June 8th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors
By Roxane Kippen, Team OAM Now Triathlete
When forward progress on a bicycle is stopped by anything other than the brakes, it is likely that things won’t end well. Mountain biking presents endless possibilities for halting forward movement on a bike such as rocks, roots and, of course, trees. Wet roots and ultimately a tree, came into play for me at the USA Triathlon Offroad National Championships in Pelham, Alabama on May 16.
I had committed to racing the USAT Offroad Nationals back in November. This race was also the XTERRA Southeast Regional Championships, which was a qualifier for the XTERRA World Championships, and one I’d been wanted to do for years. The day after Iceman, I went out for my first run in over a month. It was a slow two miles, but it was a beginning. From there, I sat down to map out my training plan that would prepare me over the next 6.5 months for my longest race in 3 years. I have been racing offroad triathlon (swim, mountain bike, trail run) consistently for the last 9 years, but have only done a handful of championship distance (1500 meter swim, 30K mountain bike, 10K trail run) in that time. Preparation would require a bit more time and planning than recent years.
Michigan winters add a level of complexity to a training plan as weather can be very unpredictable and quality riding and running can be difficult to come by for long stretches of time. However, swim training is never impacted by weather, unless the school is closed for a snow day. Therefore, swimming became my focus for the “off season” and I planned 3 days per week in the pool, working up to an average of 7500 yards per week. I also spent 8 weeks attending the Athletic Mentors Swim Class to help improve my stroke and efficiency in the water.
I did not spend much time on the bike over the winter, but I did try to attend one spin class per week for intensity and did one “long” ride outside on the weekend when weather permitted. When spring finally arrived and the trails dried out, I had to cram in some 2.5 hour rides on single track to replicate my race conditions. Last fall, I acquired a new Giant Anthem Advanced 27.5 and still needed to get acquainted with the full suspension and smaller wheel base. By the time I left for Alabama, I was feeling confident on the new bike and ready to ride aggressively.
For a while, the run training was going really well, then work/real life, started placing demands on my time and energy levels. Such is the life of an amateur. That being said, I was able to maintain one or two runs per week and I raced a 5K every month from March – May to test my progress. I was happy with my speed heading into my “A” race. Throw in a couple of weeks of brick training, and I was ready to go.
The venue for the championship was Oak Mountain State Park, which boasts some of the coolest mountain bike trails in the nation and one of the IMBA’s EPIC rides. I had the opportunity to pre-ride the course two days prior to the race to get a feel for the terrain and test out the bike on the technical trails. I felt pretty good about being able to race the course with confidence, but was a bit concerned about how tight and technical (roots and turns) the trail was for the first 5 – 6 miles, when the field is scrambling for position after the swim with limited passing room.
Race morning was peaceful and there had been some rain overnight that left the trails damp and roots wet and slippery. The water temp was 78.something, which was too warm for wet suits to be allowed. There were 3 swim waves separated by 2 minutes each with the pro field starting first, followed by men under 50 and then women and men 50+. I would have preferred a mass start of the 230 amateurs because I felt I could have been out of the water ahead of some of the under 50 men and had a few less bodies to deal with on the trails. The swim course was about 200 meters long based on fellow racers GPS watches and swim times, but I felt like I had a great swim. The swim was a two lap swim with a run along the shore in between. The entire second lap I had someone drafting me as I frequently felt my toes being touched. I will take that as a compliment that my pace and sighting were acceptable.
My swim time landed me dead center of the pack for the women, but my T1 (transition from swim to bike) time was 5th overall for the women. I was the 3rd person in my age group out on the bike. I had a good shot at finishing 3rd with the strength of my bike and run. However, I lost that shot about 3 miles into the bike course. The first mile required much patience as a slower rider was blocking the trail and there weren’t many safe places to pass. After getting around a few riders, a line of us were slowed up again, but quickly made our way around another female rider. It was just after this pass, that I put the hammer down, but found myself headed sideways at a tree. Rather than take the blow with my shoulder, I straightened the wheel and rode straight into it. My front wheel twisted 90 degrees and was now parallel with my handlebars. As I hit the tree, the back of my bike flew up and the guy on my tail rear-ended me and sent me to the ground. I tweaked my back a little, but no major damage. I took out my multi-tool, straightened my wheel, and assured other fellow racing friends that were now beginning to fly by that I was OK.
Hopping back on the trail after countless riders had passed, I found that the front end of my bike was rattling. I stopped and grabbed the wheel and tried to shake it, fearing the hub was toast after the impact, but the wheel didn’t move. So, I got back on the bike and tried to ride. The rattling and instability ensued, so I stopped a third time to check again. This time I grabbed the fork and was able to move it back and forth. NOT GOOD. I didn’t know what was wrong and knew the trail was too technical to go into it with a compromise fork. At the first park road, I exited the trail and road a couple of miles back to the start. The local bike shop was on site and I had the mechanic check things out. Apparently, I had hit the tree hard enough to knock my headset loose, which explained the rattle. Everything else checked out ok, so fortunately no costly repairs to my bike either.
At this point, I didn’t know how to feel. I was mad because I crashed; I was happy because I wasn’t hurt; I was sad that I put in all that training to not even finish and I felt relieved that I didn’t have to ride blood rock. I still had a lot of friends in the race so I offered to volunteer and spent the rest of the day passing out water in transition and directing traffic across the run course. That whole lemons and lemonade thing, I guess.
I definitely want to come back to this event next year as the venue and racing atmosphere were top notch. XTERRA knows how to support a race with a fantastic crew and the southern hospitality and warmth of Alabama can’t be beat. This year wasn’t my year, but I survived to race another day and had the opportunity to celebrate the podium finishes of many of my XTERRA friends.
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