By Adam Hodges
ISSUE #12, August/September 2001 – Earlier Sunday morning, while the XTERRA competitors enjoyed a rare chance to sleep in before their 10:30 start time, the sprint distance Microsupreme XT took place as a precursor to the main event at the Keystone XTERRA Festival.
When I first saw the name of this race, I began pondering the meaning of the initials ‘XT’. An acronym, I thought. But for what? The first part of the race’s name sounded like a good beer. But all I could conjure up for the XT is ‘eXtra Tiny’. I’m sure there is a more logical and straightforward explanation. Perhaps it simply represents an abbreviation of XTERRA, which is more likely. And symbolically, the Microsupreme XT is an abbreviation of the full XTERRA, much like a Half-IRONMAN is a shorter version of a full IRONMAN.
At any rate, I liked the idea of getting in a workout before covering the main event. And I figured the sprint distance would be a fun way to jump back into the sport after three years away from triathlon racing. You can take the athlete away from competition, but you can’t take the competitive spirit away from the athlete…or something like that. I looked forward to stringing all three together again.
I have spent the summer seeking out epic trail runs in the Rockies and have mainly relied on running over the past few years as my fitness staple. Swimming and biking have been sporadic. Having sold my road bike after my last race in 1998, the one consistent aspect of biking has been commuting around town. And I have gotten in the water enough to maintain a decent feel. I figured my general fitness would be good enough to attack the sprint course at Keystone and enjoy every moment of it.
I arrived early to set up my transition area and began my warm-up for the 8:00 race. A mellow run, some spinning on the bike, last minute checks in the transition area–entrances, exits, bike location–and I was ready to head down to the water.
Having also sold my wetsuit, I borrowed one from a friend. Wetsuits were required for the cold lake and for some reason I thought I had borrowed a full-sleeved suit. When I arrived at the edge of the lake, I pulled up the wetsuit and realized there were no arms. And I was really looking forward to those sleeves!
Well, at least it had legs, I thought. And as I waded into the water, the temperature didn’t seem too bad. The feared sub-55 degree water was a more balmy 60 degree plus. I swam out into the lake for a warm up and rediscovered the added buoyancy of a wetsuit.
The chill hit me as we listened to the pre-race directions and waited the last ten minutes before the precise 8:00 start time.
Not a moment too soon, the cannon sounded and the pack shot off with a jolt. I had lined up in a direct line to the first buoy and sprinted to the front, joined by three other swimmers who came in from the side. I got behind the feet of one guy until we went around the first buoy, then passed him as he began to lag. I settled into the line behind the other two around the second buoy, and then started to move around them to snag the lead. I passed the final guy before reaching the beach and exited the water in the lead with him on my shoulder.
The one event I was trained for was running and I took advantage of the long run to T1 to secure the lead. Once in the transition, it all came back to me. Wetsuit off. Shoes on. Helmet buckled. Out of there!
The adrenaline rush of racing on a bike came back, a feeling I have missed. I cruised out the bike path to Jack Straw Road and calmed my breathing and heart rate on the first climb. With a glance back, I saw I had a nice lead, but the second guy was still too close for comfort.
In the past, biking was usually my strength, although technical mountain biking has always been a big weakness. A few years after beating out Scott Schumaker for an IRONMAN spot in a long-course race in Evergreen, he handed me my lunch in an off-road race there, pre-XTERRA days. Mountain biking is a different ballgame and I hadn’t even been road biking lately.
As I entered the first stretch of single track, my focus narrowed to the task at hand. The course wound up the mountain, zigzagging back and forth across cleared ski runs and rocky wooded sections. With a quick glance down the slope every now and then, I caught a glimpse of the second man climbing up from below.
I reached the top and it was time to hustle down the mountain.
The descent was a nice break from the quad and lung-burning ascent, but I had to double my focus to keep my bike from jumping out of my hands as I flew over the rocky single track. Once on the road, I flipped it into the big chain ring and enjoyed the speed back to T2. My desire to pedal fast ran up against the technical demands of mountain biking. On the way, I overshot a few corners but got back on track with no worries.
I entered T2 with the lead and once again the instincts came back. Bike racked. Helmet off. Running shoes on. Grab race belt. I left the transition and fumbled with the race belt. I finally got it on correctly and settled into a run pace.
The single track run became a full contact event. Bushes and low-lying tree branches lined the last section along the river. And I even surprised a few dogs and retired couples out for a Sunday stroll. I maneuvered around the obstacles and made my way to the last one–the river crossing. I splashed through and dashed up the pavement to break the tape at the finish line. Mission accomplished.
I never did figure out if XT stands for anything in particular. But it was great to be done with a morning workout and kick back to watch the stunning performances of the athletes competing in the full XTERRA. If I ever figure out this mountain biking, maybe I’ll have a go at Wild Thing someday.