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Sunday, May 31, 2009 -- Oak Hill, WV / ACE Adventure Center
XTERRA ACE Big Canyon Triathlon (iPO Event Id#: 11967)

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High Water ... Home Sweet Home

Article and photos by Julie Black

ACE XTERRA photo by Julie Black
Jennifer Marsh on the bike-leg
"Coming to this event feels like home to me." said Andrew Marsh said as he looked up at the blue sky. "It's where I met my wife too." "Yup, we worked this event together years ago." added Jennifer Marsh with a smile. "We love the people here."

Nine years old and growing, the ACE Big Canyon Off-Road Triathlon is held annually at ACE Adventure Center in Oak Hill, West Virginia. The event is part of the XTERRA America Tour.

This 60+ event series ends in an XTERRA Cup championship race with $10,000 in prize money for pros and 34 qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship for amateurs.

Make it to the XTERRA USA Championship race and you've got a chance to chip away at the $20,000 race purse and $60,000 (going to the top overall points leaders in the series).

Combine that with the $105,000 purse awarded at the XTERRA World Championship and you're talking about more than a quarter-million dollars up for grabs in the U.S.

ACE XTERRA photo by Julie Black
XTERRA and ACE = fun
With all of that money at stake it's no surprise that racers show up in WV from outside states such as Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, D.C., Tennessee, Kentucky, and others. One racer was even from another country, New Zealand!

ACE Adventure Center is the primo place to host such an event, with its 1,500-acre adventure headquarters, access to world class rivers, and extensive trail system, the resort provides top-notch support.

The course usually consists of a 1.5-mile downstream swim in the infamous New River Gorge. For the second time in 9 years the river was too high and dangerous for participant to navigate, so that part of the course was cut-out.

Racers were bused to the end of the swim leg location and began the race with the 7-mile, mostly uphill trail run from Dun Glen back to ACE. Upon exiting the trail, they arrived at the transition area located at the top of ACE mountain. Participants then embarked on a grueling 10-mile bike ride loop full of single-track, some muddy "push-hills", and a few rocky, technical sections. The bike leg looped back to the transition area. Since the swim was cut-out completely, racers then dismounted their bikes for a ½ mile or so sprint run on flat dirt road to the finish line. The added sprint made for some dramatic finishes.

Three men battled for first overall throughout the race: Chris Sams (Maryland), Bob Horn (New Jersey), and Mike Hebe (Pennsylvania).

ACE XTERRA photo by Julie Black
Unidentified Pig-Man enters party
Two years ago, Bob Horn claimed 2nd at ACE and has competed in the XTERRA USA Championship.

In 2008, Chris Sams won the overall spot at XTERRA Appalachia and competed in the XTERRA USA Championship.

Part of Team, PA's official 2008 Mountain Bike, Semi-Pro rider Mike Hebe is no stranger to the podium. On April 25, 2009 he claimed 4th in the 40+ category of the Off-Road Duathlon National Championship in Richmond, VA.

Sams was the first to the ACE transitition area, mountain his bike and heading out on the trail followed by Horn. Though 3rd in the run, Hebe overtook Sams and Horn in the bike leg, showing his strong point having the technical riding advantage. On this day it proved enough to win overall, with Hebe on top with a time of 2:06:03.

Sams and Horn battled on the bike leg pushing on, but in the end Sams pulled 27 second lead over Horn to claim second.

The women's race was equally close at the start. A stand-out in this event was pro-racer, Jennifer Smith of New Zealand. In 2008, Smith won 6th overall woman at the XTERRA World Championships, earning her $1,750. Smith had the fastest run and bike times of the women at ACE to win 1st female in 2:18:20 (7th overall).

Emily Chaney, a former employee of ACE, has proved to be a strong runner over the years. This past April, Chaney set a huge personal best of 2:59:01 at the Boston Marathon where she was the 47th overall female. She crossed as the 2nd female at ACE with a time of 2:28:02.

ACE XTERRA photo by Julie Black
Sporting the first year shirt from 2001
Instead of managing the entire operation on this day, XTERRA Representative, Jennifer Marsh (formerly Trapp) raced, although she still helped to mark the triathletes before they boarded the bus. She claimed the 3rd women's spot in 3:19:48.

Lila Thomas and Nicole Reintsma held a tight race the entire time. They ran together for much of the run leg. Reintsma was right behind Thomas during the bike leg as well. Thomas stayed 11 seconds ahead to the end to finish as the 4th female.

Lots of extra were awarded afterwards such as XTERRA trail running shoes, hats, and other wonderful schwag. Racers enjoyed a free burrito dinner and free drafts at the Lost Paddle Lounge.

Let's not forget to thank Jeff Walls, ACE's former race director, crew-man who is now working elsewhere. This was his last ACE event as director. "I'll be back next year, but I'm going to race it!" said Walls.