Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MRA Multisport - XTERRA French River

"June is bustin' out all over, All over the meadow and the hill! Buds're bustin' outa bushes And the rompin' river pushes, Ev'ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill!"

With the Summer Solstice behind me I tapped into this energy and momentum took me to the next level.  I signed up for a weekend of racing at the XTERRA French River in Oxford, MA hosted by none other than MRA Multisport! XTERRA racing takes the same format of the classic mainstream triathlons - Swim, Bike and Run but takes it off road. Off road racing offers a multitude of alternative racing opportunities, taking your favorite outdoor activities and putting those skills to the test.

Many multisport events change the order of the events and offer kayaking in place of swimming. Multisport distances can vary greatly, along with the terrain and all the technical disciplines imagined. Generally speaking, multisport is the gateway to Adventure Racing which requires solid endurance, strength and technique across multiple disciplines.

Off road racing challenges your body at every moment adding elements of intense variability, demanding constant change along every twist and turn in the trail. Variable environmental conditions, loose rock and gravel, rolling sets of short, sometimes steep hills, lightning quick burmed up and banked turns, river crossings, mud crossings and best of all, its catered to you layer by layer, a game plan that the organizer carefully and methodically designed unfolds in front of you.

Race Director Alex Rogozenski of MRA Multisport!
Northeast Race Photo

Alex providing necessary race instructions to the field of  57 competitors.
Northeast Race Photo

The Sprint course was held on Saturday offering several choice divisions decided by which opening leg you prefer; swim, run, or paddle. I figured I would save myself the pain and suffering of another swim and of course, joined the paddling division. Starting with a 1 mile paddle, 8 mile mountain bike and 3.5 mile trail run. This is a great introductory distance into the world of off road racing and yet still features a challenging course that will leave you breathless, gasping for more!  Here are the XTERRA French River Sprint results.

Tom Lamont , (red) Wilderness Systems Tempest, battling for position against his nearest rival!
Northeast Race Photo

Kate Egnaczak killing it out there on her racing SUP!
Northeast Race Photo

Scott Samuel paddling his very sleek and fast Perception Shadow 16.5
Northeast Race Photo

Just hanging around after the sprint event with race buddy Scott washing off the dirt, dust and sweat from the day.  I finally met Ben Kimball the photographer behind the camera from Northeast Photo who  just so happens to be quite the trail running extraordinaire.  He recently authored a book about "Trail Running Western Massachusetts."  There I was telling him about Seven Sisters Trail Race, blah blah blah and this is the guy that knows every square inch of that tract of land not too mention every other hidden gem in Western MA just waiting to be tracked!

Taking the Fenn Millennium out for a "spin" in the opening leg of the XTERRA Sprint on Saturday.

On Sunday, the long course featured a 12 mile mountain bike and 5.5 mile trail run.  I was nervous about getting on the starting line with a 1/2 mile swim ahead of me and judging by the difficulty on Lake Singletary the swim leg was not in my favor. A simple change in format from kayak to swim  as the first leg completely changes the entire strategy for executing a good race plan. The difficulty of an XTERRA off road triathlon is typically about the same effort as an Olympic Triathlon distance.

I just love the feeling of getting all nervous before a race, a good exercise in focus to remain calm, cool and collected. I was absolutely stone faced before the race began with typical race day nerves and jitters.... We were all shivering in 55 degrees, with wind and rain using up valuable energy just staying warm. Everyone showed up in extremely challenging conditions and some were dressed in very fashionable warm-up suits; the poncho!  Soon the race would begin and with fires burning bright its easy to forget about the cold crisp air, whipping winds and driving rain, focused on that one primary goal we all shared....the finish line!

Prime example of the XTERRA competition swimming strong!
Northeast Race Photo

The Low Hanging Fruit

I had originally planned to bounce much earlier and head home but being part procrastinator and socialite paid huge dividends. I happened onto the opportunity to attend  mini-clinic from XTERRA Ambassador Ken Robins. The clinic was offered Saturday afternoon during early registration for Sunday's main event. He focused much of the discussion on preparation, transition and nutrition but it was his novice friendly swimming suggestions I capitalized the most. Here are some of the pro tips and techniques.

XTERRA Ambassador Ken Robins Mini-Clinic
Photo by Alex Rogozenski
1.  Back of the pack. Do not start in the front of the pack. Start closer to the back  and ease into the first 100m of the swim.  Do not go out too fast. Slow things down on purpose. Starting close to the front of the pack is disadvantageous as faster swimmers approach they converge on your path. Bumping and grabbing gets really uncomfortable and can affect your rhythm, especially at changes in direction around buoys.

2.  Draft.  Find someone swimming at a similar pace you can  comfortably maintain. Get behind reach out and when you can just barely tickle their feet you know your on draft.  Back off a hair and hang on for the ride.  Using goggles you can keep your head sufficiently streamlined in the water and stay on the intended line working the draft. Even better if you find someone kicking, splashing with their feet.  The air bubbles will give you extra buoyancy and literally lift you out of the water.

3. Picking your head up.  Lifting your head lowers your torso and legs, increasing drag and loosing forward momentum.  This requires more energy to get moving again.  Trust your instincts and if your on a proper draft, generally the person in front of you knows where they are going. Follow the leader.

Ken working with Scott on the preferred water bottle hand grab
4.  Interval strokes. I chose primarily breaststroke accompanied by freestyle. In reality, any stroke will work as long as you go with comfort, can travel straight and keep the body streamlined.  During the freestyle stroke, Ken recommended keeping the feet just under the surface of the water and flutter kicking, nice and light nothing more than that to save the legs for the bike and run. 

5. Air stroking with Ken. Something about... reaching over the barrel, straight forward across the surface of the water and pointing in the direction of travel, Something about... cupping loose hands to work on a good catch and pull, Something about....driving  the forearm vertical but not the entire arm.  Something about...taking the arms out at the hips and repeat on the other side. Something about... adding body rotation and creating a pocket of air to breathe without picking up the head. Ken recommended practice, practice, practice and join a swim club/team. Perhaps I could entertain him and trade paddling for swim instruction!

Swimmers hitting the water with speed....
Northeast Race Photo
Explosive Competition!
Northeast Race Photo

Swimmers immediately go into transition mode coming out of the water

The results do not lie. In comparison to the 2:24 per 100m survival mode pace at the Summer Solstice a week earlier. At XTERRA French River the pace astronomically improved to 1:49 per 100m for a  14:30 time. One clinic, pro advice a dramatic improvement of 35 seconds per 100m taking 4+ minutes off my projected 1/2 mile swim. Putting these instructions into action setup the rest of my race that followed having filled my basket with the freshest fruits of the season....Thanks Ken!

Members of MRA Multisport have access to a beautiful beach and stretch of water at Marion's Camp on Lake Singletary in Sutton MA. There are multiple opportunities for group sessions and workouts in order to perfect your form and build confidence in the swim. I need take advantage and join some of these workouts.

During the mountain bike segment competitors would be tossed and turned, over and over by a slick, loose course through huge puddles with no knowledge of what roots and rocks lay submerged. You had to let it loose, lay it on the line, a true gamble at times.  This course literally ate me up and spit me out, eating dirt more than several times. Wiping out knee into the gravel and face first into monster puddles, I was getting beaten up pretty bad on course. I paid a price for attempting a pass at the wrong time and heading into a fairly tight, off camber and rolling, root strewn path. Speeding right along, I skidded, clipping my handle bars onto a tree and getting end-over, twist somersaulted.  So much for making that pass and having to work twice as hard to catch up. I wonder if there are extra credit points in the freestyle of XTERRA? Going off road unto itself is about getting thrown down and repeatedly, getting back up to claim some more dirt!

Whipping around the 'Wet and Wild' trail system at Hodges Dam in Oxford, MA

This weekend is prime example of how fast conditions change.  Over 2" of rainfall, cool temperatures and wind all on a flooded out, sloppy course did not stop anyone. Across the entire field of competitors, posted times were clearly slower than the previous year on the same course. Wet and sloppy conditions can added significant time on course and I was approximately 7 minutes slower than my previous days riding pace.

The trail run lived up to the hype of an XTERRA.  It had a good mix of single track and jeep roads including some surprises like a river crossing 1 mile into the race to "wash off" the body and then a mud flat 1 mile from the finish to layer it all back on! An additional 2 mile route added onto the previous days sprint course containing stout elevation gains that slowed down the pace and sent the heart rate soaring.  The downhills were equally intense, loose and slick, racers would have trouble gaining traction and must remain focused at finding both speed and sure footing. Holding back on the previous days trail run allowed me to keep the pace up and best my projected goal.

Charging across the river!

Embattled competition at the river crossing!
Northeast Race Photo

Brad Waterson getting his groove on DirtTV!
Northeast Race Photo

Off road racing brings you up close and personal with nature's obstacle course  just like stumbling across the most random river crossing. You never know what your going to get,  its the tapas of culinary delights.You thought I was going to say "box of chocolates didn't you! You will never get bored going off road with each and every twist and turn offering up a delicate balance of sustained and interval efforts.

I crossed the finish line in typical Trahan fashion all jazzed up, adrenaline rush that built up slowly, to stratospheric levels, just exploding into the finish.  I finished 13th of 57 with a time of 2:15:015 and 2nd in age group at my first off road XTERRA. In comparison, the top finisher in the 35-39 age group was a time 2:05:35 so I have some room to grow. Not too mention an impressive performance by Steve Croucher from Vermont 1st place overall in 1:54:27 whom is competing for nationally and eyes set on the World Championships in Hawaii.

Big shout-out to Alex Rogozenski at MRA Multisport and his awesome staff putting on the best event weekend EVA in Central MA!  The energy and excitement is very addicting.  Here are the XTERRA FRENCH RIVER long course results.

Checkout this fantastic video edit of the XTERRA French River from Thom Parsons of DirtwireTV. It speaks for itself just ignore everything the dude at the beginning and end has to say!  Okay but I will say it.  Every competitor on course that day had such outstanding character to grin and bear the conditions and finish this race.

Taking the river crossing in stride!
Photo by Ben Kimball
Culminating an epic month on the "Tour O' Trahan" ending in an incredible weekend of racing at the XTERRA French River in Oxford MA. Absolute 100% heart pounding action in the grit and grime with some outstanding results in the books. Throughout this one month stretch I have been surrounded by awesome friends, sharing new experiences with incredible competition from one event to the next.

I could not resist, adding another race to the schedule and pulled the trigger signing up for XTERRA Skyhigh on Saturday July 18, 2015 in Grafton Lakes State Park in New York. Another week of preparations!

Proud 'dirtbag' American!
Photo by Alex Rogozenski
Apparently the attempt to slow things down and come back to earth was abruptly halted by an impulsive decision to continue racing.  My current plan is to place the intensity on the back burner when I make travels to visit the family in Sweden. Well earned time to let the body heal, rest and recover...

I have exceeded personal expectations this season and certainly not possible without the encouragement and understanding of my lovely wife Astrid. I look forward to introducing that 'peaches in the pie' daughter of ours to the many active, outdoor pursuits we share with so many wonderful people.

Looking forward to some fun and festivities at events this Fall.....
Josh Billings Runaground in Great Barrington, MA Sept 20
Greenway Challenge in Blackstone Valley September 26
Great River Challenge at Northfield Mountain Recreation Area, October 4
Tully Lake Triathlon in Royalston, MA Oct 18

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder