The ripple affect of a Pandemic reaches every aspect of our lives. Work, play, and health are all put in jeopardy as we navigate through these uncharted times. I think the health and fitness sector took a harder hit than expected. As a year-round athlete, I struggled in the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak with how to cope. Race cancellations filled my inbox and social media feeds. With that comes a lack of motivation to train and workout. The gyms in NC remained closed. Group rides/runs were not encouraged. My 2020 races season was crumbling around me right along with my desire to train and stay fit. I really needed a little hope for the future and a little external motivation.
Enter Motus Off-Road. The word “motus” means: movement, motion. What a perfect name for an event series that was born during a time (pre-pandemic) when the XTERRA brand was evolving and dropping races. Motus was created late 2019 by a group of race directors dedicated to bringing races to off-road endurance enthusiasts. By early 2020 they had 12 triathlons and almost as many trail runs on the schedule. But as we all know, the Pandemic rolled in and changed everything. Many of the events had to be cancelled due to local regulations and safety concerns. The Motus spirit was not broken though.
The good news is, small off-road events like triathlons and trail runs fit well into Social Distancing Guidelines that were put in place by the CDC, USAT, local and federal officials. It was an incredible undertaking, but the race directors worked through all the bureaucracy and red tape to get the green light to hold 5 events. With safety as the primary focus, each race director put together guidelines for volunteers, athletes, and spectators. The race series had life… Motus Panther Creek, Motus Green River Lake, Motus Knoxville, Motus DINO Southern Indiana, and Motus Nat Greene’s Revenge.
My original 2020 race plan was to race 4 triathlons in the Motus series and qualify for the race series points. As the Pandemic grew and races started to cancel, I was unsure if I’d be able to race at all. Ultimately, I locked into 3 Motus Triathlons; Panther Creek, Green River Lake, and Knoxville. With 5 races available, the race series points eligibility was adjusted to 3. My motivation was back, and I finally had a training and race schedule. It was not going to be ideal with a total of 4 races in 5 weeks, (1 on-road sprint followed by 3 Motus off-road) but being able to race again, it would be worth it.
Motus Panther Creek, 7/26/20
It probably would have been a good idea to have ridden my mountain bike at least once before arriving at Panther Creek State Park. To be honest, I was a little scared. I crashed on the MTB in early spring 2019 and separated a few ribs. Between the ribs taking a long time to heal and moving to Asheville in August 2019, I just didn’t have the time to ride much. I spent most of the Winter on the road bike on the trainer (occasionally outside on warmer weekend days). So, my pre-ride on Saturday was literally the first MTB’ing I had done in over a year. It went surprising well and gave me some confidence going into Sunday’s race. I camped at Panther Creek State Park Saturday night. It is a very nice Campground and is convenient to the race start/transition. Got up early Sunday morning, overnight oats for breakfast, light stretching, loaded up my tri-bag, and biked the 1 mile to transition area as my warm-up. Social distancing protocols in place: face coverings before and after race, more bike racks so we could be spread out in transition area, no body marking unless you did it yourself. Once I had my transition setup, I did a quick dry-land swim warm-up then headed down to the swim start. My race strategy was simple; relax on the swim (like MTB’ing, it had been over a year since my last open water swim), push the MTB, hang on for the run. We all started from the water in a mass start, but we spread ourselves out. I had a good swim coming out of the water in 19th. The MTB course isn’t overly technical, but it is challenging with several long steep climbs and lots of roots. My hardtail XC bike isn’t the ideal setup for that type of terrain, but I had a good ride with the 19th fastest split. The run isn’t technical but like the MTB is still very challenging. My legs were not used to having to go “all out” for this long and fatigue was really setting in. I was able to pass 2 people on the run and had the 18th fastest split. Over-all finished 16th and 3rd in my age group, 2:16:41. Not bad for my first off-road tri in over a year. I think the race directors did a remarkable job. Information was presented on multiple online outlets and email leading up to the race. The course was well marked with ample volunteers. And from a Covid-19 perspective I thought it went well and never felt like I was putting myself or anyone else at risk.
Motus Green River Lake, 8/2/20
Hoping to build on the successful race at Panther Creek, I made the 5-hour drive to Green River Lake State Park near Campbellsville KY on Saturday. I was able to check in early at the campground and get my campsite/van setup. The Campground sits adjacent to the lake and is nice. Quick change of clothes and time for a pre-ride. First thing to explain about Motus Green River Lake is the amount of work the Race Director, Mike, had to do to make this race happen. Date changes and venue changes did not deter him. He worked tirelessly to put it together. The second thing to say is that Mike created a tough course. About halfway through my pre-ride it became apparent to me that I had made the correct decision when I asked Mike to switch me from the “Full Send” to the “Short Shred’. The MTB course was unrelenting. Not overly technical but a wide variety of terrain. Constantly throwing something new at you. 2 laps on race day would be painful but 4 would have been a DNF for me. Thankfully the trails drain well as we had afternoon/evening showers. Woke up early race morning, overnight oats for breakfast, light stretching, packed up my tri-bag, and rode to the transition area. This race venue created a unique experience because of how spread out everything was. Transition was in a grass field with no race pinning, in/out arches, or even bike racks. Just an open cross-country style feel. Race strategy: relax on the swim (build on last race success), pace the MTB (tough course so can’t go all-out), run hard, try to finish under 3hours. We all spread out for the swim start and I had a clean start. Swim course was a simple out and back. I had a good swim and made the short run to transition and my bike. The MTB course starts and ends with a 1-mile section of road. The MTB was as challenging as I expected and was very glad I had pre-rode the day before. The run course took us back up the road then into the trail system. There was one place where the trail was marked wrong and it took me a minute to figure out which way to go. The trail had a few muddy places, but I was able to navigate them and power through. Once back on the road and headed to the finish line I was caught and passed (which I found out later was for 2nd place). I had a great race and finished 3rd over-all at 2:59:20. I really enjoyed the unique layout of this race. I didn’t mind the short section of road to get to the MTB course but felt there was too much road running for the run. My only other suggestion would be to have more timing mats so we could see the individual splits. Covid-19 protocols went well and other than the one spot on the run, trail marking was great. Volunteers were helpful and encouraging. Great race and I’ll be back next year.
Motus Knoxville, 8/16/20
Third time is the charm? I was hoping anyway. Motus Knoxville participant list was full of very strong athletes, so I knew this race was going to be more challenging. Then Mother Nature decided to take it up another notch and had it rain for 2 days before the race. Ijams Nature Center, where the race is held, is only a few miles from downtown Knoxville, so Teresa decided to come with me for this race. We headed to Knoxville on Saturday and had a hotel reservation downtown, but since check in wasn’t until 3 we stopped at Ijams first so I could pre-ride the bike course. The trails don’t drain well and with the amount of rain they had I decided not to risk a pre-ride on slick muddy trails. Instead, Teresa and I hiked the final mile of the run course between rain showers. Very glad I was able to see this part of the course prior to racing it. After our hike we headed to the hotel and got checked in. Thankfully the rained stopped and we were able to walk to the Market Square area of downtown and get dinner at one of the few restaurants that serve vegan options. Knoxville is an interesting town and I look forward to returning to do more exploring. Woke up early race morning, overnight oats for breakfast, then headed to Ijams. Parking was easy and right at the transition area. I setup transition, did my dry-land swim warmup, and then waited for my swim wave. Ijams asked the race director to change from the typical mass start to a wave start, so the field was split into 3 waves and I was wave 2. Once the first was started, wave 2 athletes made our way down to the quarry. There was a layer of fog on the water which would make sighting the buoys a challenge. Race strategy: relax on the swim but push yourself harder than last race, survive the MTB (the trails were going to be slick), run hard but save a little for the final mile climb and decent. I had a great swim. Probably one of my best in a race. I was out of the water 3rd in our wave and 14th overall. I can honestly say that the MTB was the hardest and most challenging ride I’ve ever had. The trails were so slick it felt impossible to stay upright at times. The trail would be considered technical on a dry day, but after 2 days of rain it was almost impassible in places. I pushed and/or carried my bike more times than I care to remember. About ¾ of the way through the bike course I came up on an ambulance and rescue crew. They stopped me and wouldn’t let me continue racing. Apparently, a trail hiker fell, and was injured, and needed to be carried out of the trail. As other racers started piling up at the stoppage, we made sure to stay in the same order. I was 4th in line with at least 10-15 riders behind me. Once the paramedics removed the injured hiker, a race volunteer restarted us one by one every 15 seconds. It ended up being a 12-minute stoppage for me. Officially I had the 23rd fastest bike split, but not sure where I would have placed if there wasn’t a 12-minute break and the racers ahead of us didn’t get stopped. I was very glad to finally make it back to transition and start the run. I had a good run considering how beat up I felt from the bike. 17th fastest run split. Final time was officially 3:07:42, 18th overall and 3rd in age group. I had a good race considering the challenges that we had. I’m looking forward to this race again next year when weather and trail conditions might be more favorable. Race director and volunteers did another amazing job.
I would like to thank the Motus group of race directors for their hard work and dedication to produce off-road endurance events. Race directing is a tough job in the best of times, but during a Pandemic it’s a whole new level of challenging. We as athletes need to support the race directors that are working so hard to create options for us. If there is a race in your area, I encourage you to sign up and race. As more races are successfully held in this Pandemic it will open the door for continued growth. As we navigate through Covid-19, things may never return to our view of normal, but small grass root races will help pave the way to our “new normal”. Motus, how appropriate it means movement, because it helped get me motivated and back to moving again.