Miss Emma’s XTERRA Southeast Championship Race Report

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It took about five minute in the South before being called “Miss Emma.”

After a plane flight solo with my son on my lap, which is almost always synonymous with starving and having to pee (or worse getting peed on), I was happy to be greeted with a slice Southern Hospitality. It started as I was waiting to deplane when the woman sitting next to me offered to hold Torin while I searched for runaway cars and baby bottles. This was followed by a much needed restroom with changing table and some airport food.

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My experiences in the south have always been pleasurable and the reason I keep coming back, and now bring my family. One thing I love about racing triathlons is it takes you places you might not necessarily go to otherwise and discover they are not what you expect…in a good way.

To start with, I never thought of Alabama as a mountain bike destination but they’ve certainly built some world-class singletrack making Oak Mountain State Park one of the best XTERRA venues in the country.

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What makes the venue great is the abundance of trails are technically challenging and fun to ride, lots of trees for shade and a lake to cool off in. That being said the course does not suit my strengths or experience. I have never placed higher than 5th and I’ve done the race since 2009. Although racing when I was 10 weeks pregnant and 5 months postpartum didn’t help matters.

This year I’d come off a productive and healthy block of training in cold weather and was excited to go to the hot and humid South, only to find I packed the conditions and brought them with me! The weather race week certainly through us for a loop, we had not packed for the cooler temperatures.

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I was lucky to have my parents meet me at Atlanta Airport, as it coincided with their trip to visit friends. They helped me navigate to car rentals in the world’s busiest airport – literally.

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We stayed in Midtown Altanta one night and enjoyed checking out Piedmont Park. The next day my mum and I drove to Pelham, Alabama, about a three-hour drive.

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Race Day

Temperatures had cooled the water off enough it was a wetsuit swim for everyone. For me it meant I was swimming in my brand new Blue Seventy Helix.

DSC_0155Not long after the gun went off the first thought I had was “Swimming at low elevation is SOOO AWESOME!” What wasn’t awesome was my ability to swim in a straight line. At the end of the 1st lap I found the feet of a pro male, which is usually a good thing only he was kicking like a jet ski so I couldn’t seem to breathe or sight. Managed to break away and swim solo to the finish coming out of the water in 4th but close to Suzie in 3rd.

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Nutrition

The cooler temperatures made nutrition easier for this race. Rather than wearing a hydration pack, I stuck with one bottle with GU Brew along with three GUs for the bike. I planned on drinking whenever there was an open section of dirt road, which wasn’t too often.

The Bike

I cut an 1.5 inches off my bars to avoid clipping a handlebar on a tree and after flatting in Vegas I was slightly neurotic about it happening here. I ran a thicker tire on the back; Fast Trak Control instead of S-Works and carried 3 CO2s. The course also had a lot more roots and rocks than I remembered and I was riding my Fate; a hard tail. The bonus rain had made parts of the trail, and especially the roots, slick necessitating a low tire pressure, but going too low would increase my chances of flatting.

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Riding fast on the road coming out of T1 made me think my rear tire was too low (again being slightly neurotic.) but when I got on singletrack I realized things were ok. The first 5.5 miles were twisty, relatively flat and DARK! Imagine riding at dusk with dark glasses on (mine were clear but it still looked that way.) Turns out there was a huge black cloud overhead I couldn’t see because of the trees, making it double-dark.

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There was no one around so I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn and searched for familiarities on the trail (I should know this trail by now.) I reminded myself I was racing and to go hard. What’s great about this trail is you have to focus on your riding, especially when it’s wet. I had some close calls hitting roots at the wrong angle.

At 5.5 miles I started the one long climb in the race, the one place I could shine. I could now see Suzie and was gaining on her. What wasn’t shining was the sun, in fact the skies opened up and it was pouring! I passed three riders (not racers) who were sheltering under a trailhead markers. Once I passed Suzie she hung on my wheel and we caught Christine Jeffrey before the top of the climb. I was now in 2nd. After some fire road we descended through the feared yet fun Blood Rock and then my favorite section of descending before another much shorter climb, Johnson’s Mountain, where I managed to put a gap on Suzie.

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The final 4 miles were flat and twisty again where I tried my best to maintain speed through the turns and accelerate on anything that was straight. Gwenyth has been all about the ‘conscious uncoupling,’ for me, 2014 is all about the conscious breaking. I still, on occasion scolded myself for comfort breaking.

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The Run

As I came into T2 I got a split I was just over 5 minutes down from 1st. Undoubtedly a comfortable lead for Flora but anything can happen in a race so I was optimistic. Plus, I still had to hold onto 2nd place with some fast runners behind me so I was going to run as fast as I could. I felt all the accelerating on the bike in my legs for the 1st half-mile on the road but then got into a good turnover and hoped to lessen my deficit. My feet were a bit numb from the cold but soon warmed up.

P1000773The rest of run rolls through the woods singletrack through the trees with a few mud pits to navigate. As I came through the 1st lap I didn’t get any splits, which was mildly discouraging but I tried to stay positive as I felt strong.

DSC_0902I was happy to give a few high fives to kids as I went around the last turn before the finish chute where I saw Torin dangling over the barrier Michael Jackson style (although with much lower consequences) so of course I had to carry him across the finish. It was great to have him back in my arms although the kid was a bit confused, it turned out he had been woken up from his nap for the occasion.

DSC_0041-001I’d run the fastest run split and was 4 something minutes down from Flora, as opposed to the 10 something minutes in Vegas. It felt good to know my training block had paid off! More importantly I felt 100x better during this race than in Vegas. I was also 10 minutes faster than last year on the same course in similar conditions so I was more than happy with being Miss 2nd again…for now.

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Women's podium + Torin

Women’s podium + Torin

We may have had to leave the post-race party a bit early because of Torin’s bedtime but he certainly allowed us to have a lot of fun on the trip. I am forever grateful for my own mother coming to the race with me and making it possible for me to race and for Torin to travel with us.

Torin also got his 1st haircut at the Paul Mitchell Cut-a-thon!

Torin getting his 1st haircut at the Paul Mitchell Cut-a-thon!

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We got to check out the petting zoo in Oak Mountain State Park, I’ve been to this race so many times and never knew it existed before but certainly is worth it if you have children.

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We also got some beach time at the park, I got another ride in on Jeckyll and Hyde, and we got to go the Birmingham Zoo before making the drive back to Altanta and flight back home.

2014-05-18 15.57.56Southern hospitality and singletrack as sweet as the tea made this trip a treat. Miss Emma is a name I could get used to, Miss 2nd on the other hand, I hope doesn’t stick around.

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