A few days after returning from competing in the XTERRA USA Championships, I was working away late one afternoon, when I got an email that said ‘congratulations on your qualification to the 2011 XTERRA World Championships, to be held on 23 October 2011 in Kauplua, Maui.  Holy shit!  I was totally caught off guard as my finish in Utah was not as good as I thought was needed to qualify, and I never even thought too hard about the potential of going to Muai.  In fact, my last planned race for the 2011 season was the XTERRA USA Championships in Utah and it was my big goal, so October was going to be a transition month before setting my focus on my 2012 goals.  I was so shocked that when I got the email notification, I sort of wandered into my bosses office and said ‘would you be cool if I went to Maui for a week….to race in the World Championships?’  He nearly fell out of his chair and said, hell yes you better go!  Not the usual kind of work support for external passions, so I was a bit taken back by his enthusiasm.  From there it was a mission to convince Angie who was not ready for another race trip half way around the globe.

In the weeks leading up to Maui, my focus turned from non-structured fun and different training to a renewed heavy focus on explosive power and sustainable hard efforts.  I also had to battle my lack of swimming desire and the injury in my knee.  Both were real limiters to getting in daily consistency, and so the prep weeks were not as good as they could have been.  The injury was not something I could control (manage, yes, and hopefully prevent in the future), but the motivation was in my control so a bit of self-criticism is in order.

In the week before we left for Maui, I hosted a pro triathlete from Switzerland, Ronnie Schildknecht, who came to Austin for a bit of redemption at the Austin 70.3 after not finishing Kona.  We had never met but got on well and did some training together including a hard ride in the hill country where I put him under some pressure (or so he said…)

Fast forward a few days and the trip to Maui was uneventful with my bike surviving the journey unscathed in my new SCI’CON Aero Comfort Plus bag, which is light, yet super tough and easy to manage.  The plan for the first two full days on Maui were to ride (hard on the climbs and easy on the descents) and run the course followed by a good swim, then on the second day, swim first and then ride the course (easy on the climbs, and more attacking on the descents).  My knee was quite bothersome on my first ride, so I cut out the run, and then did a short swim.  Later in the evening, I did a short run on flat ground near the condo with no issues.  Thursday (day 2) came and I linked up with Jason ‘Kiwi’ and a NZ pro Richard Usher to ride the course.  I had much better sensations on that ride and no pain.  It was nice to follow Richard, who was a better descender and learn from his lines.  I knew that my descending was still a work in progress and that I would not gain any time on the descents, and would likely give time back off the lesser climbers.

The day before the race I just did a short swim (one of three short swims on the race course prior to the race), but then a text from Kiwi invited me to join him, Lance and few other super swimmers for a second swim.  After a brief chat with Armstrong, we headed out and I soon saw how much of a gap there was between my swimming and the fast guys. Kiwi and I got gapped on every effort, but as the group was swimming 200-400m at a time, it wasn’t too bad.  After some deep diving fun, we made our way to the shore to practice swimming in, running on the beach and then diving back into the water (as will be done in the race).  I made a total mess of that and realized that some real practice for that aspect was needed, as I stumbled out of the water like a drunk sailor, then when I went to dive back in, I miss-timed the wave and dove onto about 6 inches of water.  Having knocked the wind out of myself, I then inhaled about half the Pacific Ocean before getting things back together and swimming out to the group.  The rest of the swim was against the current and wind, so was a bit of a struggle and when I got back to the beach, I was a bit more tired than I wanted to be 20 hours before the race.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful as I just kept my feet up and tried to relax.

Race morning came quickly and I got up early (as was the norm for each and every day in Maui).  I had a normal breakfast and then a coffee on the way to the race.  Once set up and body marked, I sipped a Gatorade and relaxed on the grass just watching the pre-race commotion until it was time to warm up.  It was a treat to find myself racked next to a local Austin legend, Mike Carter!

On the beach, I saw that the course was a pyramid with the point on the beach and the overall distances looked like about 325m out, 100m across, then 325m back to the beach per lap.  I slotted myself in the middle of the wide expanse of the swimmers, but well at the back, as I had some real trepidation about my disastrous dive into the water on Saturday.  Even though I had done a couple of practice run and dive in efforts in my warm up, I still felt like I had better ease into this one.

Once the cannon went off, I moved forward into the surf and tried to dolphin dive a few times in the shallow waves, but with all the people, it was more like crowd surfing.  After about 75m, I found the water to open up a bit and got into a smoother stroke, but still had to fight for position all the way to the first buoy, where things came to a grinding halt.  It was such a cluster around the turn, that I actually laughed (and cursed) at the stupidity of all of us trying to be in the same place at the same time going nowhere.  The cameraman below in the water must have really enjoyed watching the wrestling match above.  It didn’t help that our line of approach to the turn buoy was far from direct and we did a big arc inward and had to scramble back out to get around the buoy.  Needless to say, my swim time was a bit longer due to positioning and getting caught up in bottlenecks.

It wasn’t long before the end of the first lap loomed and my thoughts turned to navigating the exit from the surf and running along the beach before turning and diving back in for the second lap.  I got out of the water ok, and had no issues running along the beach (even took a bit of time to clean out my goggles and get them re-sealed).  The turn back into the surf was easier and less crowded than the start, and I managed to almost do an efficient attacking start.  The second lap was less dramatic at the turns, but I still ended up coming into the swim exit far off the to the right of the preferred line (did the same on the first lap too).  I could not see the last buoy nor the swim exit arch due to the surf, and I never studied the terrain behind the swim exit to identify tall markers to sight off.  As usual, most of my learning points come from the swim, and maybe this time I will apply those lessons in my training and preparation for the next races.

T1 was up the beach and then up a longish hill, which left me feeling quite labored once I got to my bike.  I actually had to take a couple of breaths to recover before I got to work on the transition tasks.  I chose to ride with socks and gloves (but had the gloves on my h/bar grips) and otherwise had very few things to do in T1 (no wetsuit or nutrition to gather).

The bike course was a tough one with some real steep climbing pitches and lots of overall climbing with matching descending.  The 3000+ feet of climbing was almost as much as Utah, but as it all started at sea level and then returned to sea level, there was a lot more descending than in Utah.  After my training days, I knew the descents would see me give back time and it proved true, very true.  From the start, I had loads of people on the trail ahead of me (as I came out of the water in 289th place).  I just flew past 50 – 100 people in the first 3km, before getting quite bottlenecked on some of the technical singletrack (actually had to walk due to the weak-assed riders ahead of me).   Another 2km of predominantly climbing saw me pass Kiwi and many, many other people.  On the first group of descents my glasses got quite blocked up and I found that my visibility was severely restricted and I was subconsciously slowing in places I normally would have let the bike roll freely.  I was descending so slowly that Kiwi caught and passed me (which became a bit of a joke as I would pass and drop him on the following climbs, then he would do the same on the descents).  After the second group of climbs (and high point around the 8 mile mark) the more technical and dusty descend was next.  At this point I had to push my glasses away from eyes as I could see a thing, but with all the dust, my eyes were getting tortured by all the dust.  I didn’t know what to do, other than to try to ride safely with what limited visibility I had.

I found that my vision was not the only hindrance, as my tire choice was finally confirmed to be a bad choice.  The Stan’s Ravens are light and fast rolling, but on anything other than solid, hard packed dirt, they break free and float off the line in an alarming fashion.  I got so paranoid by how often I went in to a complete slide on the early turns, that I began to baby the bike around each turn, trying to keep it very upright with no lateral pressure on the tires.  The second big learning point stems from my vision issue and the tire choice.  The vision dilemma is not so easily fixed (other than to use the water stations to rinse my lenses), but the tire choice problem is an easy fix.  I need to sacrifice a bit of weight for a better all around tire that has a good sidewall tread pattern that holds the ground consistently.

On the final 10km of the bike course, I noticed that my stomach was cramping with that all too familiar water/gas issue that has plagued me at all XTERRA races and some other triathlons.  I forced myself to puke twice to assist in emptying my stomach, but came into the final section of the bike course feeling the cramping build.  With my stomach going south, I rode a bit more aggressive to try and get a bit more time before likely giving it all back on the run.  I caught Kiwi one more time as we climbed some of the final twisty singletrack, but he blasted past me as I was held up by a slower rider (I need to get more confidence in my passing and be more aggressive).  Once off the trail, I just cruised down to T2 with big concern on my mind over the state of my stomach.

T2 was short (not as quick as my usual), as I struggled to get my shoes off somewhat. Once done with that small hiccup, I headed out at a slow jog, with incredible pain developing in my stomach.  Upon turning out of transition and heading up the first long hill, I really felt like my day was over and began to really manipulate my stomach to try and release the stress.  That seemed to help, as did another puking moment, and over the first mile my stomach came back to normal.  It was a pretty remarkable turnaround as I soon found myself running strong and blowing by racers ahead of me (including Kiwi for the final time).  I ran past quite a few people before getting to a few racers who were not much slower than me on the uphill portions and would run faster than me on the descents (I took the descents easy due to concerns over my knee).  There were a few super steep sections that most people walked, but I kept my focus and ran each one (with good form!).  I did struggle at one point when I thought I was about at the halfway point, only to find I had just covered 2 miles.  I worried that my early run pace might be too fast and that perhaps I would crash over the remaining miles.  I didn’t, but did slow down as the hills and fatigue added up and soon I was running with a pro women and another guy who seemed to be able to match me.  The run course was all new to me, as I didn’t pre-run it due to concern over my knee, so some of the hills, obstacles and turns caught me off guard, causing me to turn my right ankle several times.  That ankle and my right shoulder began to become quite noticeable in the final miles, but I was determined to drop the other runners and run down anyone I could see.  Going down the last hill I let it hang out and kept the fleet footed pro women from getting back to me and then went to keeping the pressure on as we entered the beach for a tough 250m stretch along the sand.  I found that I could run on it with decent speed, but I had to keep my steps short and turnover high.  My tired legs rebelled at that idea, so it was an uneven run, and thankfully not too long.  Upon getting to the swim arch, it was on final 500m climb up to the finish chute and I was determined to keep not get caught by those behind me.  I heard a lot of commotion and noise behind me (the 3rd and 4th place women were just behind me) as I ran past Melanie McQuaid on the ground in real trouble.  I really kicked hard to the finish and crossed the line in just over 2 hours and 51 minutes, which met my goal of going under 3 hours.

After the race I celebrated finishing 7th AG, 20th OA Amateurs and 63rd OA including all the pros, with a great lunch on the beach cafe with Angie and nap on the beach.

Some of the key takeaways from this race are:

  • Swimming has to become a top priority
  • Technical mountain biking is a very important aspect
  • Learning to swim without ingesting water is a must
  • Managing the issue with my sunglasses is something I need to look into for next year
  • Getting new tires ASAP

I really think with an improved swim, I will be able to challenge for the podium and a top 20 overall.  My riding will only improve with another year of doing MTB races and other XTERRAS, and getting out of the water sooner with say only 100 people to pass will allow me to avoid many of the bottlenecks I hit in this race.  Learning how to swim without drinking is a tougher challenge, but one that has to be cracked as my race can be ruined if my stomach is in a knot.

Overall, I must admit I am pleased with this race and my performance, considering how little preparation or focus I had coming into it.  It was a great race to take part in and I hope to come back next year.

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One Response to XTERRA World Championships 2011

  1. andy ink says:

    interesting reading.. good luck for next time 🙂

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