I came to Maui with high hopes that this might be the race where I finally hit one out of the park! With a month of solid swimming under my belt, promising run workouts, and incredible strength on the bike, there was no reason to why I shouldn’t see some massive improvements from my race at the Pan American Championships. That said, the field was stacked, being considered the most competitive fields ever in both the men’s and women’s races. On the men’s side, there would be five returning champions! Maybe it was brash to think that I could contend with such a high caliber field with minimal preparations, but I truly believe that this attitude will pay off one day. With such amazing athletes, specific training for off-road triathlon will be absolutely necessary.
The course conditions were prime for an amazing bike in the week prior to the race. The trails were bone dry and dusty, just the way this California boy likes them! Preriding the course had me grinning from ear to ear, with fun twisty descents that were oh so shreddable, if you caught the flow right, but one tiny mistake could easily find your handle bars catching one of the many trees in the thicket that shrouded the course. Everything changed race morning when the skies opened up and the shores of Kapalua were doused in a considerable number of showers. As I stood shivering on the shore awaiting the start of the swim, I prayed that the unforeseen rain would make the trails nice and tacky rather than muddy. But I would have to get through the swim before I would find out!
Xterra races like to start things out with a bang, literally! As the cannon erupts, you immediately find yourself sprinting down the shore into the salty Hawaiian waters. There’s no point in trying to sight in the first hundred meters of the swim, all you can see is the white water churned up by the ferocious kick of your competitors. The swim was a matter of loss management. Hold onto the feet of the person in front of you until you lose them and then try to catch the next one’s in front of you. Coming out of the water, is a world of confusion. Your heart races fast as your body adapts to being vertical and sprinting up the beach to transition, your mind races faster, wondering “how far back am I!?” I heard someone yell 6 minutes, as I came into transition, not so sure if that was accurate or not…six minutes might be doable though! I’m stoked! As I powered my way by other riders in the first climb of the bike course, my heart was beating out of my chest, but I knew some recovery was near as soon as I hit the first single track downhill. My hopes about the tacky dirt were immediately dashed as my minimalist tires collected mud and I found myself slipping and sliding around every corner, barely able to keep my bike upright! First lesson learned; those are the wrong tires! I had used the same tires for most my racing this year, but this course was far different in condition than any other races I have done. Nonetheless, I powered on hoping that everyone would be equally impacted and that the developing sunshine might dry out this sloppy course. I continued to pass competitors until I sensed something terrible was happening. It’s a feeling that every cyclist knows, it’s that slight bob with every pedal stroke, followed by the moment where you look down and see your squishy tire quickly turning to mush! I decided prior to the race that I wasn’t going to play it safe; I was going to bank on not getting a flat, and here I was with my rear tire squirming around, devastated that my race was probably over. I nursed it along as I asked every spectator if they had a tube and CO2. Finally, someone did! I fixed the flat, trying to stay calm as all the competitors I had worked so hard to pass came by as I struggled with my muddy tire. I jumped back on and hit the throttle. I was thrilled to find that my tire was holding air and the trails seemed to be drying up a bit. I rolled through the second lap as hard as I could, re-passing all the same riders that were now seeing me for the third time.
As I sprinted out of T2, I knew that the race was well away from me…so there was no reason to hold back, I might as well lay it all out on the course. I was surprised at the rate which I collected much of the elite field, the attrition of the difficult bike was obvious. It felt great to be on my own two feet, no mechanical equipment to consider, just me, the trail, and the suffering; this felt like a fair fight now! I crossed the finish line knowing the race had not gone the way I hoped, but the relief from another hard-fought effort was sweet. This hasn’t been a season where the stars aligned, and all my dreams came true. It’s been a season of resilience, where I’ve made the decision to destroy myself in the insurmountable pursuit of my competitors in the face of adversity. I leave this season behind, unsatisfied and hungry, but also with a strength of spirit, and confidence in my ability to never give up. Next season will be one of developing more attentiveness to details that will allow me to finally be the one breaking the tape! Thank you to all of you, my hometown supporters! Your support seriously means the world to me!!! I’m so proud of Big Bear and will waive that flag proudly!