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Rockman Swimrun in the Books

A lot of folks have been asking me about the Rockman Swimrun race and when I am going to get the race report up.  Itsacomin. Just compiling the photos like this

  
and Dan’s getting his disposable under-water camera developed. 

As for the results, there were 60 teams, made up of three categories: men, women and mixed. We finished 5th overall and 4th in men’s, with one mixed team finishing ahead of us. We held 3rd for a while and should have been on the podium but there were dramatic things that happened.  Wanna know more?  Stay tuned for the full report!

Transition Clinic and XTERRA Whitewater Course Preview

Why would you spend weeks and months to knock a minute off of your run time or to get a little faster on the bike but waste minutes in transition? It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been lucky. Lucky to have been coached, buddies and the honor to spend time with some pro triathletes and some REALLY fast amateurs. They’ve taken the time to toss some tips and tricks my way. With some practice, I’ve managed to get some decent transition times. You have the opportunity for me to pass those along to you and it won’t cost you a dime. Ok. Well, you’ll have to pay for parking, but my time is free.

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What: XTERRA Transition Clinic and Course Preview
Where: US National Whitewater Center, Charlotte NC
When: Sunday, June 28, 8am
Attend only the clinic or stick around for the course preview.
Cost: ZERO dollars

Oh, and one other thing. Please take a minute to register to say your coming by hitting up this Facebook event. It helps for me to justify putting these things on. https://www.facebook.com/events/1575421232678659/

The XTERRA Transition Clinic and Course Preview are for both the novice and experienced triathlete. Transition is the fourth element of triathlons, yet carries a lot of importance in the race. This clinic will cover the basics and also provide tips/tricks to make your transitions quick and easy. Join the USNWC and XTERRA Ambassador, Marcus Barton, to learn some simple steps to make your transition faster and more effective.

The clinic begins at the Adventure Pavilion with a quick discussion about the upcoming XTERRA Whitewater Triathlon. Immediately followed by a pre-ride of the XTERRA Whitewater bike course, pausing along the way to discuss and practice some of the more advanced obstacles/sections. For those wanting the full experience, there will also be a pre-run of the XTERRA Whitewater run course. Also discussed will be the transition area and two-part swim.

Equipment you’ll need: mountain bike (no cross bikes or drop bars allowed since they won’t be for the race), helmet, water bottle(s) or hydration pack. Bikes can be rented from the USNWC. If you’re running, you’ll need running shoes and hydration. Helmets are required.
Topics covered:

-Why transitions are important
-What you need in transition and what you don’t
-Strategies to make your transitions faster
-Both road and off-road triathlons, how transitions differ
-Wetsuits and speed suits do not have to cost you time
-2 part swim unique to XTERRA Whitewater
-Course preview: pre-ride and pre-run

You can rent bikes and helmets at the USNWC Trail Center if you don’t have your own.

There is a $5 (per car) parking fee paid to the Whitewater Center at the gate. Outside of that, this opportunity is FREE. Be sure to bring additional cash however, as there is an AWESOME restaurant onsite as well as draft beer. ;-)

If you want more information on the race or the clinic/preview, check out the website at http://usnwc.org/play/whitewater-race-series/xterra-whitewater-triathlon/

Meet at the outdoor pavilion near the trailhead (take left into first parking lot and go to the top of the hill. Pavilion on the right.

Hairy Rocks and Jungle Heat – XTERRA East Championship

Richmond definitely lives up to the “most unique terrain” statements floating around.  Hairy rocks, hand-over-hand climbs, hopping from boulder to boulder and some real kooky spectators dressed up in some wild costumes.  This makes it one of the most fun races on the circuit, but combined with the typical heat, it also makes it one of the toughest.  This brings me to a conversation that I seem to be having more and more.  “Why do you do it?” is usually part of this conversation.

“You don’t get paid for it?”

“Are there prizes?”

These are couple of the typical questions that are asked by someone completely puzzled by the concept of training for weeks and weeks, around work schedules, around family events, and all the other things that are typically vying for your time to compete in a race where you don’t get “something” in return.

“Only the pros get paid if they do good enough,” is usually my answer to one of the questions.  Then I have to go into how the majority of the racers are not pro and are competing with other racers within their division or age group.  With XTERRA, you get points based upon your placement within your division.  These points are used within a season-long points series (more on XTERRA’s site) and at the regional races, you’re also competing for slots to the World Championship in Hawaii.  But outside of these slots and points, why does the typical “age grouper” do it?  We’ll get back to that in a bit.  In the meantime, let’s take a look at one age-grouper’s race at the XTERRA East Championship.

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First off.  Richmond is a funky town.  Not like 70’s disco kind of funky, but funky as in you never know what you’ll see.  Like this ingenious contraption.  It’s a bumper on the back of a bike rack.  When in position, it gives the person following the visual of a car bumper.  Not sure how well it works, but it looks cool.

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Or cool, funky bikes.  Thanks to whoever owns it.  I couldn’t resist the photo op.  I promise I was gentle.

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Like the other regional championship races, the field of racers was broken up into start waves. This spreads folks out so we’re not all hitting the bike course at the same time and generally makes the race a little more manageable.  One thing that was different with this year’s race in Richmond was the HUGE time gap between the pro wave and the age-grouper waves.  With  almost an hour gap, the pros were given the chance to complete the two-lap mountain bike course with very little traffic other than the pros, allowing them to race to the best of their ability.  For the rest of us, it allowed us to watch the pro swim before our race started.  Watching the pros was a blast and even allowed us to see a few tactics to use.

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I’ve done my share of races across the good ole U.S. of A. and even a few outside of the country.  In my experience, the XTERRA East Championship swim is like no other. First, it’s a river swim. Ok. Nothing special there. Other races have river swims.  This one, however has you zig-zagging across the James River.  The current is very strong in some areas and almost completely slack in others.  It’s one of the few swims that also involves running (completely legal) given the shallow nature of some parts of the river.  If you’re not careful, you’ll even find yourself beached on a boulder or two, usually covered in the thick, hairy, dense vegetation akin to Velcro.

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One good thing is that the James River swim is that with all the boulders and other obstacles, it’ll help prepare me for my ÖTILLÖ race in September;-)

After a challenging, fun swim, and a short jaunt to transition, quickly donning the helmet and shoes, it was time for two laps of a 10ish mile, sweet single track mountain bike trail.  As an age-grouper, you’re typically wondering what position you’re in compared to your competitors within your division.  Unlike the pros, you’re worried about a much smaller subset of racers.  Yeah, you might also be concerned about your overall placement among the amateur crowd, but for the vast majority of us, especially in the larger events such as the regional races, you’re more concerned with the folks in your division.  Since they put your division on your calf, you gawk at every person you pass (or get passed by), spying the number on their calf to see if they’re friend or foe.  Granted, everyone in the XTERRA realm of racers has a great attitude, but if someone in your group passes you, the tendency is to pick up the pace a little as the competitive side kicks in.  If it is someone in another division, you’re usually a little more willing to just let them go, but maybe with some words of encouragement.  Funny how that little ink on your calf can have such a profound effect.

I didn’t scout out the competition beforehand, so I had no idea who was racked where in transition.  That meant going onto the bike course, I had no idea what place I was in.  My race would be simple: race as fast as I could and catch as many people possible.  Forget the timing on a watch, forget the placement, just go.  That’s what I did.

The bike course is a blast to ride.  There’s fast, flowy sections and even some very technical spots, mostly with man-made stuff.  Some of the highlights:

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Stairway to Heaven

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Technical creek crossings

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Me descending to the tunnels (photo: Pax Talosi)

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Plenty of kooky spectators in costume

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usually in the most technical/tough areas

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wearing all kinds of stuff and being loud as heck

But don’t take my word for it, check out this highlight reel.

The first lap was fun, keeping racers in sight and passing some of the faster swimmers. but towards the end of the first lap, I found myself alone.  These are always the tough parts of the race because without the stimulation of other racers, your mind begins to wander.  Sometimes you think about work.  “What do I have to do on Monday?”  Other times, you think about life.  “Wonder how my Dad is doing.”  Other times, you find yourself settling into a training pace, not a race pace.  Still other times, you may start playing mind games with yourself about how hot you are, did your training go well, are you really prepared, what placement are you and more.  In all situations, it usually means your mind isn’t REALLY on your race.  About half-way through the second lap of the bike, Ali Arasta caught up to me and snapped me out of the funk I was beginning to get myself into by yelling up to me through the switchback trails and trees. “Come on, Marcus.” he yelled.  “Is that Ali?” I yelled back, not getting a good look at him through the trees but recognizing his voice. Ali is in another division, so we weren’t competing with each other.  Well.  We were, for overall spots, but again, it sort of takes a back burner. After he got up to me, he hopped up front with some words of wisdom and encouragement.  I hopped on his tail and we rode out the rest of the bike within sight of each other.

With about a mile and half left in the bike, I spotted one of my competing age-groupers, Jim Fisher, and asked for a pass.  He politely obliged and I continued booking it down the trail to transition.  The heat was beginning to hit and you could really tell once we broke out of the woods into the open sun.  My mind switched over to transition and the run, knowing that with us being so close together, it was going to boil down to who could do the best on the upcoming 6 mile run.

I managed to not only beat Jim out of transition, but I also managed to pass Ali.  I didn’t know it until we hit the floodwall.

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As I climbed the steps to the floodwall, I gave a quick glance back and saw Ali behind me.  I continued running down the floodwall and over to the “Mayan Ruins” which is basically a set of rickety, railroad ties loosely buried in the side of a civil-war era railroad embankment.  Rock climbers use the wall for practice and if you look at the photo, you can see someone standing at the bottom to give you a sense of scale.

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This thing is steep. Straight. Up.  At 2 miles into the run, spent in the open sun, on a 100 degree day, this is the last thing you want to climb with dehydrated crampy legs.  But, as an age-grouper, with your competition behind you, stopping is not an option.  As you can see from the photo, I’m at the top, Ali behind me and Jim (my competition) chasing us up the stairs.

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(photo: Swichio)

Ali and I would continue the run together, leap-frogging each other from time to time, but generally staying together.  Lots of chit-chatting at times, words of encouragement and at other times, said nothing as we just commiserated our suffering in silence.

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We approached the dryway, a section of the James River you can cross on foot when the water level is low, knowing that we were over half-way there.  We crossed as quickly as we could without busting our butts, from time-to-time jumping from boulder to boulder (as you can see from some other runners).

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(photo: Swichio)

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By the time we hit the pedestrian bridge, Ali had begun to pull away from me a bit and finished strong.  I held onto my spot for a win.  :-)

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So back to the question of “Why do you do it?”  Is it for fame?  Glory?  Naw.  For me, it’s about a lot more.  Don’t get me wrong.  Managing to get on the podium sure is nice, but it’s a fringe benefit. For me, it’s about the family.  I’ve been racing XTERRA for 8 years now and during that short timeframe I have met people near and far that I now consider part of my family.  Yes, there’s other reasons I race, primarily as a carrot for me to keep in good physical fitness shape, but it’s the family that keeps me coming back to XTERRA.

Ali really got me through this one.  He encouraged me throughout the race in one way or another.  His heart is gold and has a great outlook, even when the going gets tough. He was just as concerned about my race as he was his own.

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I didn’t even tell you about the countless hours I got to spend with new comers and returners leading up to the race.  Returner?  Yep, Margo Pitts took a hiatus from XTERRA for a couple of years and focused on road triathlons.  Then she came to her senses.  Paul Hoyle is a new-comer.  Already a successful Ironman athlete, he decided to give XTERRAs a try (Richmond was his first) and is already claiming he’s hooked.  Lookout folks.  He’ll be a formidable athlete.  These two were a riot to hang out with leading up to the race and kept me in stitches.

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I can have a beer with these folks (and many, many more not mentioned here) and talk about just anything, then get out there on race day and have some good, clean, fun competition.  Afterwards, we can tell each other our stories and joke about all the fun stuff that happened during the race.  No pretentiousness.  No big egos.  No elitist attitudes.  I challenge you to find that elsewhere.  Paul found that out.  We had conversations in person and via text about it.  He closed out our last conversation with, “The race, encouragement and general vibe this past weekend was awesome. Great experience.”  My response?  “That’s just XTERRA.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t explain it to someone. It just has to be experienced.”  Paul responded with a single word. “Truth”.

After the race, I hung out with fellow ÖTILLÖ racers, Misty Becerra and Sara McLarty.  These two clowns dragged me screaming and kicking to eat pizza, ice cream and cup cakes.  What terrible influences they are.

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To summarize, I’ve done obstacle races, road triathlons, you name it.  There’s nothing like XTERRA and Paul found that out. Will I do other types of racing?  Sure, but XTERRA is my home.  It could be yours too.

And of course, there’s ALWAYS shenanigans:

Race: XTERRA East Championship
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Date: Jun 14, 2015
Distances: 1350m Swim / 20 mile mountain bike / 6 mile trail run
Result: 1st in Division, 9th Amateur
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Inov-8 X-Talon 190, Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Thunderburt Tires, Cobb DRT SHC Saddle, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V, Hawk Racing bearings, American Classic MTB Race wheels.

Root Beer Swimming and Big Green Guys – XTERRA Myrtle Beach

The water was dark, almost black. It looked like coffee or soda that had been sitting in a cup until it was flat. You could peer through the first inch or so and see a brown tint towards the surface, but the deeper you looked, the darker it got.

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Of the five or six pontoon boats that ferried us out towards the ocean for the swim start, I was on the first one along with XTERRA fam, Josh Schaffer, Jim Dandro, Sam Chalk, and power couple, Jim and Tanya Houghton among others. I jumped into the canal for a quick warmup and someone shouted from another boat, “How’s the water, Marcus?” I have no idea why, but I responded with, “It’s like chocolate milk.”

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I stuck my face in the water and looked down to where I thought my feet were, but I saw nothing. Between the black wetsuit I had on, coupled with the darkness of the water, it appeared that my body just disappeared into infinity. My feet could not be seen. The water temp was perfect, almost too warm for a wetsuit. Sleeveless for sure. Race Director, Pete Politus had us carted off on boats in an effort to prevent us from swimming against the tide current, one of many improvements he implemented from last year. He’d taken lots of feedback to heart, kept the good stuff and tried to improve the other. It showed.

The swim start was quick, happening almost instantaneous to the last person departing their pontoon boat. Our point-to-point 1000 meter swim came with very little need to sight as all you had to do was stay in the middle of the canal. I tried to keep my head down as much as possible and just put forth a good effort to get to the lead pack. Breathing to my right, I spotted Eric Milam’s drone hovering over the canal, taking video. Here’s a little snippet and some really cool pictures.

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With about 200 meters left to go, I was in the lead which was a new experience for me. The water ahead of me was like glass which made sighting easy and the strokes smooth. Before I knew it, I was running for transition, first out of the water. Someone on the shore later told me that we didn’t beat the tide and it started flowing against us just after we left the docks. No biggie, it was still a fun swim. A quick transition and I was off on the bike in the lead.

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I tried my best throughout the bike to maintain said lead, but I knew Josh and Sam would be hammering this course. The folks at the Myrtle Beach Tri Club have put tons of work into this plot of land and it’s amazing the technicality, climbing and pure fun that they’ve designed along with the help of SORBA.  The Horry County Bike and Run Park, commonly referred to as the “Hulk” is chock full o’ fun. You’d think that it being at the beach, that all you’d get is flat and sand. This is DEFINITELY not the case. The trails are marked with names like “Aladdin”, named for the plethora of strategically placed carpet you’ll find. You’ll also find trails like “Tarzan”, “Tall Pine” and it’s namesake, “Hulk”. Some names are easier to figure out than others, but it was clear that Tarzan got its name from its jungle-like greenery and vines. You’ll even find cool signs like this:

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All of the trails have their own personality and terrain features. The one that I found challenging consisted of twisty, switch backs that were difficult to navigate at a constant rate of speed. You were either going too fast or too slow. Through these type of sections, I spotted folks trying to catch me, but had absolutely no inkling as to how far back they were. Margo Pitts echo’d the difficulty about those tight sections, “The bike course was ridiculously fast with lots of twists and turns. My favorite was the short but steep screaming descents that quickly turned into flat sandy switchbacks. I was knocked off my bike and over taken by a friendly athlete during one of those tight turns.”

There were bunnies everywhere. I’d spook a couple out of the brush and they would dart across the trail and into the grass on the other side, only to find me coming around the switchback and spooking them again. It seemed like there were a bunch, but heck, it could have been the same two I kept scaring across the trails. There were a handful of straight-aways I used to get a glimpse behind me and see if anyone was there, but each time I looked, I didn’t see a thing. The course, being a 2-lap, 7-ish mile course meant that there was a possibility of catching up to the back pack. Sure enough, at the start of the second lap, we started catching folks. A little over half-way through the second lap, there was a long straight that I hammered down on the left side of a double-wide track. As I approached the end of it, I moved to the center and gave a peek over my left shoulder. No one.

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As soon as I was off the straight, I started a short, steep switchback climb. When I turned left, there was Josh hot on my tail. “Where the heck did you come from?” I asked. Josh smiled and let out a chuckle. He had tucked in behind me on the straight and when I moved to the center of the trail and looked over my right shoulder, he was in my blind spot on the left. “You made me work for it,” he claimed. I responded, “Well, you know me.” As soon as we cleared a few switchbacks, I yielded the trail and he hopped up front just as we dove into the Hulk.

It seems we weren’t the only two chatting it up on the bike course. Margo Pitts made it first out of the water from the female side and was in the lead on the bike when Amanda Frost caught her. “I passed Margo on the bike. We were riding together for a while actually chit chatting about other races and how much fun we were having,” said Amanda. She also enjoyed the bike course stating, “The steep downhills really got your adrenaline going. The tight turns and loose sand made the course challenging. It was true single track racing but gave you ample places to pass.”

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The Hulk trail begins with a steep drop, to which Josh threw a beautiful tail whip of his rear tire. Intentional or not, it was pretty. In the process, he landed just off the trail, but manages to recover it. I had flashbacks of my fun, little crash in Vegas one year and exclaimed with a laugh, “Dude, don’t do that.” He laughed as well and we rode on, enjoying the bridges and cool features. Going into tall pines, Josh was hammering it and managed to pull away from me a bit.

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Josh Schaffer

As I entered transition and threw my bike on the rack, Josh was just leaving, heading out onto the run. It wasn’t one of my quicker transitions, but I got out of there as quick as I could.

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The run course was a flat, out and back, with a good portion of it on a gravel road (about half of the total run). With water stops at 1 mile and 2 mile going out, coming back you had them at mile 3 and 4. Once out on the road, Josh had a 50ish yard lead on me. The road was hot with the light-colored gravel reflecting the sun from below. It took me until the second water stop to catch him. We ran side-by-side for a while chatting about the race, competitors behind us and what-not. After the turn-around, we were able to see who was behind us and in what order. Just before hitting the gravel again, I saw Margo Pitts running up. “First female!” I said as she passed. Spotting Amanda right behind her, I realized it was going to be a battle to the end for those two. Margo later stated, “Nothing like an out and back course with friendly competitors cheering you to the finish. That definitely diverted my attention from the heat and gravel. I wasn’t sure of my standing until Marcus so warmly yelled ‘you’re the first female!’”

Josh and I continued down the gravel road, chatting it up. I eventually decided to make my move and picked up the pace a bit. Josh matched the pace, then I picked it up a little more and began to slowly pull away. I maintained it for a first place overall finish. It was a tough race with some stiff competition. Margo held onto her lead and came in first overall female.

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I even picked me up one of ‘dem ‘dar Hulk trophies.

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Marcus Barton and Margo Pitts

“I’m happy to be back racing XTERRA and what an amazing first race of the season it was for me,” Margo told me. I agree. It was a fun, fun race.  Props goes out to Josh, a good friend, an excellent racer and all-around great guy.  Loved racing against you, my friend.

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(L-R), Peter Lilly (70-74), John Collins (50-54), Marcus Barton (45-49), Josh Schaffer (40-44) and Ian Davidson (60-64)

Again, I am very surprised at the great work done on the trails at the Horry County Bike and Run Park. They’re full of interesting features, fun riding and running.

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Jim Dandro hitting the trails

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Jim diving into the Hulk.

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Hulk smash!

If you’re on the east coast and thinking of a place to hit the beach on vacation, the trails here should be a reason for you to consider Myrtle Beach. Just be sure to bring your bike and running shoes. As for the race, you should hit it next year, it’s a great addition to the XTERRA circuit!

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Thanks to Sherry Stone and Eric Milam for some great photos!

Race: XTERRA Myrtle Beach
Location: Myrtle Beach, SC
Date: May 3, 2015
Distances: 1000m Swim / 14 mile mountain bike / 5 mile trail run
Result: 1st Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane and GU Brew, Inov-8 X-Talon 190, Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Thunderburt Tires, Cobb DRT SHC Saddle, ESI Grips, Crank Brothers Candy 11 Pedals, First Endurance Multi-V.

Race With Your Inner GRRRR-XTERRA Tiger

Are you an Auburn fan or Alabama fan? Well, regardless of whether you yell “War Eagle!” or “Roll Tide!”, you can race an XTERRA near both of these colleges and their names reflect their alma maters. XTERRA Tiger takes place near Auburn whereas XTERRA Tide takes place near Tuscaloosa.

XTERRA Tiger is one of those races that I’ve attempted to make for the last two years but just cannot seem to work it into my schedule. Multiple things seem to come up both personally and professionally but needless to say, it hasn’t been doable. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to keep track of all the action, so this year, I had ultrarunner, XTERRA athlete and field reporter, Sunny Workman keeping me informed.

XTERRA Tiger is one of the earliest races on the circuit and in the southeast. Many come from all over to test the waters of how their training is progressing and to get that racing bug again. Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were well-represented. With it being an early season race, the water temps are low and usually wetsuit legal. As the racers lined up in the water, the temp was still dropping from the day before. At breakfast it was 63, but at race start, it was 56.

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Owen Workman

The swim looked longer than the advertised 750 meters, but no one was sure if that was truly the case or if it was the typical “oh crap, this is the first race of the season” coming out. The skies were cloudy and it appeared as if it could have rained at any moment with the sun trying very hard to break through.

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There were familiar faces all over the place. Owen Workman of Pelham, AL, and husband of our field reporter, Sunny was there representing. As were other fast folks like A.J. Petrillo, Mike Smith, Sam Chalk, Travis Beam, Jeff RIchards, Robert Strangia, and more.

After a thrashing around the swim course, young whippersnapper, Michael Loutzenheiser (15-19) was first out of the water with a 13:28 swim followed closely behind by birthday boy, A.J. Petrillo (35-39) at 14:01 and Blake Gill (30-34) at 14:43.

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A.J. Petrillo

The women’s battle was already heating up With Loukia Lili-Williams (30-34) ahead of the pack at 17:35 trailed by Christine Grant (45-49) and Kimoto Shannon (50-59).

Loukia, who had recently come off of a two year break from racing decided to make her first XTERRA as her first race back. Like many others, XTERRA Tiger was a race to test her fitness coming off of a hard training block. “I knew I was [going] into the race Continue reading

Rainy Dogs and Drafting-XTERRA Hickory Knob

XTERRA Hickory Knob always seems to fight with mother nature.  Last year it was a layer of pollen so thick on the trail it crunched.  The year before, we had brutal rain, freezing water and just all-around cold.  This year, although it wasn’t cold, she gave us more rain.  It had rained quite a bit leading up to the race, so much so that although it was warm and sunny the day before, the park rangers and race director made the call to limit the bike portion to the roads in order to prevent trail damage.  Besides, who wanted to clean up a mountain bike that would have surely ended up looking like this:

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The mere prospect of racing on the road, using a mountain bike (XTERRA rules) didn’t appeal to many, but we all respected the decision to respect the trails.  It was probably less appealing when we woke up to rain on race day.  In the end, we all had a blast of a time and many commented on the fun nature of a draft-legal mountain bike race on the pavement.

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The field was small, filled with die-hards that decided not to take up race director Andy on his offer for a deferment to 2016.  Instead, we all lined up in the cold water (mid 60s) and waited for the very informal “3, 2, 1, GO!”  The swim course was two 400 meter laps with a short, muddy jaunt around a cone on the shore.

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Everyone seemed to handle the cold water pretty well and XTERRA newbie, Katharine Welling was the first out of the water, followed very Continue reading

GU FOR IT

Whatever your athletic goal, there is a GU FOR IT.  Check out this awesome anthem video! For me, this video stirs feelings heading into the 2015 racing season.  Would love to hear what you think.

 

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