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'24 Xterra Oak Mountain Race Recap


Greenville crew

The last race in our 3-week (15 day) racing block was Xterra Oak Mountain. For several years, we always dedicated this weekend to IM 70.3 Chattanooga (one of our favorite events) but with Xterra Oak Mountain being the same weekend, we went to Pelham, Alabama instead. Karel participated in Xterra Oak Mountain in 2021 (his first off-road triathlon) and in 2022 they didn't have the event. In 2023 we both participated (my 4th Xterra event) and I placed overall female amateur. When Xterra announced that Oak Mountain would be the home of the North American Championship, we knew that we couldn't miss this event. We love the trails at oak mountain, as well as the lake. It's a place that makes us super happy. The trails are proper mountain bike trails with rock gardens, technical turns, roots, climbs and descends but the trails are also nicely made with good rhythm and flow. 

As for training going into Xterra, we had intentions of riding our mountain bikes on Tuesday and Wednesday but it rained both days. On Monday we did a morning swim (3200) and an evening easy spin on the Swamp rabbit trail (1:06, 17 miles). We swam again on Tuesday (3650) and in the early evening I did a "system check" workout on Rouvy (1 hour) and followed it up with a feel good brick run (25 minutes, 3 miles). My legs felt surprisingly good just three days after Gulf Coast 70.3. Karel's legs were feeling heavy and he was not sleeping so great so he was careful not to overdo it in the bridge between Gulf Coast and Xtera. On Wed morning I did a 6.73 mile, 53 min run with a main set of 4 x 6 min tempo efforts w/ 90 sec EZ between. Again, my legs felt really good. I just got the Saucony Endorphin Pro at Run In and I really like them (I wore them at Gulf Coast 70.3). My other (and long time) favorite shoe is the New Balance Fuel Cell. In the evening I rode the trainer for an hour and did a mix of big gear and high cadence intervals to keep the legs sharp.

On Thursday we left our house around 8:30am to make our 5 hour drive to Pelham (we gained an hour) and arrived a little before 1pm. We paid $5/person to enter Oak Mountain State Park and when we arrived we noticed several professional Xterra athletes as well as professional triathlete Eric Lagerstrom.  

After we changed, we went out on the bike course and rode the 21-mile bike course (~1650 feet elevation gain). We rode easy and took note of certain sections of the course that may be difficult on race day. The weather was predicted to be 100% heavy rain on Fri and Sat which made me nervous about a repeat of Whitewater off-road triathlon where I had a lot of falls due to the slippery roots and tight turns. It took us ~2:17 to ride the course (~8.4 mph). I had a lot of difficulty in the tight turns and a few rooty sections as I felt like I had no confidence or skills. Karel helped me through these tough moments and as the ride went on, I felt better and better. When we got to blood rock (the most technical part of the course) we spent a little time looking at the trails to study the best line, even though I knew I wouldn't be riding all the way down blood rock. Karel didn't feel comfortable riding it all in training as we didn't spent a lot of time sectioning it. After blood rock, there is a super rocky downhill and then my favorite part of the course, Jekyll and Hyde. It's super flowy and covered in pine needles. I was really happy that we rode the entire course because I forgot about two drops that require the proper line choice so I was glad that we experienced that in our recon. 

After the ride, we went for an open water swim in one of my favorite lakes. I love how clean the water is and the water temperature is perfect.  Karel wore his short sleeve swimskin for the first loop (which he said felt really restrictive on his shoulders) and I wore my swimsuit. We swam two loops in 25 minutes (~1700 yards, 1:30 pace). We finished our swim a little before 5pm and I ordered Chiptole to be delivered to our hotel (Sleep Inn). We unloaded the car into our hotel room, ate dinner and worked on the computer until we were ready to go to sleep around 9pm. 

We expected rain all day on Friday but the radar was looking like the rain would hold off so we went to the park around 9am so that we could ride the first few miles of the course again. I felt so much better than on Thursday. After our ~30 min recon ride (4.3 miles) I went for a 10 min, 1 mile EZ run on the trails and Karel went for a 33 min (3.66 mile) shake out run with his friend Darren. Our athlete Danielle joined us for the bike. Although it was cloudy, it was very humid. We made a quick stop at Publix grocery before heading back to our hotel. 

We returned to the park at 2pm to pick up our packet and to meet up with our athletes who were racing for a course chat. Thankfully no rain all day which was great. We were excited for our athletes and team members who were participating in their first off-road triathlon. 

In addition to working on the computer all day, we got our things ready for the race, filled up our hydration packs and run bottle and went to bed around 8pm for a good night of sleep. 

With a 8:30am start, we didn't have a super early alarm. We woke up around 5:30am and ate around 6am. I had a bagel w/ PB and honey and Karel had oatmeal and OJ. We also each had a cup of coffee (Karel brought his aeropress). We did some foam rolling in the room and Karel went for a short jog. We left the hotel at 7am and drove the 2 miles to the race venue. There was a line to get into the park but it went by quick as there were two rows. We paid our $10 to enter. and parked around 7:15am. 

With ~400 athletes in the full and sprint distance, parking was easy. We found a spot on the racks for our bikes (first come, first serve) and set up our transition area. We picked up our chips and swim cap and spent the next hour getting ready for the race start. I watched our athletes in the swim for the sprint race (which started at 8am) and then put on my wetsuit (water was 75 degrees according to the officials but it felt warmer) to go for a warmup swim. I spent ~20 min in the water warming up, which I feel is one of the reasons why I am able to swim so well at this venue (or anytime I can do a swim warm-up before the race start). Karel also did a swim warmup. I watched the pros start at 8:35am and then we got ready for our start after the pros started their 2nd swim lap. I had a Never Second gel around 20 min before the start. Karel's wave started at 8:51 (49 and under males) and my wave (everyone else) started at 8:52am. 

I positioned myself in the front and to the far left and I was able to take out fast when we started. I had clean water for most of the race as I was able to swim past many of the guys who started in front of us. I went out really hard and tried to hold this pace until the 2nd turn buoy. I was able to settle into a strong rhythm for the rest of the loop and when I got out of the water to start the second loop, I was 2nd in my wave. I continued to pass the guys ahead of me and felt strong the entire swim. Sighting was easy in the lake. I wore my Roka goggles with a light tint. 

As I got out of the water, I saw Karel right in front of me. He said he felt good in the water but his perceived effort didn't match how he was swimming. He felt like he was swimming strong but he felt like he wasn't able to move up in the pack or pass other athletes around him. 

We ran to the transition and I gave Karel a big cheer. We racked our bikes on the same rack row but several bikes down and we both left transition around the same time.  

Marni - 23:26
Karel: 24:21

Marni: 1:50
Karel: 1:51

When we got on our bikes, I tighted my shoes (which I put on in transition with my socks, along with my helmet, sunglasses and USWE hydration pack) and then started working to keep my lead on the swim. I was first female out of the water but I wasn't sure how long this lead would last. 

The course can be broken down into 4 sections. 
The first section is a few miles and very twisty, tight and up and down. True single track. Karel has fallen in this section twice (last two times he raced here) as it's easy to ride too fast and take the turns too quick. My goal was to ride controlled and to make sure I kept my hands light and moved my body to offset my weight in the turns. I was passed by a few guys but everyone was very nice when passing. I would move over and let them pass. 
The second section is a ~3 mile climb on a jeep road. However, it's rocky and has a few dips. I locked my front suspension on this section and rode as strong as I could up the climb. My legs felt really heavy but I kept on pushing for ~18 minutes. When I got to the top, I looked behind and didn't see anyone. The next few miles were back on single track and a little more rocky but flowy. 
The third section is Blood Rock - which is the most difficult part of the course. I rode 1/2 of it and then got off my bike and walked the rest. Two guys passed me in this section but otherwise, I had been riding by myself for well over 20 minutes. 
The fourth section is my favorite - the last hour is so much fun. I didn't want it to end. I did have one spill where I took a tight left turn a little too fast and my weight was to much in the inside and I washed out but I got back up right away. I finished the ride with 2 other guys and they were really nice, letting me stay ahead even though they were better with their skills. I was really happy with my bike as I rode 5 minutes faster than last year. 
Karel felt like his fitness and skills were good but his hand cramped neart the top of the jeep road climb and he had to spend a few minutes unlocking his fingers so that he could hold the bar (and brake) before Blood Rock. This is a common issue for Karel in his wrist where he had surgery (and now has a plate in it). Karel was planning to ride the entire blood rock section but the guy in front of him (who he had passed on the climb but passed him as he was fixing his hand) got stuck on blood rock which caused Karel to get off  his bike. No biggie. Just a quick run down with the bike. 
I filled by USWE pack with 1 bottle + 3/4 bottle, each with 1.5 scoops INFNIT Fructose (~70g carbs per bottle). Karel filled his pack with 1.5 bottles (~37 ounces) of Maurten 320. 

Marni - 1:50.35 (10.9 mph)
Karel - 1:38.30 (12.3 mph)

I was having so much fun on the bike that I didn't want it to end. I was careful in the final 2 miles as it was a tight and twisty single track section and I didn't want to crash. I was still leading the female race (I passed one female pro) and I wasn't sure how big my lead was so I needed to keep pushing it until T2. 

I heard some cheers from our athletes who raced the sprint which made me smile. I couldn't wait to hear about their race. I had a quick transition, put on my New Balance Fuel Cell shoes and grabbed my bag of my stuff to put on as I was running (flask in back tri kit pocket, bib number belt and hat). It was warm and humid but I was happy with the weather. 

Marni -:40
Karel - :44

Karel and I don't wear gloves in most Xterra races (if it was raining or cold we would) and we have recently been running on less technical trails in our old New Balance shoes (road shoes). Karel actually wore his new New Balance Fuel Cell shoes for this race. It's a rooty up and down run but not too technical that you need a lot of grip. We were both planning to wear our trail shoes if it was wet/rainy. 

I really pushed myself on the run from the start on the road. I love bumpy trail runs and I couldn't wait to get into the trails. It was hard to push myself and not know how far my lead was. And after the first mile, I was all by myself for the rest of the run. I really pushed myself and had several moments where I thought "wow - 6 miles is loooong." I sipped my flask (1 scoop, 120 calories Never Second) throughout the run when I could get my HR lower on the downhills and I grabbed water at all three aid stations to sip and cool myself. 

Karel felt good to start the run and he was excited for the trails but as soon as he stepped foot on the trails, his legs felt very heavy and tired. He really struggled on the run but he never gave up. 

Marni - 50:33
Karel - 47:34

Marni: 3:07, Overall female amateur 
Karel: 2:53.02, 1st AG

I crossed the line with relief as I gave it everything I could for the entire race. I felt very accomplished and I had so much fun. I was listening to a podcast during our drive and they mentioned that it's hard to have fun when racing because it hurts so much. Although off-road racing does hurt (it's challenging!) it is so much fun to race in the woods. You are in nature and it almost feels like you are playing. I ended up winning the overall title by 11 minutes. 

Karel and I received jerseys as North American champions. We each received a slot to Xterra World Championship in Molveno Italy but we won't be going this year due to our other planned races. 

We chatted with our friends and athletes and took a dip in the lake to "clean up." After the awards we changed and hit the road so we could return home to our furry crew. 

It was a fun and exciting racing block. Now time to recover and get ready for our next training block as we get ready for our upcoming XTRI events.