1st At XTERRA England!

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It’s been a goal to win an XTERRA Championship race, even before placing 2nd at all of the US Championship races so far this season. There’s a lot of hype about overnight success, and I’ve seen my fair share of it in XTERRA, but it has not been that way for me.

I have raced more than 50 XTERRA races and gradually worked my way to the top of the podium. That being said I feel grateful to continue to improve despite some major obstacles and lifestyle changes, and my steady improvement is a big reason I am still racing.

But I’ve certainly been haunted by the fact I haven’t made it to the top of the podium this season and often questioned whether it’s possible in my current situation and skill set.

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August 23rd I achieved my goal at XTERRA England. I grabbed the finish ribbon for the 1st time, with one hand because the other was holding my 20-month old son. The victory was certainly worth the wait, and what made it sweeter was having a lot of family in the crowd, four generations to be exact. There’s no doubt family support aided me in this victory, both at this race and since I started racing XTERRA 8 years ago.

The race was held at Vachary Estates in Surrey, most of my family lives in West Sussex, the next-door county. I flew over with Ian and our son Torin, we were in the Czech Republic and Germany the weekend before for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships. It’s still debatable whether the trip was a European vacation with a few races on the side or vice-versa. Either way, anyone who travels with two bikes and a toddler deserves a gold medal, even if it’s not in a race. In fact the toddler deserves a gold medal as well because jet lag can be pretty brutal when you are that age. A big highlight of the trip was Torin getting the meet his Great Grandma for the first time along with many others I will save for another post.

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I was not the only one in my family racing, my brother Ross, dad and cousin Nikki also raced in a sprint relay. Ross and Nikki were participating in their first triathlon and sounds like it won’t be their last!

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The swim was in a spring fed lake, the water cold enough for wetsuits and the lake long enough for a single out-and-back loop. After doing a lot of double loop swims it seemed a long way out! I was pleased to be 3rd out of the water behind Chantell Widney, we were about 1 minute behind Jacqui Slack.

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The bike course was two eight mile loops with tons of turns, bridges, dips, and logs. There were also plenty of open grassy fields with room to pass other competitors. It was also spectator friendly as it came in and out of the expo/transition area. The course by no means suited my strengths, I am better with some climbing, but it was a great and fun XTERRA course. One where experience and skills on a mountain bike pay off but at the same time do not put inexperienced riders at too much risk. So much work went into getting this course race ready by volunteers and race organizers and they did a great job of marking it and building trail specifically for the race.

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By the end of the 1st lap I had made my way to 1st but Chantell was still close behind and Helena Erbenova was gaining on me. I figured If I wasn’t going to win the race I may as well win the race for as long as I could. By the 2nd lap Helena closed the gap with Chantell on her wheel but did not make the pass, which meant I was doing more work but also controlling the race to some degree. I was probably the only pro who wore a hydration pack, but it allowed me to really hammer the grassy sections, which were actually quite bumpy so I didn’t want to be fumbling with a water bottle.  My legs were starting to feel fatigued from pushing big gears, both intentionally and not from all the twists and turns. I was hoping I’d packed my running legs today as in the last two XTERRA races my run was not what I’d wanted it to be based on my running in training and run-only races.

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Helena ran out of transition in front of me and I made the pass right away my legs felt good from the get go which is unusual for me. Helena passed me back during the 1st ditch crossing when I gingerly walked across a log and Helena jumped the 6-foot gap, I certainly lack some confidence in my long jumping skills! I got in the lead again and did my best not to look back. The run course was also two loops with lots of obstacles as well, some that favored the vertically challenged, others not so much.

The 2nd ditch crossing

The 2nd ditch crossing

We had some faster grass sections. I wore my Suunto Ambit for this race and it was a nice way to tell if I was running each lap consistently and a motivator to run a faster mile pace. And also a comforter, if I couldn’t win the race running x pace so be it. Turns out I ran the fastest run split and only two pro men ran faster than me.

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I was so happy to run down the finish chute in 1st surrounded by my family. I spent most of my childhood summers running around the woods in the South of England and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then but turns out I still like running around in the woods…along with some biking and swimming.

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Helena came in 2nd and Chantell 3rd, making the podium a mom-sweep, which doesn’t happen very often in professional triathlon. I’m also glad it was a battle, it’s always more exciting for everyone regardless of whether or not you come out on top.

I can think of only 3 other moms who have won XTERRA Championship races, Helena, Chantell, and Danelle Kabush so I am honored to be in good company. I can only think of two  moms who have won triathlon world championships, Helena who won the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in 2013 and Natasha Badmann who is one of the most successful Iron-distance athletes ever. I’d love to hear about more if you know of any. Why there are not more is an interesting topic for discussion as there are so many fit and fast moms out there.  Until things change, I will do my best to make this happen more frequently.

A big thanks to my family and sponsors, Torin for taking a nap so I can finish this race report. Next up I will be racing XTERRA USA Champs in Ogden Sept. 20th.

Emma

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