If at first you don’t succeed, try 14 more times
Things don’t always go as planned in a race or in life for that matter. They rarely do. We rehearse these images in our minds, we dream how things might turn out. It fuels us through our workouts and gives us motivation to overcome adversity and to persevere. Sunday’s XTERRA World Championship was a dream come true. It was by no means a perfect race, but an XTERRA is hard to script, especially on the Maui course. I crashed twice on the bike. I bent my rear derailleur and couldn’t use some gears. I slipped jumping over a tree branch on the run, took a full body shot and broke my Optic Nerve sunglasses in half. But running the last half mile barefoot on the beach, running the finish chute with the American flag and my kids alongside, and embracing my wife at the finish line were images I have ran over in my mind a hundred times. Those are the dream images that fueled me for years.
Some people ask, how long does it take to train for an XTERRA? Or, how long have you been training for this? I like to answer that question with “I have been training for this day my whole life.” It fascinates me the sequence of life experiences that lead to different accomplishments. Most athletes understand that there are many factors, circumstances, and opportunities and raw talent only gets you so far. There are many talented, hard working people that might not have had the same opportunities. It’s easy to say that I work harder or train smarter, but I know there are many other smart, hard working athletes out there. I am so thankful for the help I have had along the way, the life experiences and circumstances I have had, and the traits that have contributed to my success.
I could go all the way back to the beginning, but I’ll spare you the details. The short version is that I wasn’t always the leader of the pack and I have always been a late bloomer. I ran cross country and track in college but I was never on an athletic scholarship. The first XTERRA I did was the Mountain Championship in Keystone in 2000 and the next year I improved by 45 minutes. Keystone would be the first championship race I would win in 2004 and that fall I finished a surprising 3rd at the World Championship. It wasn’t until then that I started to have this dream of ultimately winning the XTERRA World Championship. I had no idea it would take me 15 tries. There have been many flat tires, injuries, 5 knee surgeries, small successes and failures. But less dramatic was the consistent, persistent drive to achieve short term goals.
“Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of it”–Arianna Huffington
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.” –Michael Jordan
I knew I was fit going into this race and I believe in the process. The numbers on the CompuTrainer at Dogma Athletica don’t lie. I was putting out more power, I was leaner, I was running better, and swimming faster than ever before. I had a great final block of training with the big things and even the little things. More importantly I felt confident in my ability to race full tilt from start to finish. I was able to take some chances with effort in some of the stand alone mountain bike races this season and I learned a lot from the tough XTERRA battles with Braden Currie, Francisco Serrano, and Rom Akerson. I learned the most from the races I didn’t win. The block periodization model that my brother Yaro and I have been following and tweaking for the past 4 years has worked well with my family and life situation, allowed me to get greater stimulus without crazy training hours, prevented overtraining, and allowed for multiple peak performances in a calendar year. At 37, it has been amazing to continue to see progress in all three disciplines and I feel like there is still room to improve.
In the days and weeks before the race I was feeling such an outpouring of support. I heard from childhood friends and college friends from Michigan. I felt encouragement from the Vail Valley from friends and neighbors. I was messaged from fellow athletes all over the world, and from the XTERRA crew that I have known for many years. Past champions Nico, Conrad, Michael, Leslie, and Flora were telling me I could do it. It was as if a critical mass of support had finally reached high enough level that I too truly believed I would win. The day before the race my 10 year old son Porter said “Dad, if you don’t win you are really going to let everyone down.” We got a chuckle out of that comment, but I try to view the support in a positive way. I didn’t view it as a weight on my shoulders, but more as positive energy and validation of my progress in the sport.
Ocean conditions on race day were calm by D.T. Fleming Beach standards. I had a good start and kept the intensity high to the first buoy. At the turn I noticed Ruben Ruzafa pass on my right, which was convenient, since I only breathe to my right. I put in another effort to get on his feet. It was challenging to stay there, but I had lots of practice thanks to Ric Fields always leading our masters swim lane. I also heard Brad Zoller’s voice saying “touch his toes.” After the short beach run, I was motivated to see if I could open up a gap on the back half of the swim. I tried swimming wide but couldn’t open up any sort of gap and we exited together. It was funny because we ran so hard up to transition both of us trying to gain a mental advantage, and I had the second fastest T1 of the day.
Early in the bike we continued to jockey for position, trading positions several times as we rode up through most of the field. Around mile 4 there was a big water hole and I actually slowed and moved off the trail so I could follow Ruben’s line through the mud and water. I jumped back on his wheel and was content to let him set the pace up the long climb to Razor’s Ridge, but then I slipped out on a wet, off-camber corner as we went into the climb. It was a small crash, but enough to lose a valuable 15-20 seconds. I kept Ruben in sight, but we were getting into the top 5, passing Braden Currie and then Francisco Serrano. As we approached the first aid station I took another spill along a fence line, which I heard later also took out many other competitors. Serrano passed me back and later I would find out that I had bent my rear derailleur. The rest of the race I would have trouble shifting and was never able to get into my highest gear for the long flats and downhills left on the course. With 6 miles to go I was hovering around 40 seconds back, but the last section of the course favored Ruben heavily with very twisty-turny singletrack. Frustratingly I lost another minute and arrived in the second transition 1 minute 45 seconds behind Ruben. Nothing went wrong for me in that last section, but it is more a testament to Ruben’s riding ability as an Olympic mountain biker. I was very happy with the performance of my Felt Edict FRD on this course with my ENVE wheels. I have been racing and training with this set up exclusively the entire season.
The heat/humidity of the Maui course requires some specific nutrition demands. I stuck with my standby steel cut oats 3 hours before the start and sipped on a bottle of First Endurance EFS Pro in the 2 hours before the race. About 20 minutes before the start I took in about 100 calories of the EFS Liquid Shot. Most of the XTERRA races I have done this year were about 30 minutes shorter and lacked the humidity so mistakes with nutrition were not as costly. Most of my heat adaptation was done before I even arrived to Maui with a specific heat adaptation protocol with a steam room or sauna. I also did three additional sauna sessions in Maui to make sure my blood plasma was as high as possible. Both hydration and calories were very important in this race but I was careful not to mix the EFS Pro drink mix too strong. I mixed the recommended 3 scoops per water bottle which added up to 120 calories and 500mg sodium per bottle. I was able to get 2 bottle hand-offs in the race, one at mile 6 and the other at mile 13 (thank you Chris and Adam). On the run I left transition with a frozen flask of EFS in each hand (80 calories each) and a leg of pantyhose filled with ice cubes around my neck.
I thought it would take everything I had to make back that time on the run and Ruben usually climbs uphill very well on the run. I charged the first couple miles and was making back more than 30 seconds per mile. Adam Wirth was everywhere on the course giving me splits, encouragement, and insults. When I caught Ruben about mile 3, he was in a world of hurt. I had never seen him struggle like that and I put in another big effort to make sure I was out of sight. I hadn’t rehearsed this scenario and I expected to have some ground to make up on the downhill. It was a challenge to stay focused with nobody to chase and about mile 4 I had a big wake up call. I planted my foot to jump a waist high branch and slipped. I took it with all of my body and next thing I knew I was lying on my back, my Optic Nerve sunglasses broken in half, “Protect your eyes, risk everything else.” . At that point I realized the race was not over and I needed to push hard to the finish. With half a mile to go I popped out on to the beach for the homestretch. With nobody in the rearview I decided to take my shoes off and run in the sand and water barefoot. There was no particular reason for it, it was just part of that dream I had been having. That’s when all of the emotion hit me. It was finally going to happen.
My wife Ingrid and I have been visiting Hawaii for the past 15 years. This place means so much to us and XTERRA has been such a big part of our lives for so long. In 2004 our son Sullivan was born and after 7 months of sleepless nights we made the journey to Maui and I had a breakthrough 3rd place finish. When Porter was born the following year we made the journey with two lap children with Porter only 3 weeks old. The day after traveling I spent in bed with my back out and then proceeded to ride a borrowed bike that was way too small for me. In 2010 our daughter Larsen was born and we started to alternate years with and without the kids. 2015 was a year with the whole family and it meant so much to have them all there. Every trip has been amazing and I don’t perceive any of my other performances as failures. I’ve finished 2nd on two occasions, 3rd once, and 4th twice. Three times I’ve had multiple flats but still finished. In 2006 I shattered my kneecap and had it screwed and wired together in June and raced to 4th place in Maui with no run training. In 2010 I flatted, rode back into second, flatted again and again and again and carried my bike in pieces to T2. I suffered through 2 years of a debilitating IT band injury and finallly had surgery (actually 2 surgeries) and didn’t know if I could continue this pursuit. My family has given me amazing perspective and never have I pouted about a poor performance since I have so much to be thankful for. I did not know this was the ultimate goal when I started out, nor did I realize it would take this long. To Ingrid I would sometimes say, “I just want to be the best at something.” On November 1st, 2015 I was.
ESPN Sports Center mention here: IMG_6045