Tuesday, March 11, 2008

XTERRA Saipan Race Report

Well, it’s all over, and wow…2nd place, a bridesmaid in an off-road triathlon again! 3 in Panama, and now in Saipan. I’m very happy to get out of this race with a 2nd place though. Andy Noble was tough, and was willing to take more risk than I was. Honestly, to beat him out there today would have required a lot of risk on my part, definitely more than he took, and that would have been a very poor business decision on my part. With Ironman Arizona coming, the point was to come here, train hard, get in a couple of races, earn some money and enjoy a cool trip. So far, I have accomplished that, and things are still on track for Ironman Arizona.

On Friday, the rain was NON-STOP! From before I woke up in the morning, until I went to bed. It was clear the course would be extremely slippery, and dangerous at times.

Race Day

I was up at 4 AM for breakfast, coffee, stretching and TP Massage Kit work. Everything else was packed and ready to go, and I was at the event by 5:15, ready for the 6:30 AM start. (Yes, this is an early start race, because of the heat!)

My competition for the race would mostly come from Andy Noble of Australia, who is a regular on the US XTERRA circuit, and after the age of 40 a few seasons ago, doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. Other competition would come from a contingent of Japanese pro’s, including the 2007 National Japanese Champion, a pro mountain biker, and another who was coming off of Ironman Malaysia, where he qualified for Kona. I had no idea what to expect from anyone, including myself! I made no decisions as to strategy or plans on the course, other than trying to get a good swim in, thinking Andy and I would probably come out near the front. My hope was this would keep us out of sight and force those behind us to take risks to try and catch-up.

After setting up the transition area, I headed out to the water to warm-up. There was a SUPER STRONG current coming from the north west on the western-facing shore. Lifeguards had a lot of trouble with one of the buoys, and soon the course had to be modified. The race course would now be 3 loops, with a beach run, around 3 buoys, making a small triangle.

The race starts and immediately Andy, a local swimmer on a relay, and I head down the beach to the north and enter, letting the current take us. End of lap one, and the three of us are out front clearly, and trying to catch a wave in. Suddenly I realize we are body surfing and dolphin diving right into a bunch of coral! I nail some of it with hands. Stand up and try to run, grimacing in pain! Lap 2, same thing! Lap 3 and we hit a lot of traffic, and I lose them in it, and for some reason they were able to get a gap on me. I enter T2 as Andy is leaving, and I am off about 20 secs down. I hope on the bike and begin to put on gloves, shoes, and realize my hands and feet are bleeding. Oh well! By the top of the opening climb, I’ve cut it to 9 secs.

The Bike

We start the first trail section on the descent, which lasts about 400 meters, and because of so many dogs, was the only section I hadn’t seen. I see Andy, and suddenly he’s gone! I am frustrated, as I realize I missed a turn. I make a course modification and get back on track. I hop on the bike and hear my saddle torque. Uh-oh. Broken saddle? No. It’s ok, but it definitely moved when I hit a bump and landed hard on it.

At this point I can’t see Andy, and I couldn’t see third place from the top of the climb, so I focus on just keeping a good tempo. The mud wreaks havoc on some of the sections, but the good news is I can see where Andy has chosen his lines, and where he has had to bail!

I keep chasing and look down to notice my saddle-bag is about to fall off. I stop and take it off, stuffing it down from jersey front pocket, (thanks for the trick Craig Evans! I learned that one from you last year at Temecula!) I knew how much trouble the mud was, and with the torqued saddle, I may very well need the bag.

I continue pushing the climb, and begin the single-track descent, which is a MUD-HAVEN! I’m staying upright, until I come to the first drop-off. I make the drop-off, but slide right into the bushes trying to make the turn from it. I laugh as I realize the mud is soft and I could be in for a long day. “That’s 1!” I shout aloud.

Moving on, it’s just much of the same. I think I was up to 4 by the time I got back to the road and doing the next climbs. I get a time check of 3 minutes, and I’m not taking any risks on the wet, paved roads. (Later I would hear from Andy that he went into a skid on the road descent, and wasn’t sure how he didn’t manage to crash hard.) The next time check would be 2:20, meaning I was starting to bring him back a little, but not much. It would require a big meltdown or strong second half from me, with the worst of the muddy, technical portions to come.

I get thru some frustrating sections, some fun sections, some scary ones, and some absolute hilarious ones! All the while, I’m feeling strong, but not really able to go redline very long at all, typical Ironman training. Pushing on, I start to get into my groove and hit the last muddy, technical sections, clearing them, YEHAA! Pick up some speed, and I say to myself, “Wow, look at all those off-camber roots. Hmm, they look wet. This might not be good.” Rear tire washes out, moves in front of me, front tire is now behind me. Land on my right forearm, but it just scrapes the roots. That one hurt a little, but I get back up and realize the damage is just the scrapes on my forearm. COOL!

Back on the bike and hitting it hard to T2. I come in and get what I need. I hear the announcer say Andy’s lead is now 6 mins, and as I am out on the course, I see the Japanese pro-mountain biker come into T2. He split a strong bike, especially for the mud. Later, he would tell me he never went down. Amazing, unless he just walked a lot of sections.

The Run

After seeing the run course with my homestay, I knew I had to push the early, easy parts of the run, as the technical portions would not be a good place to leave the race to be decided.

I am running in a good tempo, a little afraid to push it too hard, for fear of blowing up with the heat and big climbs on the run. I check back, and the gap is definitely opening up. I push on, pushing the tempo up the mountain, head down, and miss a turn…DAMN IT! I end up in a guy’s yard, and am surrounded by these two dogs, and they are NOT HAPPY to see me. They start circling around me and I am now not worried about the race anymore. Luckily the owner comes out and calls them back, while he points to where the trail is for me. I go back the 50 meters I over-shot and am now back on course, but worried I lost my advantage I worked so hard to get, losing over a minute for sure.

Back to hammering the uphill, and all I want to do is push hard! Up the hill and then it’s on to the ridiculous ravine. You have to hop down into it, and then climb your way thru for a few miles, including a cave section, where it’s hard to see, and the ceiling is low. Seriously, I think I may ask Zoot for ice-skates for this race next year, since the rocks were so slippery! Maybe skis.

I make it out of the nearly 2 mile section of craziness, and celebrate with cheers and arms raised! I yell, “I made it! NO FALLS!” I hear, “Good job! Water or Powerade?” I look over and see it’s an aid station worker. Oh yeah, I still have like 2 miles to go!

I finish up the with the hard running downhill section and hit the last 2k on the sandy beach back to American Memorial Park and Micro Beach. I finish strong and come in about 10 mins behind Andy. Oh well, 2nd place, I’ll take it. I made it unscathed!

All in all, a fun race, with a lot of craziness. I will now turn my focus to training and recovery, in time for next Saturday’s Tagaman Triathlon, a 2K-60K-15K road tri.

Wish me luck!



jameson said...

that sounds a lot more fun than riding in a straight line, pounding the pavement, and suffering for 8-9+ hours. don't you think? come back to the dark side... there is no way you can say that IM is more fun than racing off road. ...oh yeah... Killer race and congrats!

ramon said...

Killer report Jim. Dude, those conditions were gnarley. Sounds like you had a ton of fun though. Nice job!!