Xterra Solstice rolled through (more like "above") LaGrande, Oregon this past Saturday. I had a very strong day, although I really do need to learn how to descend on a mountain bike. Damian Hill, PC Athlete Darren Smith (this guy has Character in spades—he does Xterra, Ironman, and track cycling with a left leg he cannot feel or really move) headed out there for a glorious 36 hours of companionship, camping, and—oh yeah—competition; it's easy to forget you're competing when you do Xterra.
The Venue: The race takes place in Morgan Lake, a small cold lake at 4100.' The water temperature was 55 degrees, making me 3—3 for races below 60 degrees water. I actually like it, since you don't overheat. Anyway, the venue. Most people camp right along the lake, sleeping a few hundred meters from transition. Darren, Damian, and I got out there and went out for a short ride (shortened by a snafu with my cleats—when will I learn to properly maintain my equipment?). I promptly crashed my brand new Scott Spark 20, but nothing was dinged except my dignity. "It was a pretty good one," Damian said. "You got all the way over the handlebars." We went to bed with the sun, and soon I was up at 5 am, ready to race, except things didn't start until 9 am. Down to town for coffee, and then back up the hill to wait around. When you camp 200 meters from transition, it's pretty easy to get your stuff together.
The Swim: I got my best start of the year, probably only because I was watching the guy with the airhorn when it made a feeble warbling noise and some white stuff came out of it. I nabbed about 5 meters as the other athletes said "Was that the gun—oh shit!" I swam well, for me, keeping the lead until the first buoy, when I got caught by super-strong swimmer Greg from Masters. I probably went out a bit hard, since I felt myself weakening about 500 meters through the swim. I tried to keep pushing, though, and came out of the water 3rd in 12:39. Damian was about 25 seconds back, but he beat me out of transition as I struggled to put on socks. That proved somewhat costly as I got caught behind two slow guys on the way out onto the trail. From there the ride was a lot of white-knuckling, as I'm not up to the level of my ride. I quickly became very thankful for the remote lockout system (the Spark lets you choose three levels of travel: 0, 80, 0r 110 mm), since I didn't have to reach below to change the travel. I had to walk one incredibly steep downhill with Captain Dondo's words ringing in my ears (Me: "What kind of bike do I buy to become a better bike handler?" Him: "How about going up a testicle size?"). Still, I managed to get back to transition in 1:27:00 for the 25 k, which was respectable. I came off the bike in 4th place.
The Run: For the second week in a row, the run turned out to be a weapon for me. I quickly caught the incredibly friendly Eric Deroche (friend of Damian's from Bellingham, which sounds more and more like Nirvana) and used the first long downhill to cut into the second place guy's lead (he was about 3 minutes up on me starting the run). Xterra Solstice uses farm/dirt roads for about 1.5—2 miles, I'd say, and then cuts into a treacherous, muddy cow pasture. I reeled in Dave Cloninger (he's from Bend and has an awesome beard) at the bottom of the cow pasture and then tried to drop him on the climb back up towards the finish line. I would heartily recommend this race, but the 4th and 5th miles are cruel. You switchback out of the pasture and then climb the very steep hill you flew down 30 minutes earlier. At the top of the hill I felt like puking. I knew Damian was behind me, and he is the best runner of our little group. But I also thought that if I got into the last little stand of trees out of sight (...out of mind...) he wouldn't catch me. My right hamstring seized up again about 200 meters from the finish, but it turns out I'd put about 40 seconds into Damian on the run, which surprised both of us. I took second by about 75 seconds. He was, admittedly, muscling a rigid singlespeed 29er around the bike course, so his legs were pretty heavy. I somehow felt great all day, my legs responding nicely to the switch from cycling to running. The guy who won, Jason Jablonski, beat me by about 12 minutes, putting all of that into me on the bike (I was out of the water 2 minutes ahead, and he ran 40 seconds faster). Time to learn how this mountain biking thing works.
Next weekend—Pacific Crest 1/2 Iron. Damian and I go for our third showdown.
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