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My Xterra Comeback

Team Bikeman - Race Reports

Last November I destroyed my right shoulder at ICEMAN COMETH and had reconstruction surgery in January. Recovery was slow and rehab allowed me to swim to rebuild range of motion and jog to maintain some fitness. Initially, swimming meant "doggy paddle" but slowly I regained full range. Jogging turned into running, but leaning on the bars of my bike was not something I could accomplish. Within five months I started some turbo sessions and eventually on the road - mostly on my MTB with fat tires to reduce the "bounce" on my shoulder.

Many moons ago I had raced the US Xterra triathlon circuit. With some time on the MTB, trail running, and swimming, my mind started placing a goal for the future: my Xterra comeback!

The Ionia Xterra was scheduled a couple of hours from home and I placed this on my calendar as a fitness goal as my shoulder started to get closer to the 90% range. Trail running was becoming fun; I'd started swimming with a morning masters and open water groups; and invested in a new suspension fork for my Kona Big Unit to further remove the pounding on my shoulder (previously I had been riding fully rigid). Slowly, I was gaining speed and fitness and the race was no longer a goal but a reality. I booked a local campsite and was excited for my comeback.

I had no idea what to expect. Previously I knew my fellow competitors, knew what to expect, and roughly how a race may unfold. Now I really had no idea how to place my expectations. I studied past race results and recognized only one person - a youngster who just entered the pro ranks when I "retired" was still racing, and racing quickly at that. Based on what I saw, the times splits and my progress, I set a stretch goal of overall top 5 - that's where I used to be, so why change, right? Come race day my swimming was reasonable, but power on my right side was lacking; I was running between 6:00 and 6:30 miles on singletrack trails; and my MTB was improving. Let's race.

After a really poor night's sleep at the campsite, caused by a combination of noisy neighbors and nerves, I lined up in the Elite wave (I'd written to the organizers and built my case for inclusion). As we stood on the beach it started to rain and my skinny self started to shiver. Again, the nerves emphasized my body's reaction to the chill but before I could dwell on it to much the gun signaled the start. I had picked a starting spot on the inside and interestingly the other potential FOP'ers had chosen the outside line, so while they bunched up and fought for space, I had open water. I exited the swim first but only fifteen seconds or so ahead of the oncoming pack - not what I was used to with a swimming background, but all I had post surgery. I had a slow transition and found myself in a group of three riding into the singletrack.

The woods had everything I dislike about mountain biking since my accident - wet rocks, roots and a technical track. Of my years racing Xterra, this was by far the most technical trail I'd raced, yet I knew that if I felt that way, I was sure everyone else did also. I muscled my way through the trail was dropped by one of my colleagues and I dropped the other. I rode alone for most of the singletrack until another overtook me about two or three miles from transition. My Schwalbe Racing Ralph's clung to the trail nicely giving me plenty of confidence to push my pace to a max. I entered T2 in third and was hurting after pushing the MTB leg as hard as I could.

My right quad cramped a little as I swapped shoes and the doubts started to wander through my mind. After a couple of hundred yards into the run, many more doubts and plenty of questions began to really start clogging my mind. I pushed through the bad spell and my spirits were lifted as we crossed a dam and I could see the two ahead of me. That would be the only time I would see them, but by their motions, they were laboring also. I put my head down, ignored the rapid pounding in my chest and pushed ahead.

Much like the singletrack, the run was the hardest terrain I'd raced on, it appeared harder than trips out west in my former days. The running route circumnavigated a lake and continuously trekked up and down the valleys of rivers and streams that supplied the lake. Up and down, winding through the woods, the trail rolled. After about two miles the guy I dropped at the beginning of the bike leg flew by me. In racing flats this guy was fast. My immediate reaction was to chase but I was already over my head. There I sat, in fourth until the final stretch of the race.

The final mile was on a cross county ski trail, was wide open and straight: which meant I was the rabbit for anyone behind me. Even though I'm sure that very little blood was being pumped to my brain at this point in the race, I stuck to the edge of the trail and tried to hide in the shadows and trees. I had very little left in the tank, was happy I'd met my goal when I heard noises behind me. I looked back and two were tracking me down. "Come on!!" I shouted to myself, I was ready to just drift over the line and match my goal, when these two had ruined my day. We had a quarter of a mile or so to go and now I had to shift down a gear and defend my spot. And that's what I did, as one passed me I dug in, raced with everything I had, found a place I'd never been before and lost only one spot to finish 5th. I collapsed after crossing the line. I laid there and stared at the sky trying to gain back what I had just dispensed. Race officials and paramedics were concerned - understandably given that I was an old geezer in my mid-50's mixing it up with everyone else in their twenties and one in his mid-30's. I was fine I told them, I took some iced water and poured it over my head. A volunteer gave me another and this time a sat up and drank.

So there it was, my Xterra comeback. I remembered why I quit: I can't beat the "kids" anymore, it hurts way too much. It was quite a day. I was very happy with how I had raced, and proud of how I had competed. The front pack was fast and I'd put a lot of time and effort into being there with them and now it was over. I don't have this much to give to compete, yet this little journey was a lot of fun. And now, a new chapter begins.


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