Thursday, March 12, 2015

2014 Recap - Xterra Style

What a year 2014 was.

I made some big commitments and changes in 2014 knowing that I am not getting any younger and if I was every going hit some of my stretch goals it was now or never. Time for the rubber to hit the road. There were three goals for 2014. Lose 10 lbs,  get faster on the swim,/run, and get to Worlds. I was working with Jim McGehee from One on one Endurance and we planned out the year. After getting humbled at the 2013 Xterra Worlds Championships, I knew there were somethings that needed to change if I was ever going to go back. I made a pact with my wife Kate that we would go back if I could earn a qualifying spot for Worlds.

I aged up a category which meant there were only four races and two spots per race in the 45-49 age group in the USA to qualify. The races were Xterra West Champs (Vegas), Xterra Southeast Champs (Alabama), Xterra East Champs (Richmond), and Xterra Mountain Champs (Beaver Creek which was out due to altitude). In each of these regional races only the top two finishers in the 45-49 will get to go to Worlds. I had never finished higher then 5th since 2009. This year there was one less spot then the 3 for 40-45 last year. I had my work cut out.

There was also the Xterra USA Championships in Utah in Sept. where they take the top regional qualifiers based on earned points in the region for a race for the best. Its a small race but the caliber of athletes is off the charts. I was always intimidated by this race but in 2014 the secondary goal was to qualify as a top mid-atlantic racer and get here as well. 2014 also marked the year that USA Triathlon had sanctioned Xterra East Champs (Richmond) as the USAT Cross USA Championships. Richmond was my best chance to qualify for worlds due to it being the home course, but with it being a USAT Sanctioned Championship, I knew the competition would be steep at home as well. So, big goals and big races. That was the theme for 2014.

It did not start out stellar. As in a previous blog, I started getting points in regional races by traveling to Miami for Xterra Key Biscayne. Solid race finishing 8th overall and 1st in age group, but I was not sure how i was progressing. I hit Monster Cross  a few weeks afterwards and flatted on the second loop. At this point the season openers where looking a bit tough.

The first big test was going to be Xterra West Champs in April in Las Vegas. Racing on the moon is what it is dubbed. On this moon it was hot, windy, dry and steep. Ironically, I was given my lucky number #14.
Swim was super cold, bike had 1,400 ft of elevation with 2 climbs coming in around 14% grades.
Had a solid bike, but went from 1st out of water in age group to 3rd by the run. I came out of transition running with the 2013 Women amateur world champion and knew I had to run with her to try to pull back at least one competitor. 
I held on to her for half of the 10k, but got dropped on a big climb and passed by one more competitor in the 45-49 age group. Holding strong for a solid 4th place finish. A long way to travel and no spot for Maui.

I really need to go back to the drawing board and focus a little harder. I had a month to prepare before the Xterra Southeast Champs and with only two races left and two spots to make up there was some work to be done.

A few week later I had a test race in-between scheduled. The Richmond Tri Club Sprint. Its an "open water" swim with a flat and fast bike and run. I was going to start in the 1st group with some local stellar athletes and thought this would be another good test.
The race unfolded well. I was 5th out of the water and fourth off the bike holding on to a strong run and finished the race a solid 4th overall and 1st Master. The run was coming around and the  power on the bike was improving. A glimmer of hope was unfolding.

After a solid build up to Alabama I had no idea how things were going to go. This race is also on the same weekend as River Rock, which my daughter loves to go to. I made a decision to fly in on Friday, not preview the course, race Saturday and out that night. Not the best prep but I was not missing the whole weekend with the family. I woke up to an overnight rain and the forecast was for a chance of showers. Pros go first,  2min gap then all age group men,  2min gap all age-group women. I had a solid warm up, hit the swim start hard and being solo for the race, no one was there to give me a split. I rode like I stole it on the bike. The course was 30k of some of the sweetest single track on the east coast. About a 1/4 of the way into the bike, the skies opened up and it down poured. As other rides started to get timid, I put on the gas full throttle.  At this point I had caught the middle of the pro women's field and rode with Shonny Vanlandingham from Team Luna Chix, one of the strongest pro women mountain bikers. I just followed her wheel with everything I had. We caught a few more  age groupers and pro women and was just rolling. Hit the run and ran out with another pro women and after a 5:45 first mile, I knew i had to dial it back and just run for my life. I had a feeling things were going well since I was around pro women that I have never caught in five years of racing. I finished strong with the fastest 10k I had run in decades popping off a 39:56 on trails. I patiently waited for the results and then saw them place my card down. Boom. It finally happened. I ran to car to call Kate. The only person I wished was there with me that day was her, and I could not wait to tell her. It was a darn special day. 8th overall amateur and 1st 45-49.

The next few races came fast and furious and the fitness just kept building. I had a great experience at Rev3 Rush. Making it into the grand final and racing back to back races and hanging out with some great friends.
Xterra East Champs -USAT National Champs were few weeks later and for the fourth year we housed three pro athletes which makes for an exciting week and a chance to catch up with a great group of fellas. 

With Worlds sealed it was all about going out and leaving it all on the line and having fun.

Maybe it was the monkey off the back. I just had a blast at this race. I had never raced as hard with so much fun as I did this day. It will go down as one race I will remember for the rest of my life. So many friends out there cheering, the crowds and home course it all came together. As usual nerves are always high before a race.
But once the gun goes, you just let it rip. Strong current, hot weather and hot run was in store, But i was smiling the whole time

Mayan Ruins

Then the results. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it was possible but when a day comes together a day comes together. 8th overall amateur and 1st 45-49 for USAT National Champion

The fitness held for a few more races. I raced the  Bath County Tri in beautiful Bath county. The 40+ age groupers start in the second wave so never knew where I stood in the race. I just tried to catch as many people as I could. It paid off with some big success and my first overall triathlon victory happend.

A few weeks later the family traveled up to Rock Gap Maryland for Xterra MD. A great course that's really well attended. A super calm swim, killer mountain bike and a run that makes you honest. Solid swim and by the time I hit the first climb and asked a volunteer how far ahead the next place was he said "no one, your it" put a spark in me. A fella who could race pro Daryl Weaver from PA was there and I knew it  was a matter of time before I saw him and and on the second bike loop he rode away. He is also a stellar runner  but I knew if i dug deep I could just maybe hold on and get on the overall podium. I ran from the heart as fast as i could to get my first Xterra overall podium.

We all know that top fitness can not hold forever and I took a much needed brake in August with a build up to USAT Road Triathlon Nationals in Milwaukee, Xterra USA in Utah and Xterra World Championships. The big three. Kate really wanted to do National Roads and we decided to give it a go. I ended up getting pretty sick with bronchitis a week before and raced Milwaukee on half a tank. I suffered like a dog but was good enough to place 11th in my age group and qualify for Road Sprint World Championships in Chicago in Sept 2015. It was a deep dig to race this one. 

September came quickly and I knew Xterra USA would be a tough race.I was eccstatic to get an invite to this race butt its at altitude, a ton of climbing on both the bike and run. Probably some of the best competition outside of Worlds on the Xterra circuit. The six Regional Champions were named at a dinner the night before the race and I was named  Regional Champion for East Coast 45-49 along with a friend Greg Schott, from RVA in the 15-19 age group. Greg is a real up and comer who is going to go far in this sport. Already a top 5 overall racer it will be fun in the years to come watch Greg rip up the scene.

Race unfolded well and ended up 6th in my age group 32nd overall amateur. First time here and a tough course for me. If I ever get invited back to race I will need to figure out how to rip this one. The climbs don't favor an east coast flatlander like myself. We will see if I can figure this one out in 2015.

Shortly after Utah on a descent I crashed my mountain bike and was in an arm cast for two weeks and a thumb brace for six. This was not the ideal build up for Worlds, but thats what they made trainers for. A bit disappointing but I was gonna make due with the cards that were dealt to me.

October and the Xterra World Championships, Maui, HI

This race is a beast. No way around it. They save the best and hardest on the Xterra circuit for last. Swim is a no joke "rough water" swim, 3200 ft of climbing in the jungle and 1500 ft of climbing on the run. I had a score to settle here and was looking forward to seeing if  I could better my time from last year.

What draws me to this race is the atmosphere and the people. You get to meet and race with some of the fastest folks from every corner of the earth. This race is a great race to catch up with old friend and make new ones as well. The atmosphere is just electric. 

The day before they have a kids race and Maddie as always was jazzed up to take part in the atmosphere. She crushed the race and took the overall girls win. Stoked me for what was in store tomorrow. How can an 8 yr old continue to inspire? Her racing, grit and determination in sport leaves me speechless.

Race morning came and was ready to tackle the day.

Race went really well for me, considering I was racing with banged up thumb in a brace. Swim was off the hook. A 500m out and back, 200 m beach run, 250 out and back in an M shaped swim course 

Bike is a straight up to Maui mountains from the beach and some screaming descents.

Coming off the bike, Maddie ran with me and said if I wanted to she would do the run for me. Gotta love it! Gave me a boost to make her and Kate proud so i dug deep.

Coming into the finishing stretch I could see Maddie and Kate. Maddie was waiting to take it home with me and this is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

All in all it was a solid day. 24th in my age group and a 15 min drop from last year and one proud kid of her Dad. What more could one ask for in life.

Post race there were some fun times with some of the nicest guys in Xterra. The Tri suit Sunburns for Xterra!

The final days of 2014 were fun. Maddie of course wanted to run the course the next day so we tackled a few sections, paddle boarded and cliff jumped!

 It was a heck of a run in 2014. Could not do it without the inspiration and help of my wife, Kate Fisher. She believes in me more sometimes then I believe in myself. In 2001 she talked me into riding a mountain bike instead of a road bike. Who knew it would bring us to the places we have been in 2014.

2015 has a few changes in store, changing things a little which is always uncomfortable for me. I started with a new coach, Craig Evans,  from , a jedi master at Xterra.  I figure lets see if we can push this envelope a little further in 2015.

Thanks for reading!