XTERRA World Championships Race Report
The XTERRA World Championships in Kapalua on Nov 1st was the final race in my 2015 season. Traveling to Maui every October has become a tradition for my family since 2006. This would be my 10th time going although I did not compete in 2012 when I was pregnant. It is such a treat to enjoy the warm weather and the ocean in Maui this time of year as we wait for winter in Utah.
It is the reward for a season of training, in a way the icing on a cake, or perhaps the entire cake itself and I am never one to have a small piece. The ingredients being all the things you put into a season; the training, the consistency, the balance, the rest, the endless little things I do in an attempt to be faster each year and the right ratios of each ingredient.
I saw an opportunity to be on the podium this year and had a sense of urgency to do so. An opportunity that might not come around again. I know far too well what a missed opportunity feels like, a missed shot on goal, but I have faith that with persistence one will go in. So that was my big goal, and a realistic one. Contrary to popular opinion, I was not racing for 3rd or 2nd, I was racing for 1st. Even if it was delusional and the odds stacked against me, I believe in beating the odds.
Truth be told, I have often fallen short of my goals. For the past two years I have had nine 2nd place finishes when I wanted to win. I placed 4th and 5th at two world championships when my goal was to be on the podium. At Maui in 2014 I fell just 23 seconds short of the top 3. I figure falling short of my goals is better than not setting them high enough in the first place. I’ve found that falling short motivates me to work harder and make changes more so than winning. Wanting to do better is perhaps the reason I have improved each year since 2006. 31st, 21st, 13th, 11th, 10th, 8th, 5th, 4th to be exact.
My win at XTERRA USA Championships and the USA Pro Series was the monkey off my back and made me excited and more appreciative to race in Maui and see how I did against the best in the world.
Statistically, winning was a long shot but I’m a believer in anything can happen out there, especially in XTERRA where there are so many variables. All eyes were on Flora and Lesley for the win and rightly so, both having multiple World titles to their names in Cross Triathlon and XTERRA. On top of that Flora was first out of the water and off the bike at the ITU final this year and Lesley also crushes it in pro mountain biking when healthy. There was also plenty of other capable women out there that were hungry for the podium.
I chose to focus on my strengths and advantages. Coming into the race I believed I had a lot of time to prepare specifically for XTERRA and missed no time with injures for which I am very fortunate. Sure I don’t have that ITU pedigree but I do have the power to kiss owies better – magic! Speaking of injuries, there were far too many this year for the XTERRA women. Two key players, Barbara Riveros and Suzie Snyder would be on the sidelines, literally, at Worlds and more who stayed home.
Simply put, I go uphill a lot to train for XTERRA. Most important races, nationals and worlds, have a lot of elevation gain approx 4000’ ft in about 26 miles. I done about 3x that a week most weeks, mostly on my mountain bike. I also do whatever Josiah tells me to do and have confidence in his training plans.
It took me until June to start feeling strong climbing. competing in the GoPro Games in early June this year gave me a head start on my hill repeats and such.
Before nationals I started doing less volume, making sure I got enough recovery so I could get the most rewards for my VO2 Max efforts. Living at altitude I find I have to really make sure I get enough recovery so I can get my heart rate or pace up high enough.
My improvements and consistent training during the season gave me confidence. I was stronger in the pool and had swam times faster than before. What I swim one 100 at last year, I could now swim 10 or more. Funny, I had no intention of running faster this season as I felt the biggest improvements could be made in my bike and swim but my run probably improved the most. I will take it. My run speedwork was also more consistent. I was running times similar to what I ran in college at a lower elevation. Also doing some technical mountain running races this year I got a lot stronger running uphill and down. Then there’s also getting the job done when my pace was slow and body tired that is also so critical.
Getting ready for Maui also requires some heat adaptation, especially when living in the cool mountains. Doing some indoor training, wearing more layers while training and also more layers everyday to get used to being warmer were the main things I did. I also sat in the in the sauna a few times. I also think doing a number of races in the heat during the season helps and the more I race in heat the more used to it I get. Especially racing in Costa Rica this year, everything feels cool compared to that!
I arrived in Maui 10 days before the race to help with heat adaptation, get familiar with the course, ocean swimming and well, be in Maui. It also gives me a few days before race week that is getting busier and busier each year with obligations.
We saw the surf pick and rain move in race week that had competitors stress. This has become something I expect since the course moved to location in 2011. The difference this year is West Maui had had consistent rain so there was a lot of lush green undergrowth on the trails. The bike and run course looked very different due to overhead elephant grass.
Tuesday was the first time we swam at D.T. Fleming Beach and it was stormy out. Lots of waves, currents and lots of chop but good practice and glad we all made it to shore safely with a bit of body surfing!
Wednesday was the first day to preride the whole course because it was on private land and it needed to be cleared. Heavy rain overnight the course was very saturated. I stuck with my original plan to preride and headed out with a group of pro men including Josiah, Ben, Mauricio, and Branden. It wasn’t until we got past ‘Razor Ridge’ that we realized how muddy it was and perhaps regretted getting that far out and potentially doing damage to our bikes because of the mud. The clay-like mud made the already steep hills even harder to get up, the upside was it was not hot out. We were out there for 3 hours (much less in riding time) to get through the 20 mile bike course as we were constantly removing clumps of mud from our gear. There is always a trade off in XTERRA with course familiarization and tapering race week. The thing also with the Maui course it it is impossible to take it easy out there the reason I rarely ride the whole course in one ride.
After hours of cleaning and de-grassing my bike, I was riding my Specialized S-Works Fate, I took it to Krank Cycles at the expo and had my friend Chris Styler go over everything post mud. I had confidence the course would dry by Sunday so left on my fast rolling tires.
Up until Wednesday afternoon I felt great and hitting good times in training. I then started feeling tired from the preride as my prerace nerves kicked in. I backed off training the 3 days before the race. Friday started having some cold symptoms, which always feels strange in a hot environment. Although I have been much healthier this season I was sick for a couple of races. It was mentally it is challenging to stay confident but I have figured out how to get the job done regardless. I switched my focus to what I want vs. how I feel and not let some snot get in the way of my goals. Even when I am healthy I rarely feel great the days leading up to the race so what’s the difference?
Then there is the Torin factor. He will be 3 in December. He is crazy and very active with lots of requests and consequent tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. We are potty training, which requires more focus than a triathlon. Despite these things he is a ton of fun. I loved swimming with him in the ocean and showing him the turtles. Torin got a big kick out of telling the turtles to stick their heads out of the water and them sticking their heads out of the water. A turtle charmer indeed. We also built sandcastles and took him boogie boarding. All part of my taper 🙂
Another upside was he was sleeping so much better this year in his ‘room’ under the stairs at our condo. I had a lot of help race week with my parents and Ian coming to support. I cannot thank them enough for the load the take on race week, and it has got harder each year. I felt the need to relieve them after my training and prerace obligations were met for the day.
Race week flew by, and time and spare time was filled with press conference, race clinics, pro meeting, and interviews. I am happy to do these things to give back to my sponsors, help other athletes and give XTERRA a bit more press. I also made time for some massages from Todd Plymale-Mallory and a couple of opportunities to put my legs in Normatec boots.
The day before the race I did an easy spin on the road with some short intervals I swam part of the swim course where I met up with a junior racer from Utah, Kobee. Always great to meet juniors excited about the sport. The water was calmer than usual with very little current and likely to stay that way.
I watched my parents compete in the 10k trail run. My mum really had to get out of her comfort zone to do this race so I admire her for doing so, along with my father who overcame a lot of health issues this summer and finished 2nd in his age group.
Hydration and Nutrition
Hydrating for this race starts days before. Minimizing time in the sun and always having a drink or water bottle on hand, and rarely just water, usually with an GU electrolyte tab in it. I probably had a GU Recovery Drink every day I was in Maui, seemed like good way to get calories in when it was hot out.
My breakfast race morning was cold oats I had soaked in water the night before with some Nutella and soy milk I ate three hours before the race start. I also made sure to drink a bottle of GU Drink Mix before the race and had a hydration pack filled with 40 ounces of ice and two GU Drink packets. I also had 3 GUs on my bike, 2 salted caramel and vanilla spice to be exact. 440 calories during the race. I got asked about extra salt, I did not take any as the drink mix has additional sodium in it. I would also have a GU 30 minutes before the start. A hydration pack is great because I can drink constantly and never forget to drink. My GUs are taped to my top tube so they are a constant reminder. I did not wear a watch during the race so I picked areas on the course to take them. The first on Razor Ridge (GU with a view) the 2nd on the top of the next big climb and the last before the last 5 miles of singletrack. I would pick up a water bottle on the bike at the first aid station at mile 6 and another at mile 13. Once I got on the run I would drink as I felt necessary but most of the water was to cool off with. The nice thing about XTERRA and nutrition is if it doesn’t go exactly as planned it’s ok, but it does make a big difference, particularly with run performance.
I actually slept some the night before and woke up much earlier than my alarm as I was excited to get out there although even though I was not 100 percent healthy. Torin is in the ‘only liking one parent at a time’ stage so I got a nice ‘I don’t like mommy’ as he sat with me at breakfast. Daddy had earned some serious parent points with trick-or-treating the night before and the previous day’s submarine adventure. This would soon change when I was out on the race course when all of a sudden he needed mommy and mommy was, well, busy.
I rode to the start from our condo and as per usual got passed by a lot of other racers. I still can’t win the warmup. I set up transition, rode a bit more, ran, went down to the swim start and had time a swim warm up for a change. Getting in the water always makes me feel SO much better and awake race morning. As expected the waves were calm for D.T. Fleming standards.
The race was the 20th XTERRA World Championships and part of the celebration included the legends division. They would start with the pro men and women. This season in the US the pro men and women have been racing separate waves. There are fewer people in each wave it meant a lot more time swimming solo and what I believe leads to slower times and working harder. I was happy to be back with the men, it makes it more exciting having more people to swim with. Starting with the mean also gives the pro women an additional minute before the age group race, 5 to be exact.
The Legends division was a great addition and so cool to see so many come back and race ‘for fun.’ A lot raced in their original gear from the years they won – so cool! It also seems appropriate to not be competing against the serious pros or potentially taking age group medals away. To be honest I was quite envious of this division, hopefully they all celebrated Halloween the night before in Lahaina. I would find out during the race they would provide great company on the race course.
I positioned myself on the sand at the start beside Lesley and Jacqui, ideally keeping up with Jacqui who has always been faster than me in the water. It always seems forever for the canon to blast and it is difficult to hear any announcements by the water’s edge.
It went off and were side by side for the first 100 meters and then when the pack merged I seemed to lose track of the pink caps among the blue and now orange (legends.) I was wearing by Blue Seventy Point Zero 3 Speedsuit and Element goggles over my custom Champion System elite trisuit (black on white polka dots for the curious, better in the heat.)
Swimming in salt water at sea level feels so much easier than fresh water at altitude and the pace felt civilized. I started to pass some other swimmers and ended up swimming most of the swim with another pro man and a ‘legend’ or two. The 1500 meter swim was an M shape with a short beach run in the middle of the M. Coming back in the water I managed to have one of the few waves there were that day break on me hold in place for a couple of seconds, I don’t know how I did not see it!
A couple times I tried to break away from my little group but was unsuccessful. I came out of the water in 5th, with one legend in the mix, Julie Dibens, and about 3:30 from the lead. Ideally I was hoping to be 2 min back but was closer than last year. In so many ways my race was better than last year and I was aware of this as it progressed and it got me in a good place. Sleep the night before, no water in the goggles, already in 4th place.
I headed up the hill from T1. When some pro men who are usually in front passed me saying ‘great swim!’ Giving me confidence I was off to a good start.
I passed Julie and Jacqui by mile 2 but got passed by Lesley. In an ideal race I would hang onto Lesley’s wheel and get to the front of the race but I could not match her pace or effort. She was going for it and I felt I was in one gear. I focused on my pace and stuck with the guys around me.
Unlike previous years I was really noticing the heat right away on the bike. The first four miles of the bike was the steepest and most sustained climbing with a few short downhills to break it up. Some new trail had stretched out this part of the course but with the same elevation gain. The dirt was mostly tacky and my Fast Trak tires were a great match.
Photos can be deceiving as we looked muddy, but there were only a few muddy sections, but they were certainly muddy! The first one around mile 4. There was a big debate in Josiah and my Mountain Bike Clinic, to the side or through the middle, I went slightly to the left and made it though fine.
Heading up to Razor Ridge I could feel the sun burning my skin and it was early still so I knew it would be a hot day. I cleared a few tricky spots, a steep narrow descent and awkward turns. and was going back and forth with a pro man who was making a lot of mistakes, like falling off the side of the trail clipped in and trying to mount his bike in front of me.
I grabbed a water bottle from the first aid station at mile 6 and used it to cool off before the first long descent. I regretted not wearing gloves as my hands were slipping on my bars. I use very sticky grips but today the humidity was winning. A few guys passed, one was nice enough to say ‘get on my wheel!’ Unfortunately it didn’t happen. The high speed descents were where I lost the most time on this course, I’d had a close call preriding so was riding cautiously. On the next long climb I made up some time lost. Again I cooled off by spraying water over me. I saw Dan out there and it was great to get some splits and encouragement.
After cresting the top of the climb we headed down some switchback turns, the first one with a nice bank on it so I went wide, only to have another rider try to pass me on the inside and crash into me. I was so lucky to not be taken down with him.
The race has grown to 800 racers so there are always people around, at least where I am at in the race. I try to be super aware of other people especially on the descents. The downside is other riders can potentially slow you down or crash into you as I found out. The positive side is having other people around can make you go faster. Technically speaking it was a clean ride for me, I clipped my handlebars once and put a foot down but recovered quickly.
At the bottom of this long descent I got caught by Jacqui. Although this meant I was in 4th rather than 3rd it was nice to have another woman around. It pushed me on the next part of the course where it is easy to lose focus. Funny, Jacqui has caught me in the same spot the past 3 times here. There were so many other guys around it was hard to keep contact but we managed to do so for the most part and went back and forth. The aid station at mile 13 was a big relief, Ian and Torin were there and cooled me off with some cold water. I also took another bottle from the neutral aid station.
This next section was longer than last year. When I got to the singletrack, the last 4 miles, Jacqui was back on my wheel and let me know Carina was not far back. I enjoyed riding this last section and it certainly has more flow than previous years as the trails get more use. My riding has improved when it comes to cornering and I kept my focus and pushed hard on the short uphill sections. It was a relief to hit the cart path and head to T2. I was in 3rd but assumed there were a lot of girls close behind, including some fast runners.
As I switched to run gear I did hear the announcement Josiah had taken the lead which was so awesome to hear, even if it did cost me couple of seconds in T2. I wanted Josiah to win more than I did.
I was racing in my Salomon Pro Sonic shoes, more of a racing flat with some tread, as light as my S-Lab Sense but great cushion. I had the fastest run split at nationals with them so I figured they would do the job here.
I exited transition and got splits letting me know 1st and 2nd were far in front and the race would now be for 3rd. I cooled off with some ice and headed back up the hill mimicking the start of the bike course. The first mile off the bike is always challenging in triathlons but even harder in XTERRA when it is uphill. This is another big thing I do in training and so far I was feeling better than usual. One by one I was catching guys. I expected to be overheating but all the extra vegetation this year provided shade.
I reminded myself to stay focused, keep pushing and keep catching runners ahead of me. I was still far off of first, but was gaining time on Lesley in 2nd, letting me know I was running well. I still had no idea who was in 4th and how far back they were so I was running scared, not wanting 3rd taken from me. At one point a volunteer told me I was 4th adding to my uncertainty.
With the new trails built the course was longer to the high point on the course. The the course rolls downhill with a lot of logs to duck under or hop over. I love this section, the obstacles keep it interesting and I love running downhill fast. I’m not one to cramp, but every obstacle I found my hamstrings tightening up. It felt like a maze with the tall elephant grass and with so many turns hard to see other runners. I was able to run the whole course except one short section that is so steep I use my hands at about mile 5 that led to a steep asphalt road. At this point I felt I had that podium spot and calm sense of satisfaction I would actually achieve my goal. The race was not over yet, but the top of that road before getting back on the trail is the point where all the hard work is done, for the race and for the season. The last mile cruises downhill on a trail with some switchbacks, across a dry creek bed, across the beach and toward the finish. When I ran onto the beach I managed to hook my foot on a root growing in the sand giving me another good cramp, luckily the finish was near.
I assumed I had 3rd locked but I wanted to make sure so I asked a volunteer on the beach how far back 4th was.
Maybe he meant 100 yards to the finish? Or to the last guy I passed? I looked behind and could not see another woman but it is hard to tell with a lot of people on the beach.
As I turned the last corner and onto the grass I asked my mum the same question and she replied, ‘She’s on the beach!’
So I ran pretty hard that last 100 yards. Ian was close to the finish dangling Torin over barrier. This has become quite a tradition and I am so impressed they always make it to the finish in time. I grabbed Torin. He is plenty capable of running himself, but running in the right direction is another story, so I kept him in my arms until I crossed the line. At that point I really couldn’t hold him any longer as my legs were done! 4th place would come across the line 4 min later, so an unnecessary panic but better than the alternative.
I soon was embraced by Ian and my parents who shared my joy and relief. The icy cold towel on my back felt amazing. Torin was fussy but it was a long day for him and he was nearing nap time. I congratulated other athletes including Flora and Josiah on their wins and Lesley for really going for it, putting it all out there on the bike and making it an exciting race. Flora had the fastest swim split, Lesley had the fastest bike and I ended up having the fastest run split, although being consistent in all 3 was what got us in the podium.
This year was the most satisfied I have felt after the race. My best finish in the age group race here was 4th overall so I’m ok with 3rd in the pro race. I got a big piece of the cake. The past couple of months have been some of the best ever and made decades of work and perseverance seem worthwhile. For the moment I have lost my fear of falling short of my goals and want to risk more to potentially achieve more next time. I am excited for what the future holds in racing and in life.
I cannot thank my family enough, for the help they have given me on a daily basis. The days off of work to come to my races to support and look after Torin. Josiah for coaching and being a great role model as an athlete and a parent. My friend Gene Murrieta who got me started in XTERRA and made the trip from Nevada to watch the race again this year. Renata, for not just being an great ambassador for XTERRA but for all those training sessions she pushed me, doing laps around me on the bike that helped me get faster.
My sponsors Specialized, GU, Salomon, Champion System, Blue Seventy, Probar, Suunto and Backcountry.com for their continued support. Jesse Hoffman of White Pine Touring for being a thorough and trusted mechanic in Park City, Melanie at Jupiter Mountain Massage for always fitting me in, Marlene Hatch for preventing those niggles from becoming injuries. The kids at Park City Nordic for their youthful enthusiasm that is contagious. So many other people who have helped and inspired along the way. To all the kind words and encouragement and everyone who make XTERRA what it is.
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