2001 Odyssey XTERRA race

“The Odyssey Off-Road Triathlon is not by any means a ‘typical’ triathlon.” — Odyssey web site

Nestled in the Shenandoah Mountains not far from Richmond, lies the Sherando Lake Recreation Area, the site of the Odyssey Off-Road triathlon and duathlon series. This July triathlon is yet another exciting event in the XTERRA Point Series.

The race began with a 0.9 mile swim around scenic Sherando Lake. While many wore wet suits, I didn’t since I’d left mine hanging in the closet back in Detroit. Despite this oversight, I felt pretty good in the water. I’d spent the past few months straightening my stroke. The benefit is I stay on course, eliminating my typical zip-zag routine.

Odyssey XTERRA raceIt’s out and around a concrete pier, past the island, and back to shore, where we transition to the run. Yes, this is a swim-run-bike triathlon.

After throwing on some socks, shoes, and a race number, it’s off to the 8 mile run. Almost immediately, the course turns uphill. Over rocks and logs we continue upward, through endless switchbacks. My optimistic run pace slows to a long-stride, hunched-forward hike. The sun is quickly raising the cool morning temperatures.

Local stud Andy Kinley runs past me as if he took an escalator up the rocky climb. The man is unstoppable.

Unfortunately I am stoppable as I trip over a rock and surf the rough trail on my bare chest. I guess I was too busy thinking about the tiny pebbles in my shoes. Shaking the numbness from my hands, I continued down the trail with a new focus on foot placement.

We head through the transition area, grab the gear, grab the bike, and head out on the final leg.

The beginning is relatively easy as we glide along paved roads through the campgrounds. The biggest fear is becoming a hood ornament on an R.V.

As we turn off the pavement, the trail turns upwards. I dismount and start the long hike-a-bike. Like the run climb, this is very steep and very rocky. On occasion the pitch lessens and you can ride your bike until you’re greeted by the next steep climb hiding just around the corner. And if this weren’t tough enough, the trail is narrow and the trail vegetation loves to grab your bike when it can.

But the misery can’t last forever. As the climb more-or-less ends, we ride through some serious rock gardens before getting to the first aid station. As was it described to me, that first portion of the trail is called “Hell” while the remaining portion is “Heaven.” One can only hope.

With the exception of a couple rocky ascents and some serious logs, this is rockin’ fast downhill trail that brings you back to the transition area. It’s here where riders can pass on the second bike lap to be scored in the sport class. However, sport finishers don’t get XTERRA qualifying points, so I continue on for the second 11 mile lap.

I was hoping for a nice, uneventful second lap. Instead I started getting dehydrated while trudging up the long climb. My Camelbak was nearly empty and the sun was full. I slammed four cups of water at the next aid station and continued on.

Everything seemed all right. I was catching some lapped riders, many of whom were first-time duathletes and triathletes, which is incredibly impressive.

While ripping on the downhill with a couple miles to go, I went to pedal and the cranks swung around without resistance. I had no chain. So much for this lap being uneventful.

From here on I concentrated on keeping up momentum. That meant picking the cleanest lines, riding the berms, and not braking. I almost crashed a couple times while trying to push off trees as I glided past. Fortunately I only had to run a handful of times. My cyclocross skills got some unexpected training.

After running across the final open field, I hit the asphalt downhill and coasted across the finish line. Race Promoter Don Mann said some kind words while Big Head Todd music cranked in the background. I was the third amateur to finish and the clock read four hours and 17 minutes. Chris Newell had finished not too much further in front, while Andy Kinley and Pro Justin Thomas smoked the course record of just under four hours.

What an event! It was the toughest XTERRA course I’ve done. But the reward for completing such an epic is knowing you can accomplish whatever you commit yourself to — with a chain or without.

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