Without fail, every year, “I’m never doing an Xterra again.”
This year was no different. I crossed the line as the announcer said “Oooo, here comes what looks to be our dirtiest competitor yet.”
I was caked in mud, a combination of the dirt from my fall in Forest Hill Park and my own sweat. I had traversed the Championship course in 2:12:04, good enough for the 14th fastest amateur time and the fastest of the 20-24 age group. I inherited once again another obscure title of East region 20-24 off-road triathlon champion to add to Off-road duathlon 20-24 national champion.
The race started a little differently from years past. I have actually been swimming these past few months, placing extra focus on the leg that has previously been my weakest. So when I hit the 200m run stretch on Belle Isle mid-swim, I knew I was up with the leaders. But, when I hit the shore up-river and was ready to jump back into the water and head back to finish the swim, my left foot landed hard on a concealed rock.
Coach Tyler Johnson watched as I fell into the water only to pop up a few meters away screaming in agony, grabbing at my wounded foot. I quickly tried to ignore my foot, having several minutes before I would need to use it again. I focused on my form but the torn, flapping skin tickling the bottom of my foot was a disgusting reminder of the brutality of Xterra events.
By T1 I had forgotten about the ripped flesh and the swelling pain in my foot was soon overshadowed by anaerobic hammer-time on the mountain bike leg.
I reached Forest Hill Park and the man who carried the target I intended to chase flew by me, chanting courtesies along the way.
“Coming up on your left man.” “Next chance you get.” “Thanks bud, have a good race.” The well wishing were just as frustrating as the fact that he had caught me. But it was obvious he was on a different level than me today.
But in my frustration I hammered even harder, pushing the limits of my mountain biking ability. At my age, I do not have much disadvantage with swimming and running compared to the older guys but as shown this weekend, cycling strengthens greatly with age.
Knowing that one of the top amateur positions was slipping away from me, I began taking risks around turns and over obstacles. But my frustration back-fired as a I slipped to the outside of a fast left-hand turn. The loose scree slipped out from beneath my tires and I went down hard on my left leg, arm and my hands while trying to brace my fall.
I quickly mounted my bike and continued riding, even with the stunned, winded feeling, still questioning “What the hell just happened?” No time to answer that. The thought crossed my mind about my ability to finish the race, but I guess having a couple more competitors pass me ended that doubt.
As the ride went on I found my lines getting sketchier with fatigue and my hands were swelling and cramping. By the later miles of Northbank trail I was unable to move my right thumb to switch gears. I rolled into T2 leading my age group with a significant buffer and jumped out onto the run with ease and comfort. I caught 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 guys as the kilometers passed.
The brim of my hat lowered until I was in my own little masochistic world by the time I hit the Mayan Ruins, a ridiculously steep sketchy climb with railroad ties for stairs. I neared the top and my left leg twitched and began to give out. I thought “Not today buddy. Your holding through till the end.” In every off-road event I have competed in I have felt these cramps and seizures, signs of fatigue, but today I was going to tolerate no less of my body than the best. And I was going to demand the best of it.
At the top I picked my pace back up instantly and began to chase down more competitors, catching 6, 7, 8 guys. Pierre Martel, the 2009 Off-road duathlon national champion caught me and passed me and with a few words exchanged, I did everything I could to hang with him. He led me past 9, 10. But I did not have enough. He was going head to head against another man in his age group, fighting for the 2010 Maui Xterra World Championship spots. I crossed the finish line alone.
The day left me with a broken right thumb, a painful bruise and gash on the bottom of my left foot, quarter size blisters on both feet, a gnarly scrape on my left forearm, and one of only 35 spots for the 2010 Xterra World Championships in Maui, Hawaii.
I said it. I’m never doing another Xterra again. But last year it took over a week for me to begin imagining glory the next time I mounted my fat tires. And this year it took only minutes to begin contemplating the practicality of competing in Hawaii in October.
Its a lot of money to make it there. But money seems insignificant compared to the thousands of hours I had put in swimming, biking, and running to earn that qualifying spot. We’ll see.