Well my friends, my first Xterra World Champs is in the books! And with that, so is my 2012 season. I can hardly believe it’s all done. Since my return from Maui, I feel like life’s been in fast forward as I’ve scrambled to catch up. I am certainly happy to take a vicarious re-visit to my time in Maui with a little (belated) recap. Being in Maui was awesome! It was obviously incredibly beautiful, and there was a definite sense of “island lifestyle” peacefulness. I felt really blessed just to be there on such a fabulous “race-cation.”
I tried to take it all in stride and keep things in perspective before the race. I knew I was expecting a lot out of myself and really wanted a great season-culminating performance, but I really tried to keep in mind that I was there solely because I wanted to be, and because racing is what I love to do. I reminded myself that Sunday was all about just giving it my all and being in the moment, and that in the end the only person I ultimately had to satisfy was myself. I kept things pretty low-key leading up to the race because I truly wanted to be as prepared as possible, so no major Maui outdoor excursions/adventures — but I think I found a nice balance with still getting out and taking in some of the Maui sights and lifestyle. It was also super fun to get out on the bike and run courses in the days before the race, as well as take several ocean swims.
The day before the race, things started to get really interesting. The island Gods decided to mix things up for us, starting with a swell that made for some pretty big surf break. That came in early Saturday and was expected to hang around through the race on Sunday. In the world of Xterra swimmers, big waves + big surf break = serious challenge getting in and out of the water! No reservations in saying this made me a little nervous, especially as I watched numerous swimmers get seriously rocked by the waves as they practiced getting in and out of the break on Saturday morning. But, later that day I headed down to the water with ocean gurus/surfer extraordinaires August and my friend Cam, and they gave me some awesome lessons in body surfing/ “how to not get totally rocked by the surf break” 101. I had a few nasty flips, and ended the day with more sand in my hair, bathing suit, ear lobes, etc. than I knew what to do with, but by the end of my 45 minute session of running in and out of the water, ducking under waves and (attempting) riding them, I actually felt pretty confident. Then came the tsunami warning.
I was just getting ready to tuck myself into bed Saturday night when Cam sent us a text that the tsunami warning alarms were blazing near his house. Fortunately, we were on high ground up at the race venue, so we could not even hear the alarms, and were also in a “safe zone.” On went the TV news. The tsunami was expected to hit shortly after 10 p.m., and much of the island was being evacuated, including numerous Xterra athletes who were staying elsewhere, on lower ground. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to stay put in bed, but definitely not at ease with the thought of an impending tsunami, and zero sense of what would be happening with the race the next day. And I thought I was nervous about the swim before…! Needless to say, it wasn’t the best pre-race sleep.
Nonetheless, we woke the next morning to an email that the race was ON as planned, and news that the tsunami hadn’t manifested into much of anything. Whew — dodged that bullet! So, it was time to put the game face on. One of the best things about staying at the race site hotel is the walk to transition and easy access back to your room in case anything is forgotten. I got everything set up easily, and brought my bike in to transition with more confidence than ever thanks to some help from amazing LUNA mechanic Chris. Knowing he had inspected my bike and given it the go-ahead for the race really put me at ease. I was incredibly lucky to have such amazing support from the LUNA team in Maui. Given that all three incredibly talented LUNA Pro Team racers were in the lineup and ready to rock on Sunday, I felt really blessed that the crew still found the time to provide me with support and encouragement, which was awesome and much appreciated!
By race morning, the water down at the beach was actually calmer than it had been the day before. BUT, the surf break was still really big (at least by the standards of a gal who spends about 99.9 percent of her time swimming in a lake, reservoir or pool). But somehow I didn’t feel nervous about it. I was ready to tackle those waves! The pros took off first, and some of them dove right in with aggression and grace, but even some of the best struggled navigating the waters. Two minutes later the men took off. Definitely a bit more surf-break carnage, but it was relatively minimal, and still others really excelled in the rough water. Then there we were, the amateur women, next up on the starting line and off we went. I took the aggressive approach and charged right in, diving under the first big wave at the break. I made it through clean, noticing others around me didn’t, and started charging hard. I knew with so many people and such rough water that I was going to have to put in a good hard starting push.
While I’d made it through the break clean, I was surprised at how rough the water still was
as we got further out. The going was not easy, and the swim was definitely more taxing than usual. I reminded myself it was the same for everyone, and that with adversity comes opportunity. I was swimming hard and using lots of energy, especially as we started to intersect with the big field of men. We rounded the first buoy and headed back to shore for the first of two laps. Swimming with the tide certainly helped, but the surf break seemed to have gotten even bigger, and some of the swimmers around me definitely got tossed around pretty good when we neared the beach. Thanks to my personal lessons, I was able to time it right and exit the water smoothly. Big sigh of relief!! On the beach run I saw Cam and Aug, and couldn’t help the huge smile on my face, as I realized that as tough as this was, it was actually kind of fun, and I was doing okay!
Back into the water for round two, and I once again escaped the surf break unscathed (another big sigh). Just one more exit to go now. I was told on the run that I was 17th woman. Pretty far back, but I knew there were several of us in a tight pack, so I could easily move up if I played my cards right. I swam hard, but felt the difficulty of this swim even more this lap as I worked to navigate the rough water. Things definitely got more aggressive on lap two as we caught up to more men, and I took a real hard kick to the face that I was sure had knocked out one of my teeth (fortunately, I was wrong!). I worked hard to stick on the feet in front of me while trying to maintain a bit of personal space, and it was no easy task. After a final charge near the beach, I was relieved to make my last clean break and start the run up to transition. I’d moved up to 15th, with several women right in sight, but I’d definitely lost some major time to the top swimmers, and really had some work to do.
One too-slow transition later (this is definitely still a weakness), I was on the bike, and stoked! A thick cloud cover was keeping the temps down, and pleasing me perfectly. The first five miles of the bike course was all single track, with quick terrain changes, lots of corners, and steep transitions. It was pure awesome in my book! I was a woman on the move, working my way smoothly around the many other riders, powering hard up the climbs, rounding the corners with finesse, and moving up the field quickly. I felt strong, powerful and determined. I was on a mission, and while I knew I wasn’t in the best position, I felt confident I could still achieve my goals. I stayed calm in my mind and focused. I received my first split at about mile two, and I was five minutes down to the lead amateur. Definitely a big gap, but I told myself it was attainable. By about mile 5, as we neared the end of the single track, I had moved up about 8 spots in the women’s field, and cut a minute-and-a-half out of that lead. Still a bit of ground to make up, but I really felt like I was on my way, and the day was really shaping up nicely.
… But then we hit the jeep road. I’m not sure where exactly things started to turn around for me, as it was sort of just a gradual progression backwards as time went on. I worked hard to keep my foot on the gas on the open roads, but it just wasn’t happening. My riding style most definitely favors more technical single track, variation in terrain and pitch and quick transitions, versus open roads with long consistent stretches of up, down and flat. This became readily apparent, as I’d felt like a rockstar on that first tough five-mile single track stretch, but just couldn’t make it happen out on the jeep roads. I really struggled with the downhills in particular, and lost a ton of time there. Again just being more used to single track and more varying terrain, I had a really hard time adapting to the concept of just letting it fly down the long, open, dusty descents. It was all about sheer speed, and I just didn’t have it!
I watched myself get passed and left in the dust on the downhills as other riders flew by, many teetering just over the line of control, but I was just too apprehensive to achieve the speed necessary to respond. I was still able to make up ground on the long climbs, often gaining a few spots back among women by the tops, but then we’d swap again on the downhills, making for a frustrating see-saw effect that ultimately saw me losing most of the spots I’d already gained in the earlier part of the race. By the end of the ride, I was pretty ready to be off my bike. I really had no idea where I stood among the women’s field, but I knew it was nowhere near where I’d wanted to be.
I headed into the run determined to give every last-ditch effort my body could produce and try to gain a few spots back, but unfortunately I knew I was really out of contention for the top-five overall amateur spot I was pushing for. But, it’s racing, and sometime you don’t end up where you want to be, and all you can do is do your best in that moment. My body really didn’t feel bad heading into the run, and I definitely believed I could make up some solid ground on this last leg, especially with a few women in sight just moments ahead. But, for some reason, I could not prove myself right. While I honestly felt like I was running alright and certainly fighting hard to leave it all out there, it just wasn’t happening for me. Not only was I unable to catch the few women just in front of me, but I actually lost a few more spots as a couple women passed me on the climbs, moving stunningly quick. I had no response, despite my best efforts.
It was a frustrating run to say the least. The course was painfully tough and much less fun than it had been in practice. I was acutely aware that I was failing to excel on the challenging terrain, but all I could do was push on. There were a couple moments when I caught myself starting to feel bummed out about how my day had turned out and where I was in the field, but I quickly reminded myself that the race was not over, my actions still very much mattered, and to snap out of it and keep fighting all the way in. I am glad I did, because somehow I found a finishing push in the last mile that I didn’t think I had in me. I finally made my one (female) pass on the run leg with about a half-mile to go, near the end of the final descent, just before the brutal finishing stretch across the sand of the beach. This lit an extra little flame for the finish, as I told myself I wanted that spot, and needed to hold on until the line. As it turns out, that last charge moved me into second place in my age group. Another reminder to always keep fighting.
All said and done, I finished the day 14th overall amateur and second in my age group, just a couple minutes out of the win. Needless to say, I fell short of my goals and expectations. But that’s the tough thing about racing is you can never really know what to expect on any given day. My body just didn’t have it that race day, as much as I had prepared for it. As is always the case on a tough day, it was a little frustrating and disappointing — particularly this time, as I’m just not really sure where things fell short. I had no major bonk or colossal body meltdown; no nutritional or equipment issues; no pacing issues… really, I felt okay all day. But just okay. I just couldn’t find that extra race-day gear and make it stick around, and the race just got away from me. Several other women were stronger than me on that day, and they turned in some really impressive performances.
But, while it was not my best day, I can say with confidence that I made the best of what it was. And in the end, for this reason, I do not feel bad about my race. Yes, I am a little disappointed that my body came up short of its potential on the big day. I am disappointed that personally I did not feel or perform my best, but I am not disappointed in my effort. On this particular day, I did all I was capable of. I knew this when I crossed that finish line, so I was able to leave Maui with my head held high. Do I think I could have done better on another day? Absolutely. But on this day, that was all I had. Most importantly, I did not give up. I fought hard, despite knowing I was coming up short. And I think this race was a really good reminder for me of just how important it is to do that, even on the days that are not-so-great. Because of that fight, I was still able to achieve what is certainly a very respectable result among a strong field of incredible female racers from around the world, and I am very grateful for that.
I am also grateful in that this race really helped give me a solid sense of what I need to work on going into next year. The good news is that there is lots of room for improvement! 🙂 In particular, I know that the best athletes can figure out how to be successful on any course, and not just the ones that are particularly suited to them. I need to learn how to not lose my groove on a bike course simply because the terrain is not what I’m accustomed to. (Not to mention, how to go FASTER down the hills!). There’s lots of work to be done all around, but I am really fired up to do it, and looking so forward to what still lies ahead. My first Xterra World Championships, and my sixth Xterra race, is complete. It was a tough day, but I made it!
To all who sent messages, texts, and words of support, THANK YOU!! You guys are AWESOME! I absolutely channeled that positive energy and support while I was out there, and it really helped me to keep fighting. I feel so grateful to have had such an amazing network of people standing behind me throughout this season. My biggest and final race of the year was not my best, but I am ending my season with no regrets, and a very eager outlook for all that lies ahead.