XTERRA Saipan Race Report Chapter 4: The Run

"The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race."

Before I left my bike the wonderful Jim Lovell came over to offer me words of encouragement and what I’d hoped would be a estimated time between me and Yuji-san.

Instead, as well as telling me how great I was doing (I didn’t really understand this at that time in terms of how well I was going relative to the rest of the field) that I was actually leading my age group!!

As I ran out of T2 I told him to double check that, as I knew that Yuji (whose number I had forgotten) was ahead of me. My last words were that I was off to try and run him down and by the time I got over the line needless to say that Jim had tracked him down in his system and corrected that minor oversight so that once again he could deliver yet another brilliant set of faultless race results.

Back on the run course I started about my work which meant settling in to a rhythm that would settle my elevated heart rate which, as always, had spiked as I went through and left transition. This was in response to the encouragement of the crowds and the announcer. I have to say here that this support was really awesome and very much appreciated especially the smooth and slick race commentary and welcoming words delivered by none other than Brad Ruszala, who it turns out was also the race announcer for the event and a darn fine one he was too.

As a result, of this I exited T2 at pace and soon after the water station I realised that my heart rate was way to high. Thankfully by the time I came alongside the Marina this was under control again and I got my 1st glimpse of a runner ahead of me.

As I turned towards the road crossing to enter the 1st section of technical single track trail this gap had visibly closed and now with my heart rate under control I was ready start closing the gap further. Inside this first technical section I quickly caught and passed this runner, which turned out to be Furuya Toshiyuki, and to my delight I could now hear another runner or runners up ahead.

As I exited this first section of trail onto some interim road surface these runners came into view and were none other than Yuji-san and Ryan in that order. Given that Yuji-san was closest to me and heard me exit the trail he cast what looked like to me a rather worried look.

It was too early though to make a decisive break away so as with the bike ride ‘Mr. Madman’ stayed on his best behavior while ‘Mr. Sensible’ assessed Yuji-san and his running skills and his state of well being.

After patiently observing him for a kilometer or so I’d established that he was as fast as me on the non-technical downhill sections but he was not comfortable in technical stuff and he wasn’t as good a climber when running as he was on the bike.

With these observations I decided that my strategy would have to use the technical climbs to attack. Fortunately for me a steep section of trail was coming up and I decided that this would be where I’d attack and I would then push really hard all the way to the technical ravine section so that I could get into this first.

As we turned off of the 1st section of the course that was shared with the bike course I moved past Yuji-san and Ryan so that I could enter the single track section that begins with a steep scramble ahead of them both.

I was on the limit myself but I was pleased that hill’s are one of the things I love to train on and this paid off as I definitely found another couple of gears over both Yuji-san and Ryan and I lost the sounds of their footsteps pretty quickly up this hill.

Simon Cross, a way better and more experienced racer than myself, once told me never to look behind in these situations. When I asked him why, he told me because it’s a sign of weakness and only helps inspire confidence in the person you have overtaken. As I continued up that hill his words echoed in my head and instead of looking over my shoulder I simply pressed the pedal harder.

Along the way I caught and passed Charlie too and it wasn’t until I reached the water station where I had skidded down the road earlier on the bike that I slowed to douse myself in water to cool my self down that I took the opportunity to take a quick glimpse back up the road/trail which was, pleasingly empty and quiet.

As a result, I continued to the final steep section of road and set about pressing the advantage I now had home by running this and reminding myself as I entered the final and hardest section of technical trail that included the infamous ravine and cave to maintain and use my momentum through this section to finish the job.

Leaping on the technical trail run

The message I was now telling myself was that if Yuji-san, or for that matter anyone else who was going to pass me before the finish line, was that they would really have to earn that right.

As I exited the ravine I knew I had run/scrambled it as well as not only I could have but that this was probably as well as any other age grouper could too.

Running down through this man-made cave which was a really gnarly ravine

With just really myself to beat me now I found the best pace I could down the road to the beach that would maintain the advantage that those steep and technical sections had given me.

I don’t mind confessing that as I have done on a number occasions in hard training sessions I used the memory of Tiger one of my dogs who sadly died on Boxing Day last year to help me do this.

Tiger was a real runner and loved to race me up and down the trails where I am fortunate enough to train. The thought of his spirit really fires up my running legs and he did not let me down on Saturday as he and I descended towards and along the beach.

In the memory of Tiger

As a result, I maintained a stiff pace. The photographs of me at this point will confirm this as well, as I was now beginning to hurt a lot and my turbo diesel engine was starting to show signs of overheating too.

Thankfully though, the finishing line and Brad’s friendly and welcoming voice was soon in earshot and then in sight and I crossed the finish line in 3:26:07 just under 2.5 minutes slower than XTERRA Philippines which, given the seriously more technical nature of this course and the amount of elevation it had, I’ll take any day of the week.

The pain was perfectly captured!

(To be continued...)


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