Before I fully get into this entry, I'd REALLY like to thank ALL the readers and fans out there. Being in a relatively niche sport like athletics, one truly never has an idea of the type of following they have. Furthermore, living in Boulder can often time warp your perception, as Boulder is an endurance sporting capital, where the majority of its residence will recognize, stop you on the street and congratulate you on your latest race result. That being said, I had no idea of how many people were following my racing results and reading my blog until this past weekend in Lake Las Vegas, where as you already know, I traveled for the XTERRA West Championships.
Upon arriving to the race venue this weekend, my wife: Molly and I, were immediately greeted by happy people eager to wish me luck and share how much they've enjoyed reading my entires or watching my workout videos. Molly and I were pleasantly surprised by the reception and quite honestly shocked that people wanted a picture with me. Without belaboring the point further, I'd like to thank YOU, the readers and fans out there. I look forward to meeting more of you at future races and thanks for your support both via cyber space and in person!
-Right, time for the race recap now....-
So once again Molly and I decided to make a road trip of this race. We had done the same last year and eloped at the Grand Canyon afterwards. This year we decided to recreate that magical weekend and celebrate our 1 year anniversary, so we made the drive from Boulder, Colorado to Herderson, Nevada. Other than a ton of laughs, my horrible singing and Molly falling asleep the MINUTE we switched off driving (despite saying she'd stay awake and keep me company), nothing eventful happened.
We arrived at the race venue around mid-day on Friday, checked into our home for the night and settled in. At 4PM we headed to registration and collected my bib number. There I was greeted by my friend & XTERRA President: Janet Clarke. I hadn't seen her nor super XTERRA announcer Kalei Waiwaiole since November back in Hawaii, so it was a nice to catch up with them.
Afterwards, Molly and I headed to the car, dropped off our stuff and headed out for our respective runs. I wanted to checkout out a bit of the course and see how my legs felt after so many hours in the car. The verdict.... "mehhh". My legs felt a bit sleepy/sluggish as I ran about 10K of the course. Climbing each hill felt like I was dragging furniture as my overall pace was rather slow. I didn't panic though as I often times warm up pre-workouts (and/or races) so slow, you'd think I was on a death march! In fact, it always amazes me how I can warm up for a race at something like 7:30/mile pace or slower and feel labored, yet when the gun goes off I can run sub 5 minute miles and have it feel easier!
I did a few strides after the run, posed for a few pictures and chatted with the staff. They were eager to get my opinion on the course. I told them that what I had seen seemed well marked but I'd give them my final verdict after the race. With that, Molly and I headed to our Vegas pad to prep for dinner and a low key night. Trust me, you don't know boredom till you've had to lay low the day/night before a race!
Fortunately, our Vegas pad was barely 10 minutes from the start line, which meant we didn't have to worry about waking up super early. The race was going off at 8:30AM and I wanted to be there about 1 hour beforehand, so we woke up at 6:55AM and were easily at the race venue and parked by 7:30.
Once again upon arriving, we were greeted by many fellow runners and well wishers. I spoke to a few of them in my native Spanish, including fellow racer: Jorge Mejia Torres. We'd met last year at this race and had kept in touch. I still had no idea on who I would be racing, but fortunately I felt confident in my race plan + fitness coming in. The biggest issue in my mind was on whether I had gambled correctly or not in my attempt at the Double Double. I wanted to win XTERRA Cheyenne, which I had just achieved 6 days prior. I also wanted to defend my tittle in Las Vegas, I just wasn't sure if I had trained through Cheyenne too much and gassed my legs. Earlier in the week, I had been feeling rather fatigue from the previous race + the workload leading towards these two early season races.
After warming up, I came back and had a quick chat with Molly. I was eager to have the gun go off so I could finally answer a few question of myself. I wanted to see how I would fare on the loooooong climbs (over 10% inclines) and the heat (pushing 90+ degrees). A few strides later, a pre-race briefing and we were ordered to line up.
-BOOM, Goes The CANNON!-
I found a spot on the front of the start line and immediately noticed a rather tall lad to my right. He looked fit and quite capable. I thought to myself, "Right, you might have to keep an eye out for this guy!" The cannon went off -somehow catching me off guard- and we were expunged onto the race course. Immediately three of us separated ourselves from the pack. It was myself, eventual 2nd place finisher (the tall bloke): Forrest Boughner and eventual 3rd place finisher (ALSO named ) Forrest Jarvi. So there I was, barely half a mile into the race and flanked by TWO runners named Forrest! One casually galloping the ground up with his 6 foot 5 inch frame (all legs) and the other churning his much much shorter legs rapidly to push the pace.
I was content to sit behind them and let them dictate the pace. The course consisted of 2 x 10K+ loops. I felt that the race couldn't be won in the first loop, but could certainly be lost on it -if one was reckless. Not only would the runners have to traverse long relentless climbs multiple times per loop, but we'd all have to deal with increasingly warmer and warmer temperatures. So I figured that hydration and pacing would be vital to successfully defending my tittle.
The three of us made our way towards the first mile, which would prove to be the flattest for quite sometime. It seemed that Forrest B (the taller one) had a similar game plan. He wasn't forcing the pace and if he found himself in the lead, he'd check around and slow down a bit. This of course would spurt on Forrest Jarvi (the shorter one) into the lead, which he seemed more than happy to assume and press on. So basically the first mile or so seemed like a bit of a yo-yo or cat and mouse game.
Shortly around 2 kilometers or so, I realized we had gapped Jarvi. I was a bit surprised as the pace hadn't changed much. It was also still a little too early to get excited as we were about to get into the thick of it - the climbs! Boughner and I ran stride for stride into the first significant climb. Up till this point, I had been listening to his and Jarvi's breathing and attempting to decipher as much as one can from the breathing patterns of his opponents. Once we got to the first climb, it seemed were were more or less in synch with our labored breathing. I thought that I heard him breathing SLIGHTLY harder than I was, but I wasn't 100% sure. Either way it gave me hope, that is until we crested the first climb. On the flat ground we stood a bit more upright and prepared ourselves for a quick and steep downhill before the next climb. It was on this downhill where Boughner put a bit of worry into my psyche!
He aggressively charged the downhill section using every inch of his heigh advantage and gapped me so suddenly that I momentarily checked to see if I had stopped running altogether! We went from running side by side to him opening a 4-5 second gap. "Here We Gooooo!", I thought. It was way too early in my mind, but it seemed that Boughner had thrown down the gauntlet and played his cards. Of course I worried that if we were evenly matched on the uphills and he could gallop downhill like a freight train, that I would have to step outside my comfort zone ASAP and make a choice. I tried not to panic and gradually worked on reeling him back in.
I pulled even with him at the bottom of the second big climb. Our breaths seemed equally labored and I thought, "I hope that was a bluff". We ascended the next hill side by side. I felt surprisingly good on that portion and even contemplated taking the lead, but decided against it. Instead, I braced myself for another potential kamikaze downhill effort from Daddy Long Legs. To my surprise, he didn't charge down as aggressively as he had before and I actually kept pace with him.
Once again we had a short flat section (maybe 75-100 meters) before yet ANOTHER climb. This one would be steeper than the others and with a cruel false flat before continuing even higher. Basically, you couldn't see the top from the bottom. It was also primarily single track (if you wanted the best footing). I decided to jump into the lead at that point and control how fast we went up this hill. Fearing that he might get antsy and push the hill, I decided that by leading up this climb at -what I felt was- a slow(er) pace, it would force him to run harder to get around me IF he wanted to push the pace. So upward I went at what seemed a comically slow pace. Despite that, our breathing was quite audible. It was right around the false flat that I sensed a bit of a crack in his armor. It was an ever so sliiiiiight gap, but it was a gap. I decided to keep the pace the same and not get overjoyed just yet. I didn't know anything about this guy and for all I knew, he was playing possum.
After what seemed like an eternity, I summited the brutal hill. My legs felt alright but definitely not fresh. My breathing was labored but not alarmingly so. I ran down the hill a bit more aggressively than I had up to this point in the race, but I didn't want to go mental and blow myself up either. We had a quick almost 90 degree turn at the bottom of the hill before going up ....yup, ANOTHER hill. This one wasn't quite as steep, but at that point even a speed bump had its consequences on one's tiring quads! I snuck a peak back and to my elation, noticed that I had indeed gapped Boughner. It seem too early in the race (we were somewhere around the 3 mile mark) for a gap to be forming but nevertheless, I wasn't going to squander this early gift, nor was I going to get cocky and over do it either.
I decided to stick to my pre-race plan, which was to run the first loop strong but under control and then attack the second loop to either extend my lead or if need be, go after the leaders. As it were, I continued to extend my lead for the remainder of that first loop and the race in general. I wouldn't find out my margin of victory (4 minutes 30 seconds) till at the very end, for I was running half way between SCARED and ZONED OUT. Scared because I feared an untimely cramp or bonk could do me in. I hydrated at every aid station but it didn't seem to be enough to combat the exposed terrain and its inferno type heat. Zoned out because my mind wandered here and there during the race. It carried me to the finish line and to Molly while other times it played a highlight reel of the hard training I'd done to get here, which caused me to trip and almost fall on several occasions.
I crossed the finish line 1 hour 16 minutes and a few seconds after that cannon had caught me off guard. I was filled with euphoria and relief to be done with the race and having accomplished my two early season goals. It's easy to talk the talk but walking it is something else entirely, especially at these trail races, where you never know how you'll fare vs the conditions or competition. I prepared as well as I could but also know that the year is essentially just getting started for me. I've got bigger races to come and even bigger goals to accomplish. This is merely the beginning to what I trust will be my best year yet. The time for thinking and planning ahead would come, but for now I just wanted a drink of water, bask in the victory and hug my loving and supportive wife who waiting for me at the end of the finish line chute.
The post race activities were pretty much status quo. I warmed down with and got to know 2nd placer Forrest Boughner. He was a really nice guy who's parents really hit it off with Molly. They invited us out to breakfast the following day in Flagstaff, AZ and we took them up on it. Forrest and I would go for a nice and hilly morning run the following day, where a new friendship was fostered. The awards ceremony came and went, giving me time to get to know and chat with many of the competitors. This is perhaps my favorite part of the XTERRA and Trail -in general- scene, where there isn't any ego or elitist behavior. Everyone is/was happy to complete the race and congratulatory towards their fellow competitors.
I accepted my awards, thanks Kalei, Janet, Trey Garman and the rest of the XTERRA family/crew and left the venue. With the victory and course record in hand, step one of the weekend was complete. Now it was time to turn my attention to my wife and enjoy our looming 1 year anniversary on our way towards the Grand Canyon. With that we bid "Hasta la vista, VEGAS!" and left the race venue much like last year, happy, eager to continue our road trip and just as excited -if not MORE- for the future as we were in 2013 when we eloped!
Till next time, THANKS immensely for reading...