The XTERRA World Championships took place October 27th in Kapalua, Maui. There were 750 competitors with more than 60 professionals including the best off-road triathletes in the business along with a lot of top road triathletes, Olympians and mountain bikers who were in it for some big bucks, the race offered a $105,000 prize purse, and some end of season fun.
The field gets stronger each year. It’s great to see so many road triathletes try XTERRA, and the ones who are strong cyclists and climbers seem to do well. It’s also nice to hear them say XTERRA is more fun and laid back. Although the laid back part I find funny because I see a lot of serious people before Worlds that makes me think, how serious are road races?!
The truth is, although we may seem relaxed, this is a big deal for the XTERRA athletes. We are passionate about this sport and to do well in this race is something we shed tears and lose sleep over. It’s the reason I work 3 jobs in the off-season to support my tri preference. It is much, much more than and end of season ‘racecation.’
Especially for someone who was ecstatic to qualify for the race as an age grouper in 2006 and gradually improve each year after that. My results since then are: 31st in 2006, 21st in 2007, 13th in 2008, 11th in 2009, 10th in 2010 and 8th in 2011. No giant breakthroughs just keeping at it and making improvements each year.
What happens at XTERRA World Championships is generally determined months if not years in advance. I was more confident than I ever have been and was happy with my prep for this race mostly because I was feeling fit and rested. I’d had two good performances back-to-back at USA Champs and the Epic Mountain Challenge in the past month. My fitness had improved steadily over the season and had no feeling of burn out from a super long season that’s so familiar to triathletes these days.
I arrived in Maui 10 days early. Originally my thought was adjusting to the heat, getting some hard sessions in at sea level and previewing the course. What I didn’t realize was how much a four hour time change would impact my son 10 month old Torin but it didn’t help that we were on east coast time a week ago.
I made it a goal to be top 5 at the XTERRA World Championships. I thought it was a realistic but challenging goal, but honestly I’d hoped for even better. There was a lot of depth to the women’s field but it was also really open as far as who would win. Lesley was definitely the favorite, having a near-flawless season, although she was beatable as Helena Erbenova proved at the ITU Cross Tri World Championships this year. There were about 30 pro women, and hardly anyone I could confidently say I could beat. It would take a very good race to even be in the top 10 this year.
I was grateful to have the Specialized mechanics Eric and Dylan on Maui to get my S-Works Fate race ready. My tires of choice were S-Works Fast Traks at about 18 psi. It made a huge difference knowing my bike was in good hands and something I did not have to waste energy worry about before the race. I also made several trips to massage therapist Todd Plymale-Mallory to get my body race ready.
I woke up from the best night’s sleep all week, only up once! There was a lot of ‘vog’ (volcanic fog – a new word I learned this trip) in the air and hot, humid temperatures, even more humid than it had been the past week. As the race neared the air had cleared but it felt airless and muggy zapping my motivation to warm up.
The swim was approximately 1500 meters at D.T. Flemings Beach. We would first swim 500 meters out to one buoy, back to shore for a quick beach run and then 250 meters out to another buoy. The beach is a popular surf spot on the island with a pretty mean beach break at times. Last year the waves were huge! This year although swells were initially predicted race day it ended up being as calm as it could have been.
The pro wave started and it seemed pretty civilized, easy to find feet going out to the 1st buoy and I could look down and see clear down to the ocean floor complete with fish, coral and the occasional camera guy. I felt pretty good and had ‘Get Lucky’ in my head, which I hoped it would be the soundtrack to my day. As we rounded the 1st buoy I managed to close the gap on a group of pro women. I found the feet of Heather Jackson, I knew because of her neon yellow goggles that matched her kit. I was in a good position until a pro guy bumped me to the side and took her draft only to not be able to keep up and lose the pack, argh!!
I could see the pack as I ran across the beach. The race was now spread out and although I tried to close the gap again on the way to the 2nd buoy I was unable to do so. I came out of the water in 14th place, but about what I expected.
The long run uphill to transition was a good way to see who was in front before starting the mountain bike. I opted to wear my Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin Hydration Pack to make sure I drank during the ride; it had about 40 ounces of GU20 sport drink. I also carried four Gus taped to my top tube which almost got ripped off and dropped when I mounted my bike, that would have been bad!
The venue moved from the south end of the island in 2011 from a very lava rocky Jeep road course to a very smooth, less dangerous course with equal if not more climbing. The course still has some growing pains as it has changed (primarily the bike course) every year since 2011.
The XTERRA crew worked hard to try to make the bike course more technical, primarily adding trail at end of the bike loop on the old abandoned Village Golf Course. Like a lot of new trails there was loose dirt and sand (from the sand traps.) unpredictable sharp turns, bumpy and a ton of vegetation. This section has potential to be great singletrack with the right kind of trail building and design. On top of that it would be an awesome contribution to the Maui cycling community.
The start of the bike course follow the 1st 3 miles of the run course, which is 95 percent climbing and continue to climb up to Razor Ridge, the views from this spot are pretty spectacular.
I gradually picked off places as I made my way up the long climb. I felt good but was tried to be patient. There was also a lot of going back and forth with some pro men and top age group men, which added a challenge. Letting them pass on descents and now rather than trying to pass one woman it was a pack of four. Luckily there were a lot of opportunities to do so. By the time I made it to the ridge I was in 6th place with the some of the top competitors in my sight, mainly Jacqui and Lesley.
There were a few descents and another long climb on a dirt road. I made my way past Jacquie and I was now in 5th place. I was trying to figure out who else was still in front. I’d already passed a lot of key contenders so I had to work hard to hold my spot. I figured Flora was up there, I knew Lesley and Barbara were but who else?
After a long bumpy descent I was back in 6th place. Jacqui’s dedication to XTERRA has really improved her mountain biking skills: I was dropped! I remember it was so dusty the dirt stinging my eyes. After that the course would see much more undulation, a lot more dirt road and wide open descending which is pretty uninspiring but still some healthy climbs. There would be about 5000 feet of climbing on the bike course alone.I was starting to feel the heat but needed to maintain my focus and effort on the climbs to keep gaining spots in the women’s field. I was about 3-4 minutes out of the lead now. I rode and ran almost the entire race with pro Chris Ganter, who probably won the men’s Speedo division and I will have that image burned in my head for months to come.
I really appreciate getting splits and seeing so many spectators on course including Ian and Torin ringing not one but two cow bells. It’s not the easiest place to be a spectator you have to be super motivated and have a strong tolerance to heat, dust and men in spandex. There were so many more, including my parents who have watched me race every year in Maui, the Specialized support crew, Mari’on Lorblancet who has a much bigger challenge in her life right now, Julie Dibens, Cody Waite, August Teague, Jens, Wattie, Brandi Heisterman and Simon Marshall who told me to ‘fight!” love it!
There was one long, approximately 4 minute climb before entering the new, more technical trails that I assumed would be the hardest part of the bike leg. My main concern on this section was to stay on my bike, push the short climbs and not break a chain. This part went quicker than I anticipated although I was probably overly concerned with the traffic around me. This part went by a lot quicker than anticipated although it had zero flow. Looking back what surprised me about the bike course was it felt like I used very little power but still had a decent bike split. Was this me or the course?
As always it was a relief to get to T2 and switch to running. Although I was concerned with hydration and dealing with the heat so had a cooler in transition that I packed with ice, a frozen bottle of Coke that would now be thawed and a Trigger Point cooler. Along with my visor and number belt it was a lot to juggle coming out of transition. I put on my Salomon S-Lab Senses, that would be light on the uphills, control on the descents and give me great traction on the grass, mud and sand. I also liked the fact they drained well as I’d be dumping a lot of water on my head to help cool myself down. Too bad I forgot to tighten them and had to stop again!
The run course has been the same the past two year, close to lots of elevation gain in the first 3 miles and and off-camber running on sand and grass. This year and last they took out the big hill at the end, which was a huge game changer for a lot of athletes, we would finish after the beach run. I was feeling better than I thought, it’s always a balance figuring out how hard to go on the bike and how much to save for the run. On this course I am more conservative on the bike as it’s easy to blow up on the run. The fact the run followed the start of the bike course actually made running it seem easier than biking. I started to gain some ground on Jacqui Slack as the course headed uphill and made the pass before the 1st mile. I hoped I would catch a few more women as I was getting splits there were more a few minutes up. I was in the midday sun now and I must have been working hard because I tried to remember the tune of ‘Get Lucky’ and could barely do so. I dumped water at the aid stations that were every mile. I ran everything this year including the steep grade going up to the lake.
I was getting filmed by XTERRA TV and felt pretty good about myself for running that section until I realized the camera guy was keeping up with me walking! I knew after mile 3 there would be a lot more descending so I tried to stay focused and push hard to the top of the climb. I thought a lot about my running form and opening up my stride on the downhills.
We were in thick vegetation, often sugarcane and it was hard to see ahead. I was getting splits there were more women in front, and not far, only 30 seconds. I had a pretty bad trip climbing over some stacked logs, this was new from two years ago and I hadn’t run over it yet. I managed to lodge my leg in between the logs and fall pretty badly as the logs were high off the ground. Right in the shin! Ouch! And then my opposite hamstring cramped. It turns out you could run underneath the logs! I shook it off and kept running. There were only a few more shorter uphills, and a rock scramble before a long descent and beach run to the finish. I could now see Barbara Riveros who was in 4th place and tried to close the gap.
By the time we got to the beach I was just seconds behind Barbara but running in soft sand is hard to cover ground. Should I run down closer to the water? I’d be longer but possibly faster. A male competitor I passed earlier was running past me on the wetter sand so I ran down there, maybe gaining a second. When we got off the sand we were 100 meters from the finish, I tried to pick up the pace but it wasn’t enough. I crossed the line, 6 seconds behind Barbara. It’s tough being that close and it’s hard not to think of all the places I could have made up 6 seconds but it’s ok because she’s a pretty cool girl and also sponsored by Specialized. If I’d been told me six months ago I’d be trying to run down Barbara Riveros at the World Championships I would not have believed it.
I finished in 5th place, about 4 minutes from 1st, 1:35 out of second and the top American. I had the 2nd fastest run split, only 20 seconds behind Lesley, who six month ago beat me by more than 10 minutes in the run alone. Out of the top 5 only Lesley and I did not compete in the London Olympics. Heck, I certainly wasn’t training for the Olympics last summer.
Nicky Samuels of New Zealand won the women’s race, Lesley was 2nd, Flora Duffy of Bermuda was 3rd and Barbara 4th. I also have to mention my dad set the bar high by placing 3rd in the 60-65 age group in the 10k trail run.
Long story short, I felt good out there and had a performance I am happy to end the season with. It’s been challenging but really enjoyable and rewarding getting back into triathlon this season and I certainly look forward to next year with higher expectations.
I can’t say how thankful I am for the support I’ve received this season. To my family and friends, especially Ian, my mom, and Vanessa who helped out so much with Torin so I could pursue my passion, Josiah for coaching me with the understanding what it’s like to be a new parent and to Torin for choosing me as his mom. And of course the sponsors, Specialized, Salomon, Champion System, GU Energy, Blue Seventy and Probar for making me race faster and giving me fewer excuses!
As for the off season, I enjoyed a few days in Maui decompressing, relaxing, reflecting on the year and getting another song stuck in my head, Lets Be Still. I’ve been to Maui so many times but I always find new things to do, this year we went mountain biking in the Makawao forests and to the Olivine pools where we swam with tropical fish were serenaded by ukaleles.
But I could only be still for a moment. I’m back in Park City figuring out my race schedule and sponsors for 2014 and my jobs for the off-season. I plan on coaching for Park City Nordic this winter, working at White Pine Nordic, and teaching Computrainer classes for Max Testa Training, do my own training and more importantly make being a mom a priority. Ian and I are moving around the puzzle pieces to figure out how we both can work, spend time with our son, occasionally each other and occasionally do something for fun, but then again being new parents is pretty fun.