My 2013 triathlon season has officially begun!
Saturday marked my season kickoff, with the Xterra Real triathlon in Granite Bay, a short Xterra that features a .5-mile swim, 16-mile mountain bike and a 4-mile trail run. This is a super fun race put on by TBF Racing, the company responsible for getting me hooked on triathlon when I did my first race with them on a whim back in 2009. They do a fantastic job of hosting professional races with a laid-back feel and super fun atmosphere, and this year’s Xterra Real was no exception. I was stoked to start my triathlon season here. It was also my first race of the season last year, as well as my very first Xterra race. Also with being so close to home and incorporating a SUPER fun bike course, this is pretty much a can’t-miss event for me.
I definitely had some mixed feelings approaching the race. Going into the first race is always tough, as there are generally a lot of unknowns, and it’s always somewhat challenging and nerve-wracking to put your body to the test again after the off-season. There is certainly something exciting and refreshing about starting a new season with a blank slate and nothing but opportunity ahead, but “diving back in” — especially with high expectations — can also be a little scary. I have to admit I did not feel completely ready for Saturday, and really felt somewhat unsure as to what the day would have in store for me and how my body (and mind) would respond.
Nonetheless, I was eager to take on the challenge and find out. Frankly, I was eager to get the first race in the bank. For me, there’s a huge value in just getting out there again and going through the process of racing (particularly in triathlon, where the process is so complex in itself). Essentially, it’s a reminder of what it’s like to be “in the moment,” and to push your body beyond its comfort zone. For me it is also a good reminder that yes, I CAN do this — even if it REALLY does hurt! — and also that I LOVE it!
I was a little nervous Saturday morning, but also pretty fired up — the mixed emotions doing their dance. Similarly, I held on to a quiet confidence in my abilities to go out there and give it my all (going through all the “I’m a bad ass” mantras in my mental bank), hoping they’d override the subtle hints of question and doubt (“It’s been a while,” and “I’m not sure I’m ready.”) But ultimately, as much as I wanted to win (and of COURSE I did – it’s racing!), I reminded myself that this was about the PROCESS of racing, and getting that first race checked off the list.
I focused on keeping things in perspective: I was gunning for the W, yes, but win or no win, this race would lay the foundation for my 2013 season, and I would take ALL of it (good and bad) with me for the remainder of the year as I move forward. When I thought about it this way, I felt super excited to get out there, empty the tank, and see what I could do. Seeing some good friends before the start and knowing I’d be sharing the course with them was also a great reminder of how fun racing really is. I was particularly stoked to see LUNA teammate Lentine Zahler, who was taking her first stab at Xterra racing, and came to the venue with a huge smile and an eager, open and fantastic attitude. I was pumped for her! Time to get this party started!
I won this race in 2012 in my first Xterra attempt, but I knew this year’s field was MUCH stronger than last year’s, with some fast, fierce and generally awesome women set to hit the start line. I knew coming in that none of us would make it easy on each other and it would be a battle regardless of how good any of us felt. That proved to be true from the get-go, and we quickly found ourselves engaged in some full-throttle, high-intensity racing. It was definitely the wake-up call my body needed, and a stark reminder of the level of effort and desire required on an Xterra race course.
I was pretty nervous for the swim, as last year Folsom Lake was a brisk 48 degrees for this race and even the short 1/2 mile distance left me with a headache and feeling disoriented from the cold. But this year it was about 50 degrees, and honestly those 2 degrees made a HUGE difference. The water felt cold, but not frigid. Unfortunately, my swim itself was very mediocre, and I was pretty disappointed with it. I felt like I was swimming strong and sighting well, working hard to draft and stick toward the front of the pack, but I came out of the water as the 10th woman, with several others right on my heels, in 13:20 (to last year’s 12:26). Yikes — I had some work to do!
You’d think this would have given me some hustle in the transition, but I did myself NO favors here, losing several more spots and precious chunks of time as I fumbled around trying to get things straight and generally taking my sweet-ass time. There’s no doubt my transitions need SERIOUS work, and Saturday was proof of that. The first race is always more challenging, but this was really just unacceptable (weakness NOTED!). After what felt like forever, it was on to the bike, and I was pretty psyched to be out there. I love this bike course and had really been looking forward to riding it. I hopped on the bike ready to ride hard and determined to chase down some ladies!
It was not easy being so far back in the pack the first few miles, especially without a lot of room for passing (and a few competitors who weren’t too keen on scooting over). I had to work hard to make my way to the front, but the two strongest bikers in the women’s field, Sian Turner and Debby Sullivan, were just up ahead and I could see them also pushing through the field, so that served as awesome motivation for me to keep working my way up. Eventually I made my way into 3rd, with Sian and Debby still just ahead. I wasn’t feeling stellar, but I tried to focus on how fun it was to be back on the bike and charging hard! I kept reminding myself NOT to hold back. With these ladies, you simply can’t afford to do that, because the gas is on from the get-go and there’s really no letting up. The pace was fast, and we each made it clear we’d come to win as we fought hard to gain time on the bike. It had become a three-woman race for us.
About mid-way through lap one I moved into second, just ahead of Sian, a dear friend and also the eventual race winner. I pushed it to try to get away and start closing in on Debby, who now had a lead of more than 30 seconds and was charging HARD. I maintained this position through the lap and was ready to try to pick up the pace a bit on lap 2. Sian was right on my tail, and I was actually pretty stoked we were getting to ride together. She’s an amazing rider and it was super fun to be in such a high-intensity race alongside her. I felt like we had some great momentum going and may be able to start cutting into Debby’s lead. Unfortunately, the intensity of the moment got the better of me, and I came in to a corner a little too hot, causing my back tire to slide out and bringing me down hard on the trail right in front of Sian. Fortunately she was able to get by, and after kindly doing a quick check-in that I was okay made her way quickly up the trail.
I was indeed fine other than some banged up legs, a slightly deflated ego and some frustration. But my handle bars had twisted completely around over my top tube, so it took some maneuvering (and precious time) to get the bike straightened out and get back on my way. At that point, Sian was flying up the trail and Debby was gaining more time, and I was definitely out of contact. Unfortunately, I think I never quite got back in the groove after this, and let the crash affect me more than it should have. I pushed hard to try to come back, but lost a bit more time through the rest of the course. Mentally, I think I settled a bit and as I was getting splits I sort of let myself be content with the time back, relying on my run to make up the difference, rather than keep pushing the gas to try to gain immediate time. This was definitely a mistake, and a lesson learned for me. I am confident the crash itself did not make the difference between first and second for me, but I do believe the way I let it affect me mentally and my inability to bounce back as quickly as I should have played a factor in my performance on the day. Lesson learned! Otherwise, I think it was a solid ride for me, particular so early in the season. My legs are definitely not quite there yet, but will come around with more time on the bike I’m sure. Bike leg (plus T1 and T2) time was 1:17:24, 3rd fastest female.
Heading on to the run (after another slow transition), I knew I’d lost some time and had a very tough task ahead of me. But I remained determined to make up the gap, and kept pushing for (and believing in!) the win. But with just a 4-mile run and a deficit of nearly three minutes to Debby and about a minute on Sian, I was asking a lot of myself. In the end, I just didn’t have it and my run fell a little short of what I expected. I ran hard and left it all out there, but my legs just didn’t have the gear I was searching for today and I couldn’t quite get it going. My splits continued to show that I was not making any time on the speedy Sian, who was executing an incredible race and had now taken over the lead. But I didn’t let up. I was able to overtake Debby to move into second shortly before mile 3, but stayed almost dead-even in my splits with Sian, who crossed the line just over a minute ahead of me to take the win in an incredible effort.
I was absolutely stoked for Sian on a very well-deserved and gutsy win. I was also very happy to finish second, as it was an extremely hard-fought result. I was followed by Debby in third, with the fastest bike split of the day. In the end my run time was 30:55, the 5th-fastest women’s split. This was a little disappointing, but I do believe my run is where I want it to be right now based on training and a race I did back in February. But it just didn’t show today. I have been putting in a lot of work on the run these last few months, and I’m confident that as I continue to work on my swim-bike-run (putting it all together) and improve my race efficiency, my run will be faster and I’ll feel back to my normal self.
All said and done, we left it all out there, and I am so stoked we got to share the course and push each other to perform better. Strong competition is what makes us grow as athletes, and I’m confident these ladies will certainly continue to help me grow throughout the year. Thanks for making me work for it gals; it was an honor racing with you! Ultimately, I am not disappointed with my result. Actually, I’m quite pleased. I think it is a really solid start to the season, and was certainly a strong effort. It has been a long ski season for me, with a lot of coaching (and repping, and writing, and marketing, and so on…) — and not quite as much “me” time, and certainly not as much specific swim/bike/run time as I would have liked. I know that at this point I am a bit behind on preparation relative to most of my competitors. But honestly, I think that is totally okay, and I’m actually quite happy to be where I am right now. As World Ironman and 70.3 Champion Leanda Cave states well in her latest blog post, there is a lot to be said for having a true off-season. While it is hard to not be able to bike and run consistently year-round living in the mountains, I think I am lucky to be able to supplement my training with Nordic skiing, and in the long run I think it’s a great thing.
That being said, I know I have a lot of work to do. This is also okay, and in fact a really good thing in my eyes. There’s a long and exciting season ahead, and I am looking forward to continuing to progress as it goes along, with lots of big races and huge goals on the horizon, and plenty of time to prepare myself to meet them. I learned a lot Saturday about what I need to do going forward, as well as what my strengths are right now, and I look forward to applying that knowledge as I head into more specific training this spring. I have a ways to go, but I am now several steps ahead of where I was pre-race, and even more motivated to get out there and do what I need to do to keep moving forward. Happy to have this race in the books and the “process” completed, valuable lessons in the pocket, and a reminder that the fire inside is still burning very bright. Next stop: Xterra West Championships, Vegas, April 14th! Onward!!
Official Xterra Planet race report and results link here