As opposed to the "regular" on-road triathlons, Xterra and other off-road triathlons are usually held over gnarly trails that more often than not require very good technical and bike handling skills. But most importantly the knowledge of the actual course is imminent to a good result.
With that in mind I was able to fly to Alabama by Thursday and ride, swim then run parts of the race course. Although I would have had plenty of time to practice I decided to not risk it on race-day and walk my bike down on the dreaded Blood Rock section. I may have lost a few seconds come Saturday but at least I had a plan and I stopped worrying.
On Friday I rode the last few miles of the course and to do so I couldn't have asked for better company than my coach, Yaro, and his brother, Josiah Middaugh. Riding a few miles behind the fastest Xterra biker was just what I needed to get a feel of what mountain biking truly is. The brain's, Yaro, insights and words really put me in the right mindset. I knew what I wanted and I, for the first time ever, I had a well-thought game-plan for Saturday.
I think we were all surprised when, on race morning, everything got washed down with a good amount of rain. Or, it was only my phone and the free weather application that lied to me and not for the first time. With a lot of rocks and roots to tackle along the nearly 20 mile course I certainly hoped for dry conditions. The pros left 2 minute ahead of the massive field of amateur athletes. I started towards the right side to avoid most of the whirlpool. When the two wings re-united I found myself swimming right at the feet of the first group. I passed and got passed but eventually exited the water in good spirits. I certainly felt I had a better swim than in Vegas. A quick transition and I was already riding through a number of amateurs before we hit the single track. I kept the pressure down even through the first miles that I would otherwise ride at a slower pace. Then out of some super dark clouds a downpour drenched the course. Riding without gloves my hands quickly started slipping on the handles. As fast as the rain came it was gone in few minutes. Because of the dark I had to remove my shades but then mud filled up my eyes. No good either way. For the first time in an Xterra race I didn't get passed on the bike. Caught all but one pro women by mile 12. Coming off the bike I didn't know whether my legs would respond. To my surprise I was able to maintain the initial quick pace. Again, I was in no men's land until I passed the top amateur Grayson Keppler from Texas. Only about a km to go I spotted another bunch with the fastest female Flora Duffy just getting through them. That was the first feedback I received that I was en route to a decent finish. After jumping through a few more roots along the lake I approached the finish line when I heard Kalei saying "here comes our top amateur". It may have been all the adrenaline but I wasn't even that tired. I didn't need to sit and for a while I was just walking around not knowing what was I supposed to do. At the finish area I met Josiah, now winner of Xterra Southeast Championship, who told me that I was only about 10 minutes down from him. That's the closest I have come in a race to the top pro triathlete. My best mate from college happened to be working just south of Pelham, the race venue. It was really cool catching up with him and his cool little Jack Terrier named "Jack". Thanks for the good time Serg!
The race was a few weeks ago and ever since I was able to fine tune my training with some quality workouts. Last weekend a raced at the Race to Sunset 10 hour mtb relay where the "Team Molnar" finished second. My team mates Kevin Bjerke and Craig Harrison from Aberdeen, SD complimented me and we bowed only to the local heroes, the Burleigh County Bicycle Cult's speedsters.
Let's hope this race in Richmond will go similarly and I can match my overall amateur position.
I sure won't let go of the gas pedal.