandon Deb with the newly converted photojournalist for the duration of the race. I know from experience that she is not a fan of having a camera in her face in Hawaii.

Starting to wear her down already.
Starting to wear her down already.
Got about 50 of these.
Got about 50 of these.
We're in there somewhere. You can see my yellow hat, like a beacon.
We’re in there somewhere. You can see my yellow hat, like a beacon.

I could see the anxiety written plainly on her face. I think she was more nervous about me leaving her with Mark than I was about doing the race.

"Shit, I have to spend the next 3-5 hours with JUST Mark?!"
“Shit, I have to spend the next 3-5 hours with JUST Mark?!”

However, I had to put those worries to bed, as I had a race to win. There were photographers and film crew all over the beach, trying to surreptitiously take pictures and video of the largest kavs in the history of the world in action. (These babies if you’ve forgotten). I’d gladly have made their career by posing for a shot if they’d merely asked, but no one did, so I pretended not to notice. But now I’m letting the Xterra film and photo crew know: I noticed you noticing my kavs, but pretended to not notice the fact that you pretended to also not notice so that you could get some pictures of the kavs in action, which I noticed. Got it? Good. I have big kavs, my eyes are up here, let’s move on. God.

Maui Beach
Paparazzi getting kav pictures. Damn vultures.

I got my pre race Hawaiian holy water blessing, peed myself while standing on the beach at least three times (I was nervous about the insatiable kav press!) and watched as the helicopter circled up above. I kept turning around so the helicopter couldn’t get behind me to take video of my kavs, but then the chopper kept circling even faster, so I sped up, etc etc etc. It’s exhausting being so famous. The countdown was officially on, the race was about to start. This was really happening. All the not preparing for the race, having fun during the summer, explaining time zones and debating whether or not I swam the other day was about to pay off with a guaranteed Age Group win, and likely an overall victory! I could hardly believe it.

Xterra World Championship Swim
Ready.

The gun for the pros went off. The race was officially underway. I was fully swept up in the moment, it felt huge. This was a lot more than a normal, every day race. This was a World Championship race, one that I had earned the privilege of attending through hard work, and a little luck. All of a sudden, I didn’t care how I did in the race, and honestly it didn’t matter. I was deluding myself if I thought I could legitimately contend with the top people in my age group. I was determined to soak in the experience, race as hard as I possible could, and enjoy every moment of the race. It’s not every day you are in a race with a helicopter circling overhead filming, with people underwater, filming the swim, and a run course littered with people filming on the steepest portions of the uphill, forcing you to kill yourself to “run” past them so you’re not caught on film being a totally woosie. If I weren’t 100% manly man, I would say I got chills before the start, but I am, so I won’t. And now, after nearly 3000 words, here is my actual race report.

SWIM

The swim was crowded and fucking hard. I got kicked and drank saltwater.

BIKE

The bike was hilly, hot and fucking hard. I had to walk parts.

RUN

The run was hilly, hot and fucking hard. I had to walk parts, and almost passed out.

I finished.

POST RACE

I was tired.

I ate a lot.

I watched Furious 7.

I went home.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Suckers. I’m not really sure what to think of the race. On the one hand, it is amazing just because of the atmosphere of being at a World Championship race and the difficulty of the course. On the other hand, there are a number of things offensive to my EOG: it is a large race (for a trail race, that is), it’s incredibly expensive, and heavily corporatized. Plus, I am not particularly into the triathlon race scene anymore, and did not enjoy feeling like I needed to train, which explains why my training was sub optimal. All that said, I am glad that I went, as it is a once in a lifetime opportunity (especially if I largely stop racing). Part of me would like to try it again, with more dedicated training for that course, just to see how I could do, but I doubt that will happen. I am very happy with the race I put together, my time would have placed me in the top 10 last year, and that’s with a bike that is nearly 2 miles longer. This year it was good for 23rd, which shows the level of competition at this event. I nearly rode the bike course in 2 hours, which I am super pleased with, and my swim turned out shockingly well.

And finally, I am very grateful and happy that my parents were there. Having their support was amazing, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending the week with them. The fact that they wanted to be there to support me (or maybe just to go to the beach?) means the world to me.

Thanks for reading, this may be my first and last race report ever.

-BR

P.S. Here are the obligatory race photos:

Swim out.
Swim out.
Xterra World Championship swim
Coming out of the swim.
Xterra World Championship Bike
Finishing the bike.
Xterra World Championship Run
Starting the run.
Every time you share, an angel gets his wings:

1 Comment

  1. Peggy Donahue says: Reply

    Loved the post, Big Ron! Congrats to you!

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