Race morning started a bit rocky with the alarm and the wake-up call not coming through (glad I had the back up plan, huh?), but luckily, I get up early anyway, and I didn’t lose much time. After a quick spin and stretch, I loaded everything and got my pre-race oatmeal with chia, walnuts, and honey together to eat on the way. With the family in toe, I was granted a reprieve from driving. When we left, it was barely light, but we could immediately tell the weather was not going to cooperate. There was a mix of fog and drizzle already coating the windshield, and looked like it was only going to get worse.
The Whitewater Center was about thirty minutes away, and we arrived well before transition opened; since this was my last race of the season, I wanted low to no stress and a good spot in transition. Since transition wan’t open, I waited in line for packet pickup instead, and once all set to race, transition was open. It began raining quite hard, which would have been a real problem if it wasn’t the middle of summer. I hung my bike, ducked in some cover, and hoped the rain would let up. Atmospheric cooperation never happened, so I went for some last minute plastic grocery bag weather proofing.
At this point, the announcer was on the mic calling my number and wanting to talk with me. They gave me the wrong number, marking and chip. I had to go retrieve everything, bring it to packet pick-up, get scrubbed and remarked. I’m just glad the other guy showed, and they were able to catch the error. Still raining, I finished in transition and took some time to get dry, relax, fuel, and mentally preped to race.
Well, to start off, it wasn’t just a swim. It was a course designed from sacrifice to ensure the race remained swim, bike, run. Though it was not ideal, I do commend the race organizers for pulling it off in such gnarly conditions. For the previous three weeks, in and around the Charlotte area, it rained. Yes. Three weeks. Every trail in the entire area was rained out and closed; they only opened the race course for the race, which is a caveat of the park (so much for pre-riding). They close all trails unless there is a preplanned event. Glad that happened, since we drove so far.
Because the Catawba river was flooded, full of debris and pollution, and had a ridiculously strong current, the swim course was moved to the man-made whitewater rafting course. Since there was no section long enough, it became swim, run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, and run up a steep hill and into transition. Yes. That is the correct math. 5 swims alternating with 5 runs, which were across decent terrain, though there were some small rocks, pebbles, and other scree that was not all that friendly to water-logged bare feet. In addition, the ramps getting out of the water were slippery and soft, so I had to find my way to hard ground using my hands, get up carefully, walk the awkward I-don’t-want-to-slip shuffle, and then find my way to run pace without cutting or bruising my feet, and we had to do this five times. Needless to say, it made for an interesting start to what became a much longer day than anyone expected.
For me, it was great split, but, as with the rest of my season, it was going to be short lived.
Swim Time: 15:38 – 6th place – about 45 seconds back from the best split.
Transition went well. The only stumble I had was with one of my shoes; it was a bit too tight, so I had to loosen it before slipping in. The plastic-bag rain proofing worked well, but it ended up not mattering. Even with the slight stumble, I don’t think I lost my place in the pack.
The revised bike course was a combination of two unconnected loops, which we had to ride twice. The only way to connect the trails was to use some service roads; these were steep, washed out, and covered with plenty of loose gravel. The course started right into a quick downhill service road, and since this was my first race in clipless pedals, it gave me a nice open path to make sure I was clipped in tight and my shoes were tight without cutting off circulation. I hauled ass straight down the hill, back up the other side and onto the first loop of single track.
At this point in the race, the rain had stopped. The trails were, of course, still super soggy and really sticky, making for some tough going. Some sections weren’t too bad, and then I’d come around a corner and roll through a long stretch of standing water. We nobody getting to preride the course, the only ones who knew anything about the track were the locals, but with the change in course and constant rain, I don’t think local knowledge provided much of an advantage. We all had to just put our heads down, dig deep and deal with the conditions.
A few minutes into the ride, I came across a few riders and stuck to their tails as long as I could. They were pushing a bit harder than I wanted, but with it being my last race, I decided to just lay it all on the line. I kept up for about half of the first loop and then watched the others disappear from sight. I did not worry too much because though I was dropped early on, no other rider passed me, though it wasn’t long before other stronger riders started picking me off. Not even two-thirds through this first section, it started pouring rain, harder than anything yet. It quickly turned the sticky soggy trails, into standing water and little streams on the hills.
Once I entered the second loop, I was hauling some serious ass. Another downhill service road led to the trail head, and the beginning of this trail was fast. I rolled through the woods solo and couldn’t see anyone in front or behind. I was riding alone for quite some time. When I slowed down and began a climb, I noticed there were no tire tracks anywhere on the trail. I had an instant batch of nerves that swallowed my complete attention. I thought I was off course, and my race was over. I did not turn back though; I stayed true and kept hoping I would come across a trail marker. I eventually did and realized with the soggy conditions and the rain, no tires were leaving tracks. With relief, I took a few super deep breaths, released my anxiety, stomped the pedals, pressed on and finished the first lap.
We had to ride up a service road and around transition to head out for the second lap. Before the race, I switched my front tire to an Maxxis Ignitor, but I did not get a chance to switch the Small Block Eight I had on the rear. Terrible choice for the conditions, which were not letting up. Riding up into transition, I lost grip and had to run up the hill. But luckily I was able to find a volunteer and hand her my riding glasses. I was hopeful they would keep the mud out of my eyes, but with the pouring rain, they became a foggy, mud caked annoyance that I had to perch on the tip of my nose just to see and not drop them. Another factor cropped up as well: the conditions made it very difficult to take in nutrition. I had a hydration pack for water, but I was struggling to take in gels and the coconut water concoction I had in my bottle. I did manage to take it in, but I could not keep the pace one-handed and not risk crashing. I guess overall the first lap went pretty well; I did not lose but a few places and only had a minor slide out on a wet root and went down on my left side. I was quickly back on the bike and barely lost any rhythm.
The second lap was pretty much the same: nasty conditions and a much higher effort than anticipated. Around about the middle of the first loop, a rider passed me but did not seem to be going a ton faster. I grabbed onto his pace to see how long I could hang and have a bit of a chat about the race. He was feeling ok, cursing the conditions, and wondered if I had a good swim. I did but mentioned I was losing a few places on the bike. I could only hang for a couple miles and he, too, disappeared in the mire. This was about it for the of the course.
The rain did eventually lighten up and stop, but I was in need of more calories, so much of the second loop of the second lap is blurry at best. All went as well as it could, I did not slip up the service road up to transition, and did not feel too bad coming into transition. Everything was a complete mess of mud, sweat and a bit of blood on my left leg, as I jogged into T2 and hung my bike.
Bike Time: 1:23:10 – 16th overall – about nine minutes back from the best split.
With another long deep breathe, I removed my bike gear, switched shoes, stuffed my plastic bag of gels and chomps up my bike shorts, grabbed a banana, a bottle of water, and hit it. It was a quick in and out. Another pretty decent T time.
Leaving transition and heading downhill on the same gravel covered road, banana in hand, I was immediately stoked that I took the time and money to get some new trail shoes. I picked the Altra Zero Drop because of the wider toe box and more natural flat feel. But as I went half-skidding down this road toward the trail, I was more impressed with the shoes grip on the loose scree. I was definitely feeling beat up from such a gnarly bike split, so I knew this was going to be a tough run in the woods.
I was holding a fairly good pace and glad I brought my own water, as the water station ended up being a long way from transition. For the first half of the run, it went pretty well. Though I wasn’t accustomed to so much elevation gain and loss, I wasn’t getting dropped too often, and when I did, they didn’t pass as if I walking. It took a bit of trail for them to get out of sight. The second half didn’t go as well. The wheels really started to come off. My hip was giving me more and more trouble, and the super wet and mushy clay was not providing much grip. With each slip, it was as if the trail itself was digging its knuckles into my hip, so my form was failing – slowing me down and adding to my overall suffering.
It was also about half way when it truly set in that I did not bring enough nutrition. I did not plan for the race to take so long. With the conditions, my (and everyone’s) pace was slower and my effort level was higher than I would have been on a dry or at least not flood level day, so I burned way more calories than predicted. Though I was still running, my wheels were falling off, and all I could do was slow my pace and hang on. Next up, I ran out of water and began constantly wondering when I would get to the water table. With all of this and a few more runners passing me, I did push on. I was not going to stop for anything. When I came around the corner and saw the aide station, it definitely gave me a short boost of mental energy. I stopped slightly longer than I normally would, filled my bottle, and felt slightly better for the remainder of the course and to the finish.
I didn’t really even stop; instead, headed straight into the bathroom, filled my water bottle, walked back outside, and stared pouring it over my head. I needed to cool down and breathe. This was by far the hardest effort of the year. For me, it was significantly more difficult than the longer championship course at Oak Mountain. My mind was tossing out crossed up signals. It was a blend of excitement, relief, and accomplishment. I truly felt like tears were brewing, a up-welling of emotion and fatigue. In short, I was just trashed and needed a beer.
Run Time: 57:29 – 30th place overall – a bit less than 13 minutes back from the best split.
Total Time: 2:38: – 20th place overall -18:33 back from the winner.
Age Group: 40-44 – 5th place.
*Note: 13 racers did not finish – way more than normal.