Monday, August 31, 2009

XTERRA Lake Tahoe Race Report

XTERRA Tahoe Race Report...the low-down!


XTERRA Lake Tahoe began at the Incline Village Hyatt's beach, where we swam two 750 meter loops in the warmer than expected, 67 degree crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe. With a 100 meter run in between loops on soft sand, at an elevation of 6300', getting out of the water and running that 100 before jumping back in seemed tougher than the swim itself!

I noticed that if I pushed the pace as I normally would in the pool or the ocean (ie sea level), I immediately felt dizzy and could feel the oxygen debt. It took a few minutes to find a pace that was maintainable and I stuck to it. I knew it was slower than what I wanted, but with limited swim training lately, my expectations were pretty low. I exited the first 750 in 13:38, and finished the 1500 swim in 28:39.

Embarassingly slow? Yes. More motivated than ever to kick my swim training into high gear? Definitely.

There was a delightfully sadistic ~400m run to the first transition: across the beach, across an asphalt parking lot, down the street, across another parking lot, and into the transition which was in a grassy park.


After the long transition, I took off at a good clip on my Turner FLUX, in a quixotic attempt to leap ahead of the faster swimmers and Sprint triathlon racers (who started at the same time but only had to swim one 750m lap) before the dreadfully steep and sandy Tunnel Creek Road climb.

The notorious Tunnel Creek Road climb comes only about a mile into the race, and is 4 miles of loose and sandy but unbelievably scenic humiliation. My lame swim meant that I would be stuck behind a pack of slower riders clogging the only good lines up the climb. Passing was quite difficult as riders took both sides - and the middle of the road was usually soft sand.

My only option was to pass several riders at a time, blasting through the soft sand when possible. After a couple miles the traffic jam thinned out a bit, but still left me frustrated as hill-climbing is usually a relative strength of mine, especially on the mountain bike. It took me 31 minutes to climb Tunnel Creek Road, but by the time I reached the top I was probably in the top 20 overall and feeling better than I would have if I had blasted the climb on my own...

The top of Tunnel Creek Road meant the beginning of the impossibly RAD 4-mile-long single track Flume Trail. This trail is cut into the side of the granite cliffs and offers panoramic views of the lake ~1400 feet below. This would be the highlight of the ride, and one of the few (false) flat spots on the bike course. Unfortunately my gimpy swim came back to haunt me once again, and I encountered more bottlenecks on the narrow trail. It is difficult to pass on the Flume Trail, and a reckless pass on the right could have very negative consequences, such as dropping off a 500' cliff.

A few of the riders I tried to pass seemed uncomfortable on the trail or flat-out refused to let me pass. Poor sports. One guy actually started swearing at me and threatened me (and the racer behind me who also had bridged up to me as I waited to pass). Apparently "whenever it's safe, buddy, on your right" (you pass on the right on this trail) was an insult.

The rest of the bike course was less congested, with the 15 racers in front of me rather spread out. The day grew much hotter, into the 80s, which combined with 7500' of altitude can dehydrate you rather quickly. The loose sand on the course sapped the energy of my quads, but my energy was consistent throughout the ride, since I had slammed a bottle of (2.5 scoop) Vitargo S2 on the Flume Trail. After a couple more bottleneck incidents on the more technical downhill switchbacks, I was able to open it up slightly and cruise the downhill to T2 for the 10k run. For the entire ride, I believe only two people passed me. For my only fuel on the bike leg I carried one bottle of 3-scoop Vitargo S2 mixed with water, FEIN (75mg caffeine citrate packet) and nuun.

I took a only a swig of water from one aid station but that was it. NOT ENOUGH WATER! On a hot day, this must have had an impact on my performance. Next time I will use a light camelback to ensure and motivate me to drink more. We all know that a very small amount of dehydration can have a large impact on performance.


After a quick transition (for a change! (no pun intended)), I slammed half a bottle of Vitargo S2 and hit the 10k run course, which would be two laps on a mostly flat 5k loop that somehow was cut into a very small area. Every 10 seconds or so you would encounter a tight turn, perhaps a hairpin. This prevented any mojo from flowing and was a bit annoying. My strength as a runner is getting into Diesel-Mode and trucking along at LT or just under LT, but this course was stop and go. Challenging in a weirdly annoying way.

I had pre-ridden and pre-run the course beforehand and knew what to expect, but on race day it was difficult to get into any kind of groove. Although I felt dreadful like I was moving in slow-motion I somehow managed to let only one person pass me on the run, and I finished in 3hrs15 minutes. Approximately 15 minutes slower than I had planned, but a great benchmark to demolish next year.

Surprisingly, I was handed a results card before I even left the finish chute (JTL TIMING is awesome), showing that I finished in 15th place, and 2nd in my age group. The timing company's card was the same exact card they used at races I did on O'ahu back in 1996-1999 when I competed in cross country, road races and triathlons. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! I still have a couple of those old cards and it was nostalgic moment for me...I had planned on competing in the first XTERRA Maui (back then called AquaTerra) in 1996, but my Navy and college schedule wouldn't allow it. 13 years later I finally competed in my first XTERRA, after years of triathlon, Ironman, mountain bike racing, adventure racing...funny how it all works out. I cannot wait to compete in my next XTERRA...

The trophy was an XTERRA Lake Tahoe pint glass, which I filled and emptied while we stood on the podium! Cheers!

After the race, Lisa and I drove the loop around Lake Tahoe, stopping at Emerald Bay for some hiking and photography. Emerald Bay is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. On Sunday we returned to Emerald Bay and scrambled/hiked down the dry waterfalls and creek bed onto the beach. We checked out the Vikingsholm castle, swam in the bay, and soaked up some rays before the long epic drive home. Solid weekend.

The last few weeks have been very light in terms of training. With back-to-back races and a very busy time at work, it was essentially a mid-season break. Now I look forward to getting back into the swing of things and ramping up for my next "A" race, the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida on November 14th.

I love it when a PLAN comes together!

Stay Thirsty My Friends!



Slater Fletcher said...

Yeah, XTERRA is pretty different than road tri's. . . Mass starts, trying to pass on tight singletrack, start and stop on the run, climbing, climbing, climbing....they are just way more fun!!
Glad you are looking forward to the next one bro. Its on!

KG said...

Emerald Bay is $$$! Best spot on the lake. You may not have crushed dreams in the swim, but that photo of you on the bike is verification that you were definitely crushing dreams on the knobbies!


sean.clancy said...

Can't believe I never stopped at Emerald Bay before? Already planning a swim to the island and climb to the Tea House...or at least a paddle. I missed my surfski looking at all that flat blue water...

jameson said...

that race course is epic. solid race. more xterra is a good thing.

riding with us on monday?

sean.clancy said...

Yup I'm down for the labor day ride...

Ridge Outdoors said...

Hey Sean,
My name is Ryan and I'm a senior in high school who is also an aspiring triathlete. I ran cross country and swam on my high school teams, I swim all of the pool distance events and run right around a 17 minute 5k on a hilly course. I definitely have the proper background for multi-sport but I really have no idea how to train.
I was wondering if you had any tips on making a proper training schedule.