Recap: XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain

G'day & thanks for stopping by. If you read my previous entry, you'll know I was in the middle of a exhausting training week as I headed into XTerra Cheyenne Mountain. 

Despite my best attempts at getting a good night's sleep, I experienced what I'm sure many athletes go through the night before a race....sleeplessness! I didn't panic though as I've read numerous studies on the subject. The general consensus being that it's not the night before a race that matters most, but instead two nights before. That being said, one shouldn't sign up for a rave the night before an important race. So off little sleep, I awoke at 4:50 AM, quickly showered, gathered my kit, and with my lovely fiancee at my side, drove down to Colorado Springs. 

We arrived at Cheyenne Mountain State Park a few tics after 7AM and just in time for the sun to rise. This gave me just under an hour to get ready for the race. Race director Victoria Seahorn had generously comped my entry and arranged everything for me. I sought out a gentleman name Jessie, gathered my stuff and I was on my way. My first impression of the venue was, "This is going to be challenging!".

Still feeling a bit sleepy and definitely sore, I took off for my warm up. The course was well marked and I jogged the first 2 kilometers of it without the need of a map. This proved helpful, as in my opinion the first mile of a race is very important. I'd like to think that no race is ever won in the first mile, but many are or can be lost there. This being an XTerra Trail race, I knew positioning would be key, as often these races can quickly bottleneck and thus make it tough to pass people. I learned this lesson at the World Championships last December in Hawaii. That being said, I knew that the deathly combination of elevation (higher than Boulder) and uphill start, could be a cruel teacher to anyone who failed to respect them. 

Pre-race goofball

8AM and the gun goes off. As with ANY road/trail race, there's always someone or a few people who go off as if they were racing to the bathroom! I positioned myself in about 5th or 7th for the first half mile and focused on staying relaxed. My body was more alert now than an hour earlier, but I was still feeling a bit sluggish. Luckily my hip wasn't bothering me as much as it had been the previous days. The day before the race I had visited good friend & acupuncturist Toby Marchand for some much needed cupping and needling. 

About 1 kilometer in and there was still a large pack around me. I decided to stay calm and relaxed as we continued climbing. There would be a quick break from the climbing right around the 1 mile mark, where they would also have an aid station. I decided to reevaluate my positioning at that point. Fortunately by the time we reached the 1st mile (6:10 split for me) I started feeling great. At this point I was in 4th or 5th position, with everyone within 5-10 seconds of each other. I always like maintaining contact, but sometimes in these trail races, it seems it's best to spot the guy(s) in front of you some space as there is constantly a tight turn or a rock/branch etc around the next turn.

During the next kilometer, I kept looking ahead and down, ahead and down, seemingly giving my neck more of a workout than my lungs and legs. Approaching the 3 kilometer mark, I abandoned my conservative race plan and made a rookie mistake. STILL going uphill (tough way to make a hard move) I leap frogged 1st and 2nd place and darted into the lead. Instead of just settling in there, I pressed on and on, I was full of running and the relatively slow pace had become a bore. Within a matter of seconds I had broken clear of the other runners and had such a big lead, that I couldn't hear anyone's breathing or stomping. It felt great to be free and alone on this beautiful trail. Little did I know that I would soon regret that move.

Along the course

3K - 5K was a glorious run, I was full of life, at peace with my thoughts and the world was my oyster. I even allowed myself to start daydreaming about Las Vegas the following weekend...THEN reality came knocking at my door, or more like a tank came crashing through my door. 5.5K - 8K was a death march. It's amazing how even after all these years of racing, you can make such a rookie mistake. That's also the beauty of running, it doesn't matter if you're a hobby jogger or an Olympic medalist, if you don't respect the distance/elements/terrain/competition etc, you will all pay just the same. The mountain doesn't care about your credentials or resume. It's there to challenge you and challenge it did!

In a matter of seconds I went from a speedy trail Cheetah, to a rocking chair. At elevation, when you die, you die HARD. It only took a couple of minutes for the others to smell blood and close the gap. Bit by bit and around every turn I would steal glances behind me to see how much ground I was losing. I was also engaging in a pity party as I marched myself to the gallows. My breathing became labored and my quads and lower back tighter and tighter. I quickly started going through a mental checklist as to how I could've been so naive. In the end,  this was my own doing and I had to snap out of my one man show of self-destruction and refocus on the race. 

I was passed one by one, until I had gone from 1st place to 6th! I was passed by people I had never seen beforehand. I briefly wondered how this could be happening, as I expected to be overtaken by a clown juggling chainsaws or something. Eventually I got the much loved, mystified and talked about: "The Second Wind", and boy was it glorious. Little by little I started regaining life and resumed what I'd actually call running. 

I had now about 3 Kilometers to go and 1st place was still out of sight. Without panicking, I started picking up the pace while repeating to myself, "If you're hurting, they're hurting..." I also gained confidence in the fact (at least I told myself) that there wasn't a single person ahead of me that had worked as hard as I had the week leading into this race, therefor I could carry my badge of fatigue well and use it as a strength rather than weakness. 

It didn't take long before I saw my first victim. I was now the one doing the hunting, instead of the other way around. Checking back at the splits on my GPS, I managed to split a 3 min kilometer in between the 9th  and 10th kilometer. This brought me back into the lead with about 2K to go. It also brought me dangerously close to redlining again. I knew that if I died this time, I would't be making a comeback, in fact I'd probably have to establish residency up on the mountain, as I doubt I'd have the legs to ever get back down.  

Luckily this wasn't the case and I told myself over and over "2K, just 2K, you can hold on from here". My reward for a valiant effort was a rolling last few kilometers, without any major climbs. This allowed me to really tap into my track background and extend my lead all the way to the finish, which was a welcomed sight!

Finish Line

At the finish line, I was embraced by my fiancee and race volunteers. I felt surprisingly strong despite the mid-race catastrophe and was therefor pleased that I had taken up the Cheyenne Mountain challenge. I believe it served its purpose in giving me a tough challenge, some much needed trail running experience and lastly, allowed me to practice racing and tactics that as I've mentioned before, can't be duplicated in practice. 

Boulder based PowerBar Reps

I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple of the PowerBar reps who were also in town from Boulder. They hooked me up with the much desired Performance Energy Blends that I've been wanting to try for some time. They worked a charm and I'll look to get some more before Vegas or at least when I get there. 

I did a couple of interviews before embarking on a cool down as well as cheering on other finishes. The first interview being with Justin Felisko of the 'Colorado Springs Gazette' & '' and the second with Tim of 'Pikes Peak Sports'.  My body was feeling quite sore from the effort and the manner in which I had thrown myself down those hills in order to recapture the lead. I attended the award ceremony and thanked the race volunteers before jumping back in the car for the long trek north to Boulder. 

1st Place man & woman @ XTerra Cheyenne Mountain 12K

Up next is XTerra West Championships in Las Vegas on Sunday. Looking forward to another challenge and another chance to hone my trail running skills. I'll be taking this week a bit easier in order to recover and make sure I'm a bit fresher for the longer distance of 21 Kilometers. I'm certainly glad it won't be at elevation.

Cheers for reading, til next time...