Xterra World Championships is in Maui, HI, one of the most scenic and picturesque destination races I’ve done. It’s completely contained within the Ritz Carlton Kapalua resort property from pre-race dinner, entire race course, to the post-race awards dinner. You could check-in to the Ritz and never have to leave the entire stay.
We arrived on the Island on Wednesday which was about 5 days before the race. I was able to get in some good training which included one lap of the bike course on Thursday, several laps of the swim course Thursday/Friday, and a small preview of the run course during the days leading up to the race. Xterra changed up the swim and bike course to be a two-loop format this year which is great for spectators, not so much for the athletes. The multi lap course created a lot of lap traffic on both the swim and the bike. The bike course being two loops was a double edge sword in that you knew what was coming for the second lap, both good and bad 😉
The weather leading up to the race this year was completely dry as opposed to 2016 when I raced there and it rained the entire 4 days leading up to the race making for a very slippery and muddy day. I was really looking forward to the dry conditions on the bike course to maximize speed and minimize time out in that brutal heat and humidity.
We woke up bright and early around 5:30am on Sunday morning to a dark sky. Once it was light enough to see outside we noticed that there were some dark looming clouds right over the property. Around 7am it started raining and didn’t stop until 8:45 which was a cause for concern because I was very much mentally prepared for a fast dry course and wasn’t sure what the conditions would be like until I got out there. I tried pushing that out of my mind and focusing on my time leading up to the race.
We headed to the transition area around 6:15am and grabbed coffee and something to eat on with the Butlers on the way. As mentioned everything is on property so I only had to walk about 5 minutes from my room to get to the transition area. I setup my bike and gear in the pouring rain and then went back to the room to stay dry and finish my pre-race routine. We headed back down to the transition around 7:45am to watch the pro’s go off at 8am. Once they started I went off and got in a good run warmup with some dynamic stretching and drills. I then got into my swim-skin and headed down to the water to get a swim warmup in. Legs felt good on the run and body felt good overall on the swim warmup.
Around 8:50am I gave Amy a hug and kiss and went to line up in my wave. Anxiously waiting, I went through my visualization of how the swim would go and getting into transition. It seemed like we stood there for forever until finally the announcer came across the microphone with “one minute to go!” The cannon went off and before I knew it there were a couple hundred of us running toward the ocean. I took a couple hop-steps and then dove in and started sprinting to get out of the washing machine of athletes. I got a good start and found some feet early. My strategy was to find someone slightly faster and stick on their feet for the first lap to conserve some energy. I must have been swimming too close to the guy in front of me because he turned over on his back about half way through the first lap and gave three giant kicks as to say piss off and stop touching my feet haha J I backed off and swam in the rest of the way by myself. The surf was relatively low so there wasn’t much fighting to get out of the water. Once on land I picked it up across the beach to head out onto the second lap. I dove in and found myself with significantly less people around me which was a good sign. I pushed a little harder on the second lap and actually found some more feet to draft off allowing more energy savings. We ran into a lot of lapped swimmers on the second lap since there were multiple waves that started behind us. I kept sighting the large Xterra inflatable to ensure I was on course still. I swam until my hands touched the sand and then stood up and took off to the transition. I was happy with my swim and was able to conserve quite a bit of energy. I ran past Amy with a smile and she mentioned I was second out of the water in the AG with a time of just over 23 minutes.
I got into transition and quickly pulled my swim skin off, took a couple gulps of water/rinsed my face off, threw my shoes/hydration pack/helmet/sunglasses on, and off I went. The bike course is by far the hilliest course I’ve ever ridden with the first climb right out of transition around 10% on loose gravel. We then headed onto the cart path as it flattened out which gave me a chance to throw on my gloves and get a couple gulps of nutrition. We then headed through the infamous tunnel where the climbing began immediately. The first 3 miles of the bike course ascend just over 1250 feet with gradients ranging from 6% up to 15% with average gradient being around 8%. My race plan was to hold back on the first lap and give what I had left on the second lap. With this plan there were a lot of great climbers that left me in the dust on the first 3 miles. I got to the top and felt really good and was able to make up some places on the technical descents however the course was very slick in spots from the couple hours of rain we had so I approached those cautiously. This course is also tricky because there are still some very steep punchy climbs mixed in with the descents so you don’t get complete recovery.
After the first lap I really had no idea where I was in my age group and knew I had to give a little more on the second lap to try make some positions up. We went past transition, I gave Amy another smile, and headed out for my second lap. Once again I had several people pass me on the climbs to get to the top of the mountain. Once at the top I was still feeling good so started pushing to make up some ground and all seemed to be going well until that infamous medial quad muscle twinge started happening. This was very frustrating because I felt like I had nailed my nutrition to this point and tried to be conservative on both the swim and first lap and a half of the bike course. From that point on the wheels just fell off. The combination of punchy climbs, accelerating to pass lapped riders when the trail widened up, and the heat/humidity that were setting it just made things worse. I came into transition and wasn’t really sure what to expect on the run. I hopped off the bike, threw on my running shoes/race belt, and grabbed my nutrition bottle and spicy pickle juice bottle to sip on.
Off I went on the run and hit the same steep hill we started on the bike, no cramping at that point! It then leveled out and I was able to get into a good stride and started feeling a little better until I hit the next hill. From that point on the quads and hamstrings were locked up for the majority of the run and my legs just hit a wall where they didn’t want to turn over anymore. I was walking up one of the steep hills when I heard a familiar voice behind me, it was my buddy Charlie Ledford. He gave me a word or two of encouragement and told me to “come on.” I stuck with him for a couple strides and then locked up again. Around mile 2 – 2 ½ I stepped wrong and felt like I had broken my left foot and every step after that was excruciating.
Physically and mentally I was ready to quit at about mile 3 but knew that I would regret that decision in the long run. I gritted my teeth, shortened my stride and arm swing and just did everything I could to keep moving forward. Athlete after athlete started passing me on both the uphill’s and the downhills which was also frustrating. Finally I saw the beach approaching and knew that we only had about a third of a mile to go. I got one final boost of energy to run through the thick sand, get up the last uphill, and run through the finish line. I was absolutely spent and had nothing left in my legs. I went and collapsed in the shade and dumped several bottles of water on my face.
I was very upset and frustrated after the race and the rest of the day because I felt like I had put in the necessary training and year-long prep to set me up for a great race. I’ve since had time to reflect and pull out the positives which include an amazing trip to Maui with my beautiful wife and some great friends, racing with the best athletes from around the world, and cutting an hour and 15 minutes off my last race. Time to enjoy the off season and back to the drawing board to figure out this cramping. Until next time, Mahalo…