If you've followed my blog/racing, you know that the Big Canyon triathlon is one of my favorite races. It doesn't get much better than the trails of West Virginia for running and riding. Add in a fun swim in the New River and you have a great race venue, plus the folks at ACE Adventure are great hosts and offer the racers a wonderful race venue, with hot showers at the finish.
I pulled into the campground that serves as the T2 and finish area and was greeted by my buddy John. He and I met here 3 years ago and have raced together many times since. John let me know that the swim had been canceled due to high water. The river is usually 5-6 feet where we swim, and was rolling at 11 feet on Saturday after coming down from 14 feet on Friday. ACE and the folks from XTERRA made the call to make the race a duathlon with a second run (~1 mile) around the campground at the top of the mountain.
The start took place at the normal beginning of the run at the swim exit. It's a flat start and I felt great, enough so that I pushed it a bit. I backed off at the steep climb to the fireroad, letting 4-5 runners come around me. I never felt overextended on the run, kept my pace where I wanted it to be. For most of the run, I had a guy on my heels. We came up on Jenny Smith
, a pro XTERRA athlete, on a section that was poorly marked. We were a bit confused if this was where we needed to be. After climbing a bit up the logging trail, the course looked familiar to me and let them know this was the right way and Jenny was gone. Me and my shadow kept climbing up the mountain and were soon at T1.
The shadow and Jenny made it out on the bikes before me but I soon caught up with them on an extended climbing section. At the end of the climb I got around Jenny but quickly spun out on the muddy trail. On the fire road section at the top, Jenny was once again disappearing into the distance. My shadow was somewhere behind me and I set out to enjoy the West Virginia trails. I picked off a few riders and had a guy pass me on a nasty technical section that I walked. A little while later my shadow appeared and passed me on another technical section. One aspect of getting older is I've gotten more tentative on sketchy descents. Even with AFLAC, the even present thought of child, wife, mortgage, job on Monday jolts me into taking it easy. What I've lost in descending skills (utter disregard for bodily harm) I've made up with climbing speed, and by keeping my weight low I can push the hills now a lot faster than in years past. So with that in mind, I knew I'd catch my shadow on the upcoming climbs. Sure enough, there he was and I pushed it hard to put a lot of woods between he and I.
Popping out of the forest into T2, I knew it was a short run and the finish. I started off well, just trying to get the circles out of my legs. The gravel road was fast and helped to get my leg speed up. About a quarter mile into the second run my right calf started to twinge with a muscle cramp. Nope, I can't let this happen, not with the shadow behind me. I adjusted my foot strike and found a position that lessened the cramping. If I could keep it going like this, I knew the cramp would go away, and around another quarter mile the cramp was gone. I picked up my pace and finished strong.
I finished the race in eighth place with Jenny a few minutes ahead of me. My shadow was just behind me and it turns out Mark (the shadow) was also in the 35-39 age group. He and I finished first and second. I thought he may have been in my age group while we were running/riding together. It was great to have someone push me like he did. It was also great to race with Jenny, a true professional who is approachable and one of the nicest people you'll meet. Like most XTERRA athletes, great people and great racers.
Even without the swim, it was a fun race and I was stoked to get my second age group win of the season. After the race, I cleaned up with a hot shower and drank a bunch of cokes. I hung out with John and his better half and Josh from RVA and ate. After getting my medal, I was on the road back to the 'right' side of the mountain.