“I was in the zone”
It finally all came together for Gunnison resident and Xterra triathlon competitor Brian Smith. It just so happens, it all came together at the most opportune time.
Smith’s season of off-road triathlon racing has been plagued with mountain bike troubles and brutal swims, limiting him to just one podium appearance thus far.
On Sunday, October 28, all of those problems were washed away as Smith put together the race of his career, to take third place at the Xterra World Championships in Maui, Hawaii.
Five hundred and fifty racers, including a stout field of international pros, lined up for the event that opened with a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim. For Smith, the swim has always been a problem but on this day, he pushed the limit to remain in the hunt as he transitioned onto his bike.
“I was aggressive in the swim and when I got out of the swim I was ready to go,” says Smith. “Swimming in the ocean is way different. I felt really, really good in the water.”
Still, with such an incredible field of world-class athletes, Smith emerged from the water in 113th place, five minutes off the leader.
His strength lies in his mountain biking, though, and Smith managed to put together the fastest split of the race, covering the incredibly technical lava-rock-strewn 30-kilometer ride in one hour, 30 minutes and 51 seconds.
“The ride is just so brutal,” explains Smith. “It’s all rock. Your tires never really touch dirt.”
Smith attributes his successful ride to hydration as he pounded four full bottles of energy drink within the first hour of the mountain bike ride and proceeded to pick off 110 racers on the course.
“It was just one of those days,” says Smith. “I was in the zone.”
It wasn’t until Smith pulled out of the final transition that he realized how far he had climbed through the ranks.
“When I got off the bike I still didn’t know where I was,” explains Smith. “When I headed out on the run I saw the two leaders and the place just started roaring.”
Smith was instantly introduced to what it’s like in the lead group of a world championship race. Cameras and the press hounded him as he ran.
As a result, Smith found himself under a different kind of pressure—a pressure he had never felt before in these races.
“I thought, ‘If I’m going to be up there, I better stay up there,’” says Smith. “I didn’t want to bonk in front of all those cameras.”
Not only did Smith stay up there, but also he put a push on for second place on the 11-kilometer trail/beach run.
“I came onto the beach with two miles to go and second place was 30 seconds ahead of me,” says Smith. “There was a chance, I thought, that I could get second place.”
Smith managed to cut 15 seconds off the gap, but once the course turned off the beach Smith just couldn’t reel the second place contender in completely and finished in third, the first American racer, with a time of 2:42:35, 30 seconds out of second place.
“I’ve never, ever seen the front of the field, so it was pretty exciting,” says Smith. “Having all of that media attention was pretty cool.”
It was Smith’s best race—and subsequently, his best race payday, as he took home $8,000 for his podium finish.
“It’s good to go home and pay off a good chunk of my debt,” says Smith.
Crested Butte resident Lee Cannon closed out his season racing in the 60-64 age class with a second-place finish in Hawaii, up from fourth place at the Worlds last year. Cannon also had the dubious distinction as the poster boy for the 2007 race poster, plastered all over the island of Maui. Apparently, Xterra used a photo of Cannon running in last year’s race with two bikini-clad women running behind him for the poster art this year.
Cannon also had a strong bike portion of the race, even though he forgot an important piece of his equipment in the transition from swim to bike.
“I was so focused on getting through the transition quickly that I forgot my Camelback,” explains Cannon.
It wasn’t until a mile into the ride that he discovered his mistake but turning around was not an option, so he relied on water stations along the course to hydrate.
In addition, Cannon stopped to help a friend who crashed on one downhill, taking four to five minutes out of the race to protect him mid-course.
Despite the delays, Cannon shaved 15 minutes off his bike split from last year.
“Riding it last year gave me the confidence to go a lot faster on the downhills,” says Cannon.
Cannon also took five minutes off his run split from last year to put the finishing touches on his solid performance, with a time of 4:04:22.
“Just because I’m getting older doesn’t mean I’m getting slower, yet,” says Cannon.
Brian Smith’s wife, Jennifer, unfortunately, was the yin to everyone’s winning yang as she encountered multiple issues during the bike portion of the race.
Jennifer climbed through the field during the first three miles of the bike ride to reach sixth place before disaster struck. Jennifer fell victim to the rugged bike course, suffering four flats on her front tire. It got so dire for Jennifer that she ended up borrowing her last tube from the person running course sweep. Yet, she persevered to finish what was her longest race ever in 24th place among the pro women with a time of 4:04:03.
Brian now has his sights set on the 2008 Winter World Championships March 6-8 in Ogden, Utah and a shot at the Fire and Ice title.
The winter world championships include a multi-sport competition involving running, snowshoeing, biking and randonnee racing. The individual with the top combined results from Hawaii and Utah will be awarded the Fire and Ice title.
“Now I’ve got to come up with some rando gear,” says Brian.