It always feels good to get a good race under your belt. That’s how I felt after competing in the Torn Shirt Xterra in Brighton, MI on June 19, 2011. I came into this race with a little bit of redemptive attitude after coming off a terrible performance at the Fort Custer Xterra a month prior. I knew I needed some points if I wanted to qualify for nationals. So nothing less than a 1st place finish in my age group and a top 5 overall was what I was expecting of myself.
This Xterra is one of my favorites. I’ve raced it a few times so I know the course fairly well. The swim is wet, the bike is a pain, and the run kills you at the end! Sounds like fun doesn’t it!
As I went to get my swag bag I found out that my number plate was 13. After a few humorous remarks from the ladies running the sign up tent telling me how lucky I am to have number 13, I made my way back to the transition area to finish setting up. Before I knew it, it was time for some off road triathlon racing! I positioned myself far left and up front in the water. The horn went off and we all splashed into the water like a herd of angry water buffalo. I fell into a good rhythm right away and noticed that I was hanging with the leaders. I figured this wouldn’t last long because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this pace up for long. I was right. As we passed the first buoy I noticed that I was about 10 back. By the time the second buoy came up I was around 20 back. I thought to myself that’s ok I’ll pass them on the bike, trying to keep my motivation up because my swimming sure wasn’t! I came crawling out of the water thinking to myself as I unzipped my wetsuit while running up the hill, that I’m gonna have to crush it on the bike. I had a clean transition to the MTB and was off, passing about 2 racers from the get-go and a few more as we hit the gravel road which eventually turned into single track. I settled into a groove that consisted of a high cadence and heart rate which pretty much told me that this is what it’s gonna take if i want to pass the next 20 racers. That would put me in the top 5 overall coming off the bike to run. I like using Conrad Stoltz’s motto of racing Xterra’s which is to come out of the water near the front, crush it on the MTB and hold everyone off on the run. Of course I’m not a pro like Conrad but I know that my MTB is by far the strongest of the three disciplines. The single track was in great shape and right up my alley; not too many climbs, some steady flat sections, fast downhill’s and a whole lot of twists and turns. I made up a ton of time on the first lap passing about 15 racers. The second lap would be tougher because I was getting closer to my caliber of riders. My concentration and reaction was right on the money and I had plenty of power in my legs. I felt great. Regardless I had to conserve some energy for the run. I decided to pass one more rider and then cool it to transition. I had no problems on the bike. I felt like I nailed it. That feeling was confirmed in me when I came into transition and found out that I was 5th overall. I didn’t congratulate myself at that moment; I only remember thinking that I have to stay focused and really dig deep on this run if I planned on holding my position. I had another smooth transition and was off with a rather fast pace. My legs felt sluggish but I kept on pushing hoping that they’d come around. Right then a runner passed me. He wasn’t in my age group but I remember passing him on the bike. I tried to keep up but his pace was too fast. A few minutes later I felt my legs getting stronger and my pace getting faster. I felt good and kept pushing harder then settled into a steady groove. I stayed focused and concentrated on attacking all the steep hills the trail throws at you. I ended up running alone most of the time which was a huge surprise because I usually get passed by about 10 runners on a trail like this. I guess those track workouts back home helped after all! I began to drop pace as I rounded out to mile 5 ½ and could hear someone closing in on me. I scraped everything I had together and gave it one last push! I noticed that I was gaining on someone ahead of me with only less than a ½ mile to finish. The toughest part of the entire tri is when you’re so close to the finish and you have to gut it out in a final sprint to hold your position. I was tired—there’s no denying that! I began to lose the racer ahead of me who was in 5th place overall and started giving up ground to the guy who was chasing me down. I thought to myself, “please let this guy behind me not be in my age group because I can’t get him off my tail.” Well he finally caught up to me less than a few 100 yards from the finish. And when I noticed it was a fellow age grouper that I’ve raced before and usually beats me I was shocked. This entire time during the swim and bike and most of the run he was behind me!! That meant I was 1st in my age group all this time! Until now of course, because he knew who I was also and I think it shocked him to see me ahead of him. I had no chance of chasing him down. He turned on the after burners and was gone. He ran so fast he even caught the other racer I was trying to catch. He had a great race. Hats off to Mark for such a stellar finish. I crossed the finish line proud and happy with my performance. I knew I did well but to find out that I was over 13 minutes faster than last year was an accomplishment in its self. I finished 7th overall and 2nd in my age group. It sure does feel good when hard work pays off!