I already know at the start that I’m going to love writing this blog, because I would happily relive my week in Maui for the Xterra World Championships again and again. When I returned home last week, I was sad to leave the island… but my heart was SO full after an absolutely incredible time in a beautiful place, with some of the coolest people of all time, and conquering one very challenging race day.
Xterra Worlds was definitely the “big daddy” of my race season (after all, it is the World Championships!). It was also the final race on my 2013 calendar, and I was determined to carry my momentum from Ironman Lake Tahoe in September and end the season on a high note. Coming off such a strong performance at IMLT, I knew I was fit and primed to turn in another solid result, but after focusing primarily on the road and longer distance training heading into IMLT, I had to make a pretty quick turnaround to get back into off-road mode — not to mention making sure I also got properly recovered from the Ironman distance.
Fortunately, the mountain biking around Tahoe was absolutely amazing this fall. Dampened trails, crisp air and stunningly bright leaves had me pretty much grinning ear-to-ear, like a kid in the world’s coolest playground, every single day. I really did enjoy a lot of the road bike training I did leading up to Ironman, but after spending a solid few days on my mountain bike again, I was immediately reminded that the singletrack really does have my heart. The many fun rides I had throughout October got me even more psyched up to be back on the dirt and competing for the Xterra amateur world title!
The week before my trip, my body was feeling a little sluggish, and I started to have some doubts about how I’d dealt with the challenge of balancing recovery and preparation. But I reminded myself to trust in my training program, and to feel confident in knowing I’d done all I could to be ready. And once we touched down in Maui, I did feel that way. It was all about focusing on the race itself, and not what I had or hadn’t done coming in — and soaking up the entire experience of being on the island and a part of Xterra’s main event.
The days before the race were spent training on the course, getting accustomed to the heat and humidity, spending time with some seriously awesome Xterra buds, eating delicious food, checking out some incredible island sights (while staying as inactive and sun-free as possible!), and even doing a little dancing. Time flew by, and just like that race morning had arrived. I felt excited, but surprisingly calm. I was ready to do this thing!
As usual, I had some pretty big goals for myself, and had set my sights high for this race. At a World Championship, with competitors from across the globe, it’s always hard to really know how you might stack up against the field. But I knew what I was shooting for. I wanted a top-five overall amateur finish, and an age group win — and I wanted it bad! But, like at IMLT, I held on to the idea of the overall amateur win. Again, it’s hard to ever really know what your chances against your competitors are like on any given day, or how things will unfold on the course. All you can know is what you’ve done to get there, what you believe you’re capable of, and what you’re going to try to do to achieve it. And deep down, I did believe I was capable of the overall amateur win at this race — but, with some incredibly strong and talented competitors in the field, I knew I would have to have one hell of a day to do it. It would have to be a perfect race. I kept all this in mind as start time neared, but I knew I had a long day and a very tough battle ahead of me, so I tried to channel my energy into staying within myself, and focus on the process rather than the outcome.
While the win would prove to be out of reach for me that day, the battle to the finish line was every bit as challenging as I’d anticipated. While I was happy to see a much calmer morning at the beach than the epic surf brake from last year’s race, I was not so happy about the heat. Race day brought the hottest temps of my time in Maui, along with very high humidity. This made the day pretty tough for me, despite my sauna time and other attempts at ‘heat training’ — a pretty tough task in October in Truckee — before leaving home.
Swim – 26:07, 17th amateur female
When the gun went off and us amateur ladies charged our way through the surf break, I focused on finding some fast feet in front of me and getting into a good rhythm. I felt really good in the water, and much more comfortable with the ocean than I did last year. Before long we started overtaking some of the amateur males who’d started 2 minutes ahead, and by the first turn buoy that ocean swim was getting seriously crowded! This was one of the many downsides of starting in the last wave… but I knew all of us amateur women were facing the same challenge. Heading back to the beach I tried to find my own space and distance myself from the chaos. This definitely put me on a longer line, but I think it was worth it to have some clear water. I got out of the surf break with no problems, and made the small beach run to head back in for ‘lap two.’ I knew I’d already lost a few minutes to the top swimmers, but I was having a really strong-for-me swim, and feeling solid. The second lap was much shorter, and put in a big kick to keep myself as close as possible to the leaders. I ended up coming out of the water in 17th place, about 4 minutes back. A solid chunk of time to make up, but it was about what I expected, and I was really happy with my time, which was a couple minutes faster than last year.
Bike – 2:06:36, 6th amateur female
I knew I had a big task ahead of me heading onto the bike, but I felt up to the challenge. I like to think anything is possible when it comes to this sport! This bike course is not very technical at all, but is really challenging in other ways. There’s a huge amount of climbing over the 20 miles, with some very steep pitches and some painfully long hills. The first 4 miles felt particularly relentless as we headed up (and up and up!) into the west Maui slopes. Having started behind all the men, and getting out of the water behind so many women, made the first few miles all the more difficult. Passing opportunities were not easy to come by and I had to make some hard charges to get by other racers and avoid getting bogged down. I rode with a sense of fury, determined to move up the field and start closing the gap to the lead.
I felt strong, and my legs felt responsive and light. By about mile 4, I’d already made up several spots, and got a split that I’d cut more than a minute off of my time back from the lead. I told myself I was still within striking distance, less than three minutes back, and pushed on. From there we got a bit of descending, and then the course moved toward the open jeep roads that make up the majority of the ride, and also bring some of the more sustained climbs and long descents, a lot of very loose dirt, and lots of exposure to the sun. This type of riding is definitely not my forte, as I very much prefer more technical singletrack, with quicker terrain changes. I knew from last year that I’d probably struggle a bit on all these open fire-road sections, but I was determined to maintain as much power and speed as possible. As it turns out, I may have been a little too focused on pushing hard…
I continued to steadily work my way up the women’s field the next few miles, getting up into the top five, and eventually into the top three among female amateurs. This was right where I wanted to be! I was feeling psyched up, strong, and determined to keep my foot on the gas. But on one of the downhill corners around mile 7, I didn’t see the little arrow sign in the giant cloud of dust from the racers in front of me, and I ended up going the wrong way. I stayed straight on the road instead of making the right turn that continued down, and I ended up riding up a long hill that lead to nowhere. I thought things looked a little funny as I got part way up and didn’t see anyone in front of me, but I could hear another racer behind me, so I figured I was all good and the trail was about to turn off somewhere. But as I neared the top of the hill all I could see was a big green gate blocking the way. I looked for a turn-off to the side, but it wasn’t there. WTF?! I was so confused, and I turned around to ask my wrong-way pal if he knew what the heck was going on. He immediately started bombing back down the hill, so — after a mild panic attack — I followed suit and hightailed it back to the the actual course.
I got back on track, but not without losing a solid couple minutes, not to mention a good chunk of oh-so-precious energy after climbing up an unnecessary hill. Ugh! I was SO bummed, frustrated, stressed, etc. I just went off-course at the freaking World Championship! Who does that?! Well… apparently me, the guy behind me, and a few other racers, as I would come to find out later. At any rate, it was a total bummer. But I knew I could either let it be a huge setback if I dwelt on it and started stressing about the minutes I’d lost, or I could just put it out of my head, move on, and focus on making up the time. I chose the latter, and as I fought my way back up the field, I tried not to get too bummed when I had to re-pass many of the competitors I’d already gone around much earlier. It was a good test of staying mentally tough and focusing on the present. Unfortunately I’d been passed by the eventual second-place amateur woman while I was off course, and lost even more time from the lead, but after some hard fighting on now-tiring legs — and several more tough miles of loose dirt, hard climbs, and brutal heat and humidity — I was able to work my way back up to 4th place in the women’s amateur field. I was a woman on a mission!
Run – 51:15, 5th amateur female
By the time I reached T2, I was definitely feeling worked. My legs were tired, my energy was running low, and I was H-O-T! I knew the win was well out of reach at that point (because my LUNA teammate, Hannah Rae, was absolutely CRUSHING it!), but I was really pleased to be in the top 5. Heading out on the run I felt a definite sense of urgency. I had no idea how far anyone was behind me, and I really wanted to hold onto that top-five spot — and hopefully move up! The first 3 miles of the run follow the same path as the bike course, so it’s pretty much all uphill, with a few really steep pitches. I was basically alone, with no women anywhere in sight, and only a few men who I passed on the way up. I was hot and tired, but mentally this section went by much quicker than I expected. Running uphill is NOT my jam, so I was expecting to struggle more than I did. At the top I got a split from August that I was 40 seconds down from the third place woman, who was also in my age group!
Okay Kara, time to DIG DEEP! My age group world title, and an overall amateur podium, were within reach! From there the run flattened out and then was almost all downhill, so I was able to get my legs kicking and start picking up time pretty quickly. (Downhill running IS my jam!). But just when I thought I was totally rockin’ it, another woman came speeding by me. I opened up my stride and pushed the tempo to stay with her. This definitely upped my pace, and I started to feel really good and even have a little fun as we made our way back down the slope! She got a little gap on me, but I could still see her up ahead. By about mile 4.5, I could also see the gal in my age group. I knew I was making up time on her, but she was moving strong, and I had to work really hard to close the gap. I caught her at the bottom of the final climb in the race (a brutal heartbreaker of a hill that I’m confident they threw in there just to devastate all of us just when we thought we were in the clear). I hate this hill! But I knew I had to suck it up and go; it was my opportunity. I told my screaming legs to shut it, made the pass and didn’t look back. I was in a serious world of hurt, but somehow I was making up time on the woman who’d passed me earlier. If I passed her back, I’d have my podium spot!
The top of the hill marked mile 5, and from there it was a long, gradual switch-back descent down to the beach. I loved this part, and I was confident I’d be able to get away there if I could make the pass. I closed the gap just over the top of the hill, and after the first switchback I found an opening to get around. I let my legs go and gave all I had to smash that downhill. I felt like I was flying, but she was hanging right on me, and near the bottom she made a move and sneaked around as we crossed the final road before turning back to the beach. But I decided then that I was not going to let her go; I was going to fight this thing out to the very end. And that’s exactly what I ended up having to do.
When we got onto the beach (the other unbelievably evil section of the race), I put in a hard charge and got away. On the final sand incline before the finish, I hit the wall big time and was in absolute suffer-ville. My legs had nothing. But the spectators screamed at me to GO! August told me I had a 5-second gap, and assured me I could put in a final kick. Once I hit the grass and got into the finish chute, I put in the best sprint I possibly could, draining every last ounce of my energy. I made it across the line in 3:28:24 completely tapped, but as the third overall amateur and the 25-29 age group world champion!… And then I promptly fell over and got wheeled to the med tent to cool off and get some energy back. Goooood times!
I was totally exhausted, but very happy. Between the hot conditions and the difficulty of the course, this was a seriously tough race (in some ways more difficult than IMLT), and an epic battle — and I gave it everything I had. That is the ultimate goal of every race. Of course I was shooting for that overall amateur win, but Hannah Rae put that out of reach for me or anyone else in the amateur field with an absolutely stunning performance when it mattered most. She delivered perfectly, turning in a commanding win, and I am so happy for her! I was definitely disappointed about the mistake I’d made on the bike, and I do think I could have been in strong contention for second place amateur had I avoided that, but you never know… Outside of that, I was very satisfied with my race. I left it all out there, and I fought hard to earn a finish I am proud of. Last year I was 14th overall amateur female in Maui, and second place in my age group. To take the age group title this year and finish third among all amateurs was a HUGE leap for me, and there really is no better feeling than progress! I am totally psyched!
After the race we spent a couple extra days on the island, hiking to insane views, snorkeling with turtles and fish, soaking up the sunshine, and generally exploring all the sweetness that is Maui. It was magical! I left feeling SO fulfilled, happy and extremely grateful for such an incredible experience, and an amazing year. This trip was such a special way to end the season. I really didn’t want it to be over, but it was a wonderful ending, and leaves me so excited to come back for more next year.
I have so many to thank for making this trip happen for me, and helping me turn in a successful race result. As always, I am so grateful to have so many wonderful people on my “team,” supporting me from near and far. It means the world to me!
A few special thanks are needed this time…
– First and foremost, to August for getting me ready to race even when I felt doubtful that I would be. And, of course, for believing in me.
– To all who donated to help make Maui a reality for me. I truly cannot thank you enough!
– To the LUNA squad, for continuing to inspire me, and for all the support… especially our mechanic Chris and pro team manager Waldek, who ensured we were all as ready to go fast as we could possibly be, and helped take away those outside concerns.
– To Orbea, Orca, Oakley, Paco’s Bike and Ski and Alpenglow Sports for helping to support me with the best gear, service and general coolness factor evah.
– And to all my Xterra buds for making this week so much fun (especially you, Lizzie and Rory… for the riding, swimming, dancing, laughing, med-tent-sharing, post-race-celebrationing and for helping me to turn a bed sheet into a Halloween costume!). Xterra peeps, you totally rule, and I can’t wait to see you again next spring! Until then… here’s to the off-season! 🙂