Panther Creek is a beautiful place to camp and spend the weekend, so of course we took full advantage of a short vacation opportunity. We arrived later Friday night, not just Kim, Lucy and I, but my mother decided to come along for the race weekend shenanigans. My camper is not the largest but it was plenty of room for us to all hang out for the weekend.
Saturday before the race Kim decided to do the 4.2 mile trail race and got 2nd in her age group! She set the stage high for me to also do well the following day in the triathlon. During her race I got a nice casual ride in with none other than the Xterra Panther Creek winner, Marcus Barton. We took our time cruising around the trails, checking out lines, and also playing lots with our new Suunto Spartan watches. After all of the riding and resting, we closed off Saturday with a pre-race dinner with lots of friends who came in town for the race.
Panther Creek is one of the shortest courses in the southeast which also makes it a very competitive one. I went into this race knowing that I was going to have to put down the hammer on the bike and run to make up the distance that is put on me in the water. I came out of the water stripping off my speed suit as fast as I could and grabbing my bike to get on my way.
I ended up hitting a decent amount of traffic throughout the woods, and somehow it always tended to be right where the trail would get the narrowest. It seemed like luck was not on my side this time. After the first ¼ mile I saw Alex at the first trail intersection who told me that the leaders were 10 minutes ahead of me. I was astonished that my swim was so slow and how on earth they could have gotten that far ahead (they hadn’t but how was I supposed to know). After blowing out a tire last year and riding 2 miles directly on my wheel, I was a little timid to give the bike everything that I had. Once I was coming down the last mile of the bike section I saw Alex again who exclaimed “they are smoking you”. Little did I know that I had made it up to 5th place overall at that point and less than a minute back from both 4th and 3rd.
Coming into transition, I saw very little bikes which let me know that I was in a decent overall place. I slipped my shoes on, grabbed my pile of running items and got out on the trail as fast as I could.
Due to my being timid on the bike, I had a lot more energy than expected left over for the run. I was flying through the trees taking turns as tight as I could. Once I got to the bike / run split the trail opened up to double track and I could see far far away the 4th place runner. I put on the heat and tried to close the gap. Half way down the stretch I saw him look back at me so I begin to wave with a big grin on my face (I thought it was Marcus at first). After another minute or so I finally got close enough to see that it was Yaro Middaugh. I passed him just at the lollipop loop where we cross the wooden bridge and start to climb. Once we finally got to the top of the climb I looked back to see that he was staying with me within a few seconds. On way back down I could see another runner (Darren Cox) through the trees. I got another breath of wind and pushed to catch him. After passing Darren we entered back into the soccer field area where I could see Ali all the way at the end about to turn and head up the steep, open to the sun, hill. I rounded the corner for the hill, looked back to see Yaro and Darren not too far behind, and gave it my all to get up it. When I had finally made it to the top, Darren and Yaro were nowhere in sight behind me so my sights set on catching Ali. The rest of the run I could see him the entire time and kept pushing harder and harder to catch him. We entered back onto the paved road within 25 yards of each other. I tried my hardest to catch him but he was also trying his hardest to keep me off. I didn’t end up catching him (lost by 6 seconds) but I sure did make him work to keep me off. I have to say that that was one of the most fun runs in an Xterra I have ever had.
I crossed the finish line in 3rd place over all just 6 seconds behind second. After crossing I dropped my number belt, hand bottle, and kept running until I dove straight into the lake. This turned out to be one of the most fun Xterra’s I have ever done and reminded me why I love doing them so much. Too bad that we now have such a long off season.
What I learned: Going into a race timid due to previous accidents is only going to slow you down. Ride like your in last trying to catch first and run like your being chased by a bear. It sure will make your overall time faster!