Our final race on the Northern Mariana Islands took place on the tranquil island of Saipan. Just a short 50 minute flight from Guam, both US territories yet a totally different feel. From the air Saipan reminds me of what I believed an island should look like as a kid, lush green vegetation surrounded by lily white sandy beaches leading into cristal clear turquoise ocean waters. Really is a place I believe many would be happy to live out their last days. However at the tender age of 25 I still naively crave the frantic high paced life many of my peers enjoy or perhaps endure on a daily basis while commenting on how jealous they are of my island hopping. Funny that.
Whatever the reason be it blessing or curse here I was for the second time in my short yet colourful life and very grateful to be back. Was great reconnecting with old friends and catching up on all the events of the past year. At times the progression of others can seem like stagnation in your own life but regardless it's important to celebrate the victories or growth of friends however big or small the accomplishment may be.
With such a tightly packed racing schedule it doesn't allow you much time to correct the mistakes of a previous race but merely identify the shortcomings and plan to prepare better next time around. With Xterra Guam, Saipan and West Championships in Las Vegas spread over just a two week period the days in between are few and usually spent out on course refreshing the memory and trying to get the body to bounce back as fast as possible. Tapering correctly for each event would quickly result in a serious drop in overall fitness so it is very important to identify your key races early on in the season and try your best to manage the training volume or fatigue surrounding the rest. I can't say I have found the ideal formulae yet and with Dan able to handle a slightly bigger training volume than myself it does leave me guessing at times. Still whatever way you break down it's been a fantastic start to my season and one I am excited to continue learning from.
Swim: We were met with a strong breeze on race morning resulting in a good swell and some choppy conditions to deal with. The 6:30am start had us warming up in the dark but another opportunity to watch the sunrise... silver lining you might say. With temperatures expected to soar the unnaturally early start would allow the back markers to finish before midday and save the volunteers from unavoidable heat exhaustion. Whatever logic you wish to employ a 3:30am wake up just feels wrong on a fundamental level. Choppy ocean swims require a little more power and less focus on efficiency which normally sees me on the back foot. This time was no different and early on I felt myself having to fight to stay up front with Ben and Dan. Although it was a struggle I was hanging in until the water got shallow enough to begin dolphin diving, which was sadly a bigger portion of the course than I would prefer. Soon the gap began to open and after the first 750m lap they had about a 10-15sec lead over myself. Lap 2 solo saw me loose a further 30seconds and exit the water with a 45second deficit.
Bike: Starting with a long tar road climb again I could see the lead up ahead of me, a little frustrated to already be out of the action up front I tried to push early and with any luck close the gap. No chance! Dan and Ben would go on to fight tooth and nail for the remainder of the ironically mountainous bike course for an island race, I would sadly have no say in that. With over 1000m of climbing the Saipan bike route really leaves nowhere to hide and soon the duo up front were out of sight. I settled in as best I could but never felt like I was in complete control and seemed to be fighting for every pedal stroke. Goes that way sometimes. The youngster from New Zealand Oliver Shaw was having a great day in 4th and slowly eating into my lead which I had over the second chase pack exiting the swim. Entering T2 I still had no clue he was less than a minute back.
Run: Shortly after leaving T2 I got a 40second time split. The race was on for the final podium position. Shaw had posted a minute faster run split than myself at Xterra Guam just 6 days prior so I knew he was capable of covering the 40 second spread if I let my guard down. I dug real deep on the open flats before the run would entered the steep and rocky forests which I knew would be slow going. In the forest behind me I could hear branches breaking and rocks falling, almost like being chased by a wild animal. My fight or flight instincts were in full effect. Still unsure which of these basic human instincts were taking dominance but either way my senses were at an all time high focused in on each step determined not to make any mistakes. Running down a steep ravine full of moss covered rocks required all the concentration I had, but I was happy to see I was moving well and the once loud rustling behind me had become a faint one and eventually disappeared all together. Safe to say one of my all time best runs legs in an Xterra. Always easy using Dan's run split as the bench mark to determine how well I was moving. Perhaps not his finest day on two feet but still the first time I have ever recorded a faster run split than him, proud of that after all the canings I give him out in training! Beginning of a new era or simply a lucky fluke... time will tell. We won't have to wait long with the Xterra West Championships in Las Vegas this coming Sunday.
All in all another great day at the office. Ben Allen took the glory with Dan picking up his first 2nd of the season and myself rounding out the podium. A very big thank you must go out to the Quinn family who once again hosted us this year. Always such a treat with Kanae feeding these hungry boys and Russ providing all the necessary entertainment around the house, a natural entertainer in his element on the Island. She really is an amazing chef and an even better human being. Treats us like family which always makes life on the road that much easier! To the both of them, thank you from the bottom of my heart!
The blog posts are now coming thick and fast, thanks for keeping up with all my chaos!
Next up Xterra West Championships - VEGAS baby!!!