“We could win one of these one day, train more train consistent and we could be as fast as these guys.”
Bill Driegert May 14, 2005 after completing our first Xterra race in Ruston La.
My first triathlon was on May 1, 2005 it was a sprint distance that set the tone for my love of racing. It was a road triathlon and the only thing I owned was a pair of goggles and running shoes. I borrowed Bill’s Litespeed Ultimate which was made for a man exceeding six feet in height. I am a short 5″8″ and with a seat post that was lowered to the top tube I won my age group division in a race that had over 500 participants.
My only bike riding to that point was a handful of off road rides with Bill, I called Bill once I saw the results and told him what a blast it was he told me there was a race in Louisiana he was looking into, it was a triathlon but it was all off road, they called it Xterra. After our first race in Ruston Louisiana we have been back every year since.
This season thus far has been one of my best. I have raced six Xterra races this season and have one more race before the season is over. What keeps me coming back to Xterra racing is the learning curve even after six years of competing I am still learning something new every race.
My next race after Xterra Red River was a Championship race in Waco Texas. Championship races carry more point value and allow racers to qualify for the World Championship in Maui. Xterra Waco would be the first championship race ever held in Texas. I planned my usual race weekend which meant driving down Saturday for a pre-ride and racing Sunday.
I arrived in Waco mid afternoon, the drive was short from Dallas and a refreshing change of pace as I am accustomed to driving for hours to some of the race venues. Chuck Olinger had arrived at the same time and we were able to ride together and check out the bike course. Rumor had it that Waco had an incredible trail to ride a real roller coaster with some steep short climbs.
Chuck and I climbed up the road and made our way into the single-track, immediately upon entry we were flying downhill and then within a second we were climbing. The trail had obstacles that would challenge all riding styles. I loved the trail but was a bit nervous about it while riding, I did not give much thought to it and kept on riding. Half way through the trail I broke my chain and the ride was cut short from there. What I learned from this course is to carry a chain tool and a extra master link.
I managed to cruise the down hills and found a road that took me back to the race site. I needed to get my chain repaired and get ready for dinner with the Carter’s and the Hogenmiller’s and Vicki Ford One thing was for sure alcohol was going to be had at dinner, I was still nervous about the trail and the chain breaking did not help matters either.
Dinner was a blast as always, we had some great Mexican food and with that came great margaritas. After dinner I prepared the bike for the race and went to sleep. It was a little past midnight now and with a head full of ideas, I awoke from a dream.
Everything was uncertain about the race until this point. Without going into too much detail about the dream I had an accident on the bike course, a crash so bad it made my concussion from last year look like a small scratch. I gathered myself and thought hard about the race and the season and everything for that matter. I did not want to risk it. So I left Waco that night, I knew if I stayed I would end up racing in the morning and everything in my heart was telling me not to step up to and race.
It certainly took a toll on me as Sunday came and went I thought about all my fellow racers and wished them well. I was upset that I did not race but stand by my decision, always trust your gut.
A week went by and I started thinking about my training, I have been lucky over the years to get by with no structure and no real attack plan for racing. I love to race and I revolve my life around living not just racing.I won’t deny my passion one bit, but I lack the compulsion and will to live only for racing.
As I race each season I set new goals and new ideas about training. After Waco I wanted to try a building phase. A six week training effort that would work on speed, distance and mental will. I found myself approaching week three and decided I wanted to race Xterra Eureka Springs. A course that had some long climbs, rocky sections and a few technical areas. I have spent the last few seasons making statements such as “this is not my kind of course” or ” this does not suit my riding style”. Eureka Springs held some of my weaknesses and I wanted to face them there.
What I have learned is it is not a matter of course preference or weather or tires. When one is defeated it is because the other athletes were simply better prepared. This one lesson may be the most valuable of the season. Instead of making excuses it was now time to embrace my weaknesses and work on becoming a better rider.
I kept the volume up into the race weekend. I had planned to meet Mike Carter in Eureka and spend the day together before the race. I drove up early on Friday morning, rains had come and went to Eureka before I arrived. Once settled Mike and I went for a pre ride. The bike course was 14 miles long and had two long leg burning climbs that would humble even the strongest of climbers to a lethargic spin on the easiest gear.
Seven miles into the pre ride I suffered a flat that could not be repaired and like that the pre ride was over. This would now be the second pre ride in a row where a mechanical had cut it short. Mike and I went for a swim after that and then headed to dinner.
Race morning was just like any other, I double then triple checked the bike. I love racing out of state lots of new faces in the field and that makes for a very exciting race. I ran into Fred Phillips who was helping out directing the race and he informed me Tige Lamb was racing today.
Tige Lamb was a racer you had to watch out for. He has been out of the Xterra game for a few years but was one of the strongest racers in the south when he was racing. He has had multiple Xterra wins and is a beast on the bike. Tige is also the course record holder for Xterra Eureka Springs. We had raced together in Oklahoma and he placed second overall, not bad considering he has not raced Xterra in quite a few years. I knew Tige would be winning today, he would be the man everyone would be chasing.
The race was to start in a few moments. Mike Carter was having an issue with a rear tire that would not hold air. He hooked up my bike pump to the rear tire so that after the swim he could put some air into it and then head onto the bike course. Which goes to show you on race day anything can and will go wrong or right sometimes
The swim was now off I found my rhythm after a few hundred yards. The bike course was tight initially therefore I needed to hammer the swim hard to get as far up front as possible. I found myself feeling fresh and ran hard out of the water to get on the bike. Immediately faced with the first climb I made my way no further than 50 meters before dismounting. My lungs were blowing up and my heart was still pounding at full throttle from the swim. I hopped off the bike and started running the bike up the climb. There was a trade off here with two types of anaerobic pain, running or cycling and I will always favor running.
I crested the top of the climb and looked down to see Mike Carter climbing making some passes. I knew there was no way I out swam Mike he lost time in transition with that damn tire problem. Within minutes Mike caught me, I was having issues finding the perfect gear on the course. I lose power on easier gears and work harder yet better on higher gear setups. I shifted into the big chain ring and paced Mike for a bit.
Mike could roll, his speed and ability looked effortless and I knew as soon as we reached the long descends he would drop me like a toilet bowl lid. We reached our first descend and like that he vanished. A few miles later I found mike putting air into his tire where we had stopped the day before because of my flat. I was now halfway through the bike course and officially on uncharted territory, never before had I raced a course that I had not studied and pre ridden before. Today I would found out what kind of rider I really was. Racing at full throttle and having no idea what lurks ahead can be a recipe for disaster.
Gliding over the rockiest and most technical section of the course I found the bike beating me up badly. It was not until a few miles later I realized the lockout was still in the ON position on my Fork from the flat section earlier. I saw another racer in front of me now and made my pass on a climb, of course I was running the bike again at this point. As I hopped back on the bike I could see Mike Carter coming back up behind me. There was a long mountain descend down back to transition followed with some single track. I tracked as fast as possible down the long descend with my gloves soaked from sweat I held on tightly.
Mike Carter and I road into transition together and now it was time for the run. The two hardest climbs that were on the bike were also on the run. I saw only one bike in transition when Mike and I arrived I knew it was Tige that was in the lead. When I ran out of transition someone shouted ” leader is two minutes ahead” that was all I needed to hear.
A brutal run course that would take the wind out of everyone’s sails separated me from winning this race. I played it conservative on the long climbs back to back and surged hard on the straight flat sections. I was deep into the run and saw no sign of first place. I was pushing hard but losing faith in the win now. I reached the top of the final climb and saw Tige in front of me 100 meters ahead.
Fatigue and pain will always subside when adrenaline is reintroduced into the system. I attacked hard to close the gap and knew there was 3/4 of a mile left before the race would be over. I had jumped over a log and realized now what was at stake.
Every bit of volume and suffering that was done in training prepared me for this moment. There was no time to think, it was just time to do. Tige and I shared a few words and then I started to push the pace and create my own gap. A long descend down the mountain would take us all to the finish line. I kept pushing and pushing, nothing was going to stop me now. I had always imagined that this moment would be different. I thought I would have to use so many things in my head to push the pace, but none of that was needed. It was the cheers from the crowd and the sheer joy of the moment that kept me hammering on the run. It was a great day I ran the fastest split of the day by over three minutes and that was what won the race
I was introduced into competitive racing by running and it will always be my Ace in the deck. As much as I love to cycle every race ends on the run.
To win an Xterra race was a dream that I have had since my first race and on June 12, 2010 a six year journey came to an end. I have been well supported and mentored along the years, below are some of the people that helped me achieve my first Xterra win.
(In no particular order)
Bill introduced me to many things in our friendship. Mountain biking, car racing and rock climbing were some of them. I aspired very early to ride like Bill, he still sets the best damn line on the trail.
Randy Wallace and Mighty Mo.
If there were two people that challenged me the most and pushed my buttons it was Randy and Mo. These two racers laid down the ground work early and taught me what it takes to race competitively. Cheers to you two, everything you told me was 100% right!
I have ridden more miles on the bike with Mark Payne than any other person in the world. My volume stems from this man. He is the only voice that can pull me out of bed at 4:45AM to go running. Thank you Mark for always getting me out there.
The lady that has always stood by my side and supported my passion for sport, no matter how many times I come home bruised, cut and bleeding. I love you!
The man who sets the standards very high every season. Every Xterra racer in the South is after this man and every year he gets faster. Thanks for making us all faster because of this.
One of the strongest in the South in Xterra racing and one hell of a training partner, the difference between racing and training is a thin line with Chuck, his power is uncanny and humbling.
My good friend and mentor. Mike your techniques on racing and course information has helped me time and time again, thanks for being a great mentor and always taking care of me on race weekend.
My brother Mike G. the man who has believed in me since day one. I would not be here without you. Thank you for everything. Next year maybe some Xterra races in Europe any excuse for me to visit you.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the years it has been a hell of a journey let this not be the last win, but the start of many more.