Xterra 2004: Wailea, Maui

Three times I've done this race, calling it "my Kona". I figured I would never get into the Ironman World Championships at Kailua-Kona, the ultimate Mecca in our sport. The Xterra, a competing franchise, offered an easier opportunity. Ostensibly, one can only get in by winning one's age group in a key regional or national race. And, like Kona, they have a lottery. But unlike Kona, entering the "lottery" for Xterra is basically a ticket to the race, at least in my age group. So I go, and test myself against the course and heat and humidity. In my previous three attempts, I had not competed successfully.  I still had some issues with this race I needed to work out.

 Xterra prides itself on a few things. Their courses are tough, they put on a good show, and they want to build a family. On Maui, in October, 8 days after the Kona race, they have their annual party. This is a triathlon, so it starts in the water. But it is in Hawaii, and it is a World Championship, so we get an island blessing, with helicopters overhead, and cameramen roaming the shore before the beach start. We swim two loops of a triangular course in the little bay off the Outrigger resort. This is a very calm location. The island itself protects us from the trades. Maui sits amongst several other islands, almost like an archipelago, and so any swells are dampened. And the morning start keeps the on shore winds to a minimum. Two loops means we get out after 750 meters and run along the beach for about 50 yards, then plunge back in.  And Hawaii means a wet suit free swim in clear 80F water. The salt does buoy one up a bit.

 Then, we have to run more than half a mile up hill to the transition site. The bike course heads immediately into the Mauian outback, which is a cattle ranch. Jeep trails traverse this country, and while not narrow, they are also not improved. Jutting lava rocks, nasty kiawe thorns, choking dust and searing heat all afflict the combatants. My first year here, on the first real downhill, I blew out an inner tube, and lost 15 minutes changing it. Then, at the bottom of the hill, I found they started the run on several beaches - tourists sunning themselves, soft sand giving no footing whatsoever. I started walking, and got instantly hotter. I gave up. I did finish, but I walked part way (this is only an 11K run), and felt that the course beat me.

 The next year, I put in "slime" tubes (self-sealing) and Mr. Tuffys (kevlar strips between the tire and tube), and finished the bike without incident. I still walked, even more than the previous year, but for some reason ended up with a third place. That was cool, getting a medal at the final ceremony, but I still felt like the course beat me. The following year, I convinced Cheryl to come with me, and treated it as a vacation. I had my slowest time ever, and wondered why bother, what with the expense of the travel, the time involved, the agony of the environment. Nonetheless, I signed up for the race again 3 months later. I still had those issues. Specifically, I wondered if I could bike downhill without being terrified, and if I could run the whole way. The two seemed to be linked. My main method of dealing with downhill terror involved gripping the handlebars tightly, going as slow as I can without falling over, and riding out of the saddle, using my legs as shock absorbers. I might as well be running AND biking for twenty miles just prior to starting the real run in 90 degree heat with island humidity.

 So I changed two things the next fall. First, I bought a new mountain bike with a rear shock absorber and disc brakes. This combination gave me a bit more confidence, and more important let me go downhill more safely at a higher speed. Second, I took that two week trip to Kona just before the race, acclimating my body to the higher temps and humidity, convincing my sweat glands to be a bit more parsimonious with losing salt and water, and making me feel generally more comfortable with the heat. I finally decided that the temperature DIDN'T MATTER. I would just run all the way, as slow as I needed to to keep going.

The course got changed in several ways which ended up helping me. First, the run was split into two sections, the first going up hill from the swim to the bikes, and the second starting up in the hills a bit. This meant that the run was preceded by a bit of a flat section, to ease the transition from downhill agony to ambulatory hell. Second, because of the new location of the start, the beach sections were cut. All this also boosted my confidence. Now we'll just have to see how those practice runs on the Big Island did at building my legs.

On to the Race!  Triathlon Diary  bikrutz home