All year long I’ve had one race in my sights and on the back of my mind. Xterra World Championships was my biggest day of this season, and the one race I really set myself up to “peak” for, given that this year was all about experience for me. Needless to say, I wanted to be at my best for this event. Leading into the race, my approach was simple and really laid-back, which suits me well. I put in a solid block of training, with a lot of really hard work and specificity in the weeks ahead of US Nationals, so while I was definitely focused on sharpening up before Worlds, I wasn’t trying to cram in a ton of training or really gain additional fitness. Basically, I had some super important key workouts that I was very focused on (including one more solid 70.3 effort a few weeks out from Worlds), and aside from that my biggest priority was rest and relaxation. If I felt like I was still tired from one of my key workouts, hadn’t slept great, was too bogged down or stressed out with work, or simply didn’t feel mentally up to completing a session, I modified it or skipped it altogether. I had already put in the work throughout the season, so the goal now was simply to get to Maui as fresh, sharp, happy, and rarin’ to go as possible!
I absolutely have to thank August (Unleashed Coaching) for not only setting up a training plan that totally suits my needs and addresses my goals in a completely unique and refreshing way, but for also keeping me patient, confident and positive even when I have doubts about how I’m feeling or how things are going. He reminds me to trust in the process and have faith that things will come together when they’re supposed to, and once again that’s exactly what happened. I got to Maui feeling fit, excited and truly rested for the first time all year. I was excited about the possibilities and ready to leave it all out there.
Maui Race Prep
I arrived earlier than I have in the past so I’d have more time to get prepped for the race and hopefully get heat acclimated. Thanks to the incredible generosity of TBF Racing and the Maui Tourism Board, I’d won a gift certificate for three free nights at the Mana Kai Maui hotel in Kihei at one of my early season Xterra races with TBF, so we stayed over there the first few days of the trip. It was really fun to see a different side of the island since I’ve only ever stayed in Kapalua where the race takes place, and it offered some great (and hot!) training opportunities! Once we moved over to Kapalua, the first few days were rainy and I had quite the adventure when I (like many others) got caught in a major downpour on my first attempt to pre-ride the course, and ended up literally stuck out there because the clay-like soil had gotten so saturated and sticky we could no longer pedal our bikes or even roll the wheels, as they were too caked in thick mud. It took nearly 45 minutes to travel about 3/4 of a mile to get off the course, and as frustrating as it was at the time, in hindsight the whole situation was pretty epic and hilarious.
I wasted some energy stressing about the rain and course conditions the next few days, because the course was so completely unrideable when I’d previewed it that day, but fortunately the weather cleared up and the soil began to dry out before race day. (It would end up being absolutely perfect riding conditions!). The other thing that had me a little nervous was that there was some pretty big swell in the bay where our swim takes place, which made for (what I thought were) fairly challenging conditions getting in and out of the water where the waves hit the beach. I practiced a bit in the days before the race, sometimes totally nailing the body surf exit and dolphin dive entrance, and other times completely failing and getting absolutely pummeled by the waves (much to the delight of onlookers, who enjoyed laughing at all of our mishaps). The failures made me worried for race day, but I reminded myself I had already experienced pretty much worst-case scenario with some of those epic water tumbles, so everything would be ay-okay in the end, and tried to put it out of my mind. As usual, the days before the race passed all too quickly, between training sessions/race prep, time with so many awesome Xterra friends, and some moderately-mellow island adventures — and BAM, just like that it was time to go!
Expectations and Goals
Coming in to this race, I really didn’t know exactly what to expect in terms of my result since it was my first time racing World Championships as a pro. Last year I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to become an age group World Champion, and while it felt absolutely amazing to achieve that goal, I was honestly relieved not to have that kind of a performance-based objective this year, especially since I know I would’ve been putting even more pressure on myself to try to take the overall amateur title. Coming in as a rookie pro here was frankly refreshing. I had no big expectations of how I should perform against my competitors, and no real pressure, other than to give everything I had so I could be satisfied with my own performance. I wanted to make good on the new level of fitness I had achieved this year and the “peak” form I’d finally allowed myself to come into. I set personal goals rather than performance-based goals, but of course I still wanted to push myself against my competitors. Leading into the race I had this idea that I really wanted to shoot for a top-15 finish. I knew it would take a special performance and a truly stellar day, but honestly I felt I had it in me. However, once the start list was finalized and I realized this was probably the deepest and most competitive women’s pro field ever assembled for this event, I knew that even with a spectacular race a top-15 would be quite the reach — not impossible, but certainly not likely. So, I decided top-20 would be a good mark to aim for, but stayed focused on my personal goals and put result aspirations on the backburner.
While I was naive to just how tough the pro competition would be, what I knew very well having raced here the past two years was just how incredibly challenging this race is. Maui is a special course indeed, but it is a BEAST, plain and simple. Between the relentlessly long (and oh-so-steep!) climbs of both the bike and run courses and the overwhelming heat and humidity — not to mention the rough swim conditions — it makes for a damn tough day that truly does the term “Xterra Warriors” justice. I do tend to like a good challenging course and tough conditions, because while I may not be the most talented athlete out there, I can suffer with the best of them… but this course puts me through the ringer every time and has me questioning my sanity (even as an Ironman athlete who’s had some very rough days!). More than anything, when race morning came I found myself nervous for the pain I was about to endure. I knew how hard it was going to be no matter how great I felt, and how hard every one of us would have to push to try to out-push the others. All these women are so strong, fast and downright gritty. We were all in shape and ready to go. It was gonna come down to who could be stronger in those pivotal moments when it hurt most, and it was gonna be a battle. I was ready to fight!
Race Day! — Swim
The waves were up again on race morning, and I got my best pummeling yet in my warm-up — awesome! Good to get it out of the way I guess…?! Once the gun went off, all of us pros “charged” into the water, and I have to say from my vantage point it didn’t look speedy or graceful for any of us, so at least I wasn’t the only one. I got in a good little group of fellow pink caps and we took on the giant washing machine together. The water was massively choppy and stayed that way all the way out to the buoy, which made both sighting and breathing (without swallowing gallons of salt water) very difficult, and just generally seemed to take a ton more energy. Once some of the masses of speedier (and aggressive!) age group men started catching us things got even harder. Honestly, it felt more like a war zone than a swim, and I was literally just trying to stay afloat and keep moving forward! It was exhausting. I made it out of the first exit (this was a two-loop swim) relatively unscathed and even managed some body surfing on the waves, and headed back in for lap two. Things got more crowded, more choppy, and more tiring. I wanted out of there! I pulled and kicked (and fought for space) as hard as I could, and when I made it back to exit 2, the biggest wave of the whole swim was there to greet me, and I had to turn into it and totally duck for cover before making a desperate dash to get out before the next one hit. I was so relieved to be out of the water after such a tough swim! Below is an awesome video showing what the conditions were like for us…
I was somewhere around 20th woman out of the water, and I could see plenty of ladies just ahead of me as I entered transition. I was excited to ride and feeling really positive about the possibilities. The bike course starts off hard from the get-go as it heads straight up into the west Maui hills on narrow singletrack. I felt really solid and was making up ground on several of the women in sight up ahead. I tried to focus on being smooth and efficient, but the course was incredibly hectic as we got swarmed by frantic age group men trying to make very aggressive passes and not always being friendly about it. It was actually really stressful and difficult to navigate. I told myself to stay calm and remember to race within myself. Aside from the chaos, I felt strong and my body was cooperative and responsive, no doubt enjoying this new feeling of freshness! The pain started to set in as we continued up, up and up, and my mind tried to battle me at different points throughout the course but I was (eventually) able to find a positive place each time and keep pushing through. I moved up several spots during the ride and got to spend a good portion of the course riding with a couple of the ladies I’d caught up with (at different times), which really pushed me and kept my foot on the gas. I only got passed by two women on the ride, the 5th place finisher on the day and my teammate Shonny V., who was crushing it as usual. Toward the end I got increasingly hot, tired and uncomfortable and started riding a little sloppy, which caused me to crash into a tree on a windy section near the end as one of the age group men passed me. Oops! Fortunately I was okay, but bummed to have lost precious seconds! It woke me up a bit and I pushed harder as I made my way through the remainder of the ride and into T2.
I hit T2 in 17th place, with no women in sight either in front or behind me, but I knew there were several fast runners behind me well within striking distance, and was hopeful I could possibly catch a woman or two in front. I was fired up about my ride and knowing I was having a super solid day so far, but I had a big task still ahead. 10 km is not a particularly long run, but this one is TOUGH. The first 3 miles are pretty much all uphill, with some very steep pitches that are major leg-burners (slash total soul-crushers). I’ve struggled quite a bit on the first half of this run in the past, and I honestly had a lot of doubts about it coming into the race. I’m really not a strong uphill runner, and I can’t help but be aware of the fact that I outweigh many of my competitors in the pro field significantly, which tends to add to my consideration that I can’t be good at running uphill. Knowing I struggle with it, I tend to preemptively count myself out on these portions and just try to make up time on the flats and downhills, and feel automatically disadvantaged on a hillier run course — which is, of course, the total wrong attitude to have! (More on all of this in a future blog post…). Gaining confidence in my uphill running capabilities is something I’ve been working on mentally, as well as putting in a huge amount of physical work in improving this weakness the past few months.
So on this day, as I headed onto the run and approached those brutal hills, I prioritized getting myself in the right mindset. I focused on all the hard work I’d done and the progress I’d made, and I flooded myself in positivity. In transition Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” was playing, and it was literally the perfect, most empowering song to have in my head as I powered my way up those hills against runners far tinier than myself. My mind stayed strong, and so did my body. I felt better than I ever have on this section of the run (even though it still hurt like hell!), and I was honestly ecstatic about it. I got passed early by one gal who was absolutely hauling and ended up running her way into 14th place, and I also made a pass near the top. I was really pleased no one else had caught me on the way up. Once I hit the top of the course and headed back down, I tried to let my legs go and stride it out — my strength in this discipline. Ironically though, I didn’t feel as good here and couldn’t quite find my usual power. At about mile 4.5 I got passed by 2 strong gals who were running together at a pace just a little too hot for me to hang with. I was bummed to lose more spots, but told myself to buckle down and push on — I was almost there, at my last finish line of the season! I fantasized about how awesome crossing that line was gonna be, and reminded myself there was absolutely nothing left to hold back for. I was now in 20th place and wanted desperately to hang onto it. I pushed up the (horrendous) last hill and down onto the beach for the (completely evil) sand run to the finish. I made it there just inside that top 20, about 40 seconds down from 18th and 19th place, and only about 2.5 minutes outside of the top 15. My time of 3:18:33 was almost 10 minutes faster than last year — progress!
Done and dusted!
I was completely thrilled with my race. I felt good, took chances, didn’t hold back, left it all out there and stayed strong and positive. I knew I had delivered the absolute best performance I possibly could on this day, and that was all I could ask for. For that I felt extremely satisfied. I was totally exhausted, but it was all worth it to cross that last finish line with an effort I could be so proud of.
My LUNA teammates raced their hearts out as always, and turned in amazing results. They continue to inspire me with not only strong racing but even stronger character. It was such a treat to celebrate the end of a long, hard season with them, and I was more than okay with indulging in a few post-race margaritas to kick-off the off-season. (Certainly not the best recovery and I paid the price later by getting sick for a week and a half, but I guess I can’t complain about the timing.) We had a day-and-a-half after the race to take in the beauty of the island, and while it went by way too fast we certainly made the most of it. Maui is such a special place and I feel so blessed to be able to be there these past three years doing something I love so much, with such a phenomenal group of people.
Xterra is a truly incredible sport, and I’m already excited for more of it next year. Despite such a long and taxing season, I am honestly sad that it’s over, which I suppose is a really great sign. After so many races and a whole lot of hard work, the stoke is still high! I love what I am doing! I think it’s good to end the season hungry for more, and I feel very fortunate to end it on a high note. I’ll have a wrap-up out in these next few weeks with more thoughts on my season as a whole and my experiences this first year as a pro, but for now l can say that I have absolutely no regrets about taking that step this year, and I’m incredibly grateful for all that I learned and the invaluable experience I gained. I look forward to carrying those lessons with me, continuing to build on that foundation, and becoming a stronger and stronger contender in the pro field.
Tremendous thanks to August for preparing me so thoroughly to meet this moment and achieve the best of myself; to my inspiring teammates who constantly crush it in so many ways, on and off the race course; to my fantastic sponsors: LUNA, Orbea, Orca, Oiselle and Oakley; to Chris, our team mechanic, who does SO much more than just ensure our equipment is in tip-top shape so we can be stress-free, and whose presence and support is absolutely invaluable; to everyone who sent cheers and encouragement from near and far; to the Xterra staff and volunteers for all their hard work; and to all the ladies racing out there for continually raising the bar and making me strive for more. MAHALO, Maui!