Xterra – Last Stand (Fort Custer, Mi) 05-20-12

My 2nd ever Xterra (off road Triathlon, swim in a lake, Mountain Bike ride, then Trail Run). Last Stand.

So, this was part of “experiment 2012″ which was to open myself to new experiences, learn new skills, meet new people and find some “fun” in sport. Although I love triathlon, some of it was getting routine and it was showing in my training. Tri was a “lifestyle” change to get my Azz off the couch, but really it’s not the only thing. Being ACTIVE is the real change and so last year I bought a mountain bike and rode it all winter. Yeah, all winter. Was a blast, screwing around on trails and making my OWN trails all over. Following deer paths were one of my favorite things this winter. Keeps you from running into mystery pools of water/etc and it led you into areas most people have never seen. And no, I didn’t chase any deers and I was respectful of Bambi’s habitat!

Last Xterra I did was in 2010 and I was ILL PREPARED as I used a cyclocross bike. A cyclocross bike is NOT a Mountain bike. Although I earned the respect of many riders. Example: “Duuuuuuuuuuuuude, HARD-CORE using a ‘cross bike!” and my response “I am a complete moron who loves to have his bike shoved up his….. and I am going to be sore for a month, weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”. Ok, maybe part of that was inside my head. Not sure sometimes…

So, because last year sucked up so much time this year I also wanted to try to make some weekends away for the family with the race being just one thing that I do. This was the first experiment in that regard.

We hauled the kids out early Sat and drove 3.5 hours to Fort Custer National Park near Battle Creek Michigan. NO clue what we would find, so as “planners” it was kind of a new thing for us to not have a complete plan. All we knew is maybe we’d fish, swim, and look for other stuff. I wanted to pre-ride the course Sat on advice of a friend and then I would be racing Sun AM.

We get there and the area is pretty barren. However, there was a fishing area and a really nice lake. So the kids would be set. Dropped everyone off and I went to ride the course.

First.. I had to figure out where it WAS. So I rode from the fishing spot over to the guys setting up. I chatted them up and found out the guy was still out marking, but he’d been out there a couple of hours so he should be done. cool. started off. Within 5 minutes I realize I’m in for an interesting ride. Already it’s CLEAR these are REAL MTB (mountain bike) paths. 25 mile of them! Friggin awesome. But it’s HOT and I have ONE bottle so I need to keep moving. Coach wanted me to ride 30 min, but I pretty much realized there was no way that was going to happen if I was going to keep it “easy” to not fry my legs for the race. Here’s the map – really, it was not legible printed but gives you an idea of how twisty it is! And how many OTHER trails there are

About 15min in I run into a kid walking his bike. I ask if he’s Ok and he says he thinks he broke his finger. I stop and pull my bike, and his, off the trail. He’s maybe 12-13? Reminds me a LOT of my son actually, really big but still clearly a boy. I talk to him, find out he ran into a tree and he was walking back to scout camp. I tell him I’m involved with scouts and get him talking – because I was just not sure he was really OK. I ask him to show me his finger, bend it, etc – it’s not broken but honestly, I’m not sure he didn’t knock himself silly on the trail. Or he’s young. Hard to tell really. Anyway, he was having such trouble pushing his bike because the handlebar is knocked 90 degrees and the seat twisted badly too. I get my tool and fix both. In the mean time an older scout comes backward on the trail and clearly knows him. They talk and he says he will walk back with him to the campsite. I was kicking myself for not asking WHO was the young one’s buddy (ala buddy system, a system designed FOR EXACTLY THIS SITUATION). Would have been a good lesson for both. Anyway, I make sure the older scout has things covered and update him on the hand and wish them well.

Ok, that detour cost me 15 min but it’s all good. Continue onwards. Without going into spoilers… I rode the course. I got lost. I fell down when I got lost. I don’t like sand. I don’t like thorn bushes who paid off the sand to send me over to visit them, so they could suck my blood. Do not try to “rub off” a bunch of thorns stuck in you as I am pretty sure that hurts a LOT more than removing them one at a time. I found “a way” back on course. I did all the climbs, I did not “take it easy” like I was supposed to. I did have a TON of fun. I did all the obstacles… I didn’t do them all right away though, I came up on them, inspected, went back, and did them.

2 hours and 17 miles later (on a 12.5 mile course) I wander back to the beach to find the family, kiddos swimming as expected. So I joined them, clothes and all, to destinkafy them – after I sucked down 2 bottles of water. 1 bottle in high 80 degree w/ plenty of humidity… was not enough.

The boys and I swam until everyone else was sick of waiting for us and hungry. We were having a blast chasing the fish and digging holes and finding the warm spots and cold spots. I’m not convinced the warm spots were not boy-made… but whatever :)  Water was in the high 60s/low 70s I think and felt great to us polar bears. I wasn’t going to need wetsuit tomorrow, but I’d probably wear it anyway as practice for Alcatraz.

So we did dinner and hit the hotel and all that fun stuff.

in the morning I was up 6am (a luxury) and did all my stuff and headed out to the course. Wanted to meet up with a friend who lives in Michigan, Yoshiko who was also racing.

I got there, got checked in, found Yoshiko and chatted and got setup. Not sure where the time went as I only got a minimal warmup on the bike and run and already i’m sweating like a freaking pig. OMG it’s going to be stupid hot today and the humidity was just out the roof already and it’s not 9. Speaking of 9, it came too quick and I had to rush to the shore. Tried to stay on the pavement to get my wetsuit on and once it was on realized the frigin zipper was undone. DANGIT! Ok, we have 5 minutes to start and I need to rip the thing off, get it back on, GET OVER TO THE START, and well – now I’m rushing. And sweating. Did I mention it was HOT? Well, try wrestling with a rubber suit in that stupid heat.  I finally did it, while trying to keep the sweat out of my eyes, and hauled over to the start. 30s to start, so that seemed like a GREAT time to get my swim warmup in.  Pretty low key event, so nobody really cared. I did that, I stood up, about 3seconds later I hear the guy yell GO (or whatever he did, can’t remember but it was pretty much “OK PEOPLE GO!”).

Mass start, single wave for this massive race. They said 200, but I think that must have included the Duathlon people, because it looked like maybe 150. Whatever, I was up front so I went but I was too far right – by a LOT – so I had to work my way over.

I’m cool with mass starts and bumping and crashing in the swim, so I didn’t have any trouble. At my last race, they were REAL bad swimmers. At this one, there was a big cluster of solid swimmers. So as I weaved through the “over-anxious” people who put themselves too far forward, I worked my way to the first turn – barely in time – and pushed and shoved my way around the buoy.

the next 2 markers were uneventful. I was doing Ok, but not great, which is ok because I’ve only worn my wetsuit ONCE this year (oh yeah, it’s ripped, that pissed me off as it leaks on my back) and well, I need this practice. The shoulders need time to adapt to no wetsuit since… Umm… September?

finally I see the final turn. Mentally I’m thinking “this is longer than 1/2 mile” but whatever, we all do the same distance. I pick up the pace a bit, as my arms have finally stopped SCREAMING at me for not working out. Man, they are bitchy. If I don’t get a good 10-15min warmup, they scream. Well, they finally stopped. So I picked it up. Felt really good actually. Started passing people again. hmmm, maybe a better warmup would have been smart? Too late now.

Hit the shore at 14:40, which is not great for a 1/2 mile – should be more along the lines of 12-13, but again… I don’t deserve a faster time and if it was long… then that would explain it. Whatever, it’s fine. I think spent entirely too much time walking up the hill and working the stupid wetsuit off before I crossed the mat. yeah, that’s something I should have been practicing too I guess!

Transition was uneventful, but not fast. But I was smooth and purposeful. tough to get through the crowds and I may have stabbed some dude in the side when he lunged into the aisle as my pedal was going by. Oops!

Hop on the bike and start spinning in an easy gear. Time to find the legs before we hit the  hills I know are coming.  Legs decided to join me reasonably quickly. They were cranky-pants though, apparently they remembered that I rode yesterday so I shouldn’t be riding today. Really? Well too bad, HTFU (Harden the Frag up) legs we go 12.5 miles to do.

The first section was a bunch of the little tiny hills, turns, and so on. Very technical. I passed several and was passed by several. Overall, I was holding my own in this area and it felt good. Then we went into some “cross country” areas – which means a boring path made of grass, gravel, or dirt. Not interesting. I tried throwing it into a hard gear and powering through, I passed a few but the legs really didn’t have the umph they should have, so I decided to pull back for a bit and recover the heart rate and try to pick my battles later.

Now, I don’t remember the order of everything, so I might have some of this wrong, so I will just recount some of the highlights. This course is an absolute treasure though and well worth the drive. It was well-kept, well designed, and just a crapload of fun. A buddy who did last year said it was “Fun” – I thought that was code for “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE” but no, he was right it was FUN (which does not rule out dying, BTW).

So the Grannies Garden (or so I think this is it) was a bunch of these 6-10ft steep hills, with turns and descents and twists and so on was a friggin blast. Tough, sure, but neat. Loved it.

There was a section in the woods, twisty and turny and fun! no climbing was a nice change, but man it was a lot of twisty and a ton of turny!

Another section was a series of high banks so it was like you were on a nascar track

Another section, DEMON DROP was a crazy steep descent… but after you climb a steep hill then you turn 90. So you don’t know it’s coming! Well, thankfully I pre-rode the course so I did so no problem. Just had to wait for others to get out of the way, I’m not going down with someone else in the track in case the drop.

Elsewhere there was a series of these little 6in bumps. By series I mean about a million. It was crazy! Thank goodness for low tire pressure and good suspension or that bike seat would have been permanently attached. It LOOKED flat but when you rode, oh no…

I must say I am surprised by the amount of SAND everywhere on this course. Crazy and unpredictable. We had a section on what looked like a support trail/road and we were flying downhill, 20mph + (which is REAL fast on a MTB) and this guy was hot on my tail. We hit the sand and my back wheel flew out to the side and about took him out. I yelled SORRY but I honestly I had no darn control, it was going to do what it wanted to do. I recovered just fine so it’s all good.

Tons of single track, so several times I had to ride off trail to allow others to pass, or they had to – but I found it simpler to PICK my moment and not be a prick so I often went off trail to allow them around. Very nice group, nobody riding up my Azz bitching I was in the way. Lots of pleases, thank yous and so on.

Ok, so eventually the 12.5 miles was done. The last mile was flatish so I was able to hammer it and fly by several people. 1:16 is a lot better than yesterday! But I wasn’t sure how I fared overall just about 10mph would be horrid for a road tri!

T2 went smooth and easy. No issues except without the wind as I rode, I noticed how freaking HOT it was.

We start off down the beach and across sand. BOOOOOOO I hate sand. Sand hates me. Us gravity challenged people SINK. I did my best but really slowed down. No sense fighting it, the sand would win.  Soon as we got out it was up and around and up and around and up!

The run was really pretty uneventful, I didn’t pass anyone. I did get passed. A lot. I was cramping, a little, in my shin – which is a result of us still not perfecting this new orthotic. I knew this was a risk. However… it wasn’t as sharp of a pain, so really, it was a good sign the latest adjustment is in the right direction.

The entire 4 miles was made up of a walk/run. The heat was utterly oppressive. The shin was cramped most of the time. So I basically survived the run. I am SO glad I carried my water, as there were only 2 aid stations. The National Guard kids manned it (yes, I called them kids and yes I feel old – but they were SO CUTE with their perfect manners and they were AWESOME. I thanked each and every for helping AND for their service)

My shoes were bothering me though. A couple of times I had to pick out  a tiny rock or branch or dirt. But the one that was constant was under my left foot. Finally around mile 3 I had to look and make sure there was nothing under there. Nope. It was red though.. ruh roh. We’re heading to blisterville for sure.

Finally got to where I could hear the finish, and trudged my way to the finish. Pretty anticlimactic as I knew I was probably last, or darn close it it. It didn’t matter, my goal was finish without injury – and mission accomplished. RUBBER SIDE DOWN Baby! Well, mostly. I ripped my shoes off before they even got my chip off. That d@mn orthotic was trying to kill me. In the end… yeah, it was trying to eat it’s way out of my shoe… through my foot. Serious blood blister.

I found Yoshiko, she had an ice pack in her pants – she wrecked 3x all on the same part of her butt! OOOUCH! She also took 1st in her AG, but she needed to get on the road right away. We did our obligatory pictures


   25 128 Ron Searle             41   15   16:23    1:40   20 1:16:03  9.9    1:41   25   59:03 14:46 2:34:48

So in the end, I did not finish last. 2nd from last! But this doesn’t include the 30 or so who didn’t finish, so I would say i was 32nd from last!  hehe, I’m cool with that. My run destroyed my placing, I was about 15 slower than the next slowest guy. Fast forward a year, I bet I will be able to get this course in close to 2:00. 15 off the bike, 12-15 off the run. Ez.

I went to the med tent, got the BEST blister bandaid EVER. It ended up staying on for 5 days! this is 5 days later…

Well… that’s it! Looking forward to 2-3 more of these this season. We’ll see how the schedule works out. This stuff is SOOOO technical the more I can get out on REAL MTB trails, the faster that bike time is going to drop. And the run, well, we will get there. I knew when I started down this path I’d need to take 5 steps back to take 10 forward. We’ll get there in time. This is not the year of the run… it’s the year of fun!

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