Xterra East Championships are often referred to as the most technical of the Xterra courses, and man, they were not kidding. Between the technical swim—a 6-point course with a run across an island in the middle, largely done against the crazy river current and with varying water depth, the bike—so many rock features, the craziest bridge I’ve ever seeing—and the run, which had an 80 foot almost vertical climb, and then the hard part, a field of boulders in a river, which included wading, jumping and climbing in order to get through… It’s not easy.
My pit crew for the weekend—namely, mom and dad—and I got to the venue just before registration closed on Saturday, thanks to a ton of traffic on the way down. Luckily, I made it with just enough time to grab my race number.
I had time to get out to ride the bike course, and I admit, my heart sank a bit when I found myself running a lot more than I’d have hoped. Normally, Xterras are largely flowy singletrack with fire road and the occasional technical bit.
This was the opposite. Yeah, I was a little nervous. Still, I figured that my running/remount/dismount technique might help a bit and put me ahead of at least women with moderate technical skill. And I knew the run was where I’d have to hit it… but unfortunately, there was no time to check out the run before heading to the hotel to get ready.
The water was warm enough in the morning that wetsuits weren’t race-legal, and I was thrilled. I hate wetsuits, they make me kind of claustrophobic, and make the swim seem much more intimidating for some reason. I can use them, but my best swims have always been in non-wetsuit races.
Last Xterra I did, the swim was a disaster. I had some kind of panic/asthma attack mid-way through and floundered, almost grabbed a kayak, and barely made it through. Then, angry about that, I hammered the bike course (muddy and non-technical, perfect for the ’crosser), and the run, to actually move through almost the entire women’s field. I wasn’t sure what made me freak out i the swim and haven’t done any open water since, so I was a little freaked out.
Thankfully though, when the cannon went off and we all headed across the river, I realized something. The sun was shining, I was moving, and I felt good! I don’t think I’ve ever felt as relaxed in a swim before. Looking back, I maybe could have gone a bit harder, but 1000 meters is hard to judge when it’s that many turns, and the current was brutal.
At one point, I was hanging on to the moss on the rocks and trying to claw my way back upstream to re-orient myself with the buoy!
Out of the water, I was a few minutes behind the lead woman, but I kind of figured that would be the case. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks and I hadn’t put in a ton of pool time, but I was psyched to come out of the water feeling fresh and comfortable, versus freaking out and exhausted.
The transition has always been my strongest part of the race, weirdly enough. It’s an organizational thing. So, on to the bike.
The first mile of the first of two 10 mile loops was pretty relaxed, almost all road. The singletrack started smoothly enough, and since I had done it already, I was able to make up a few spots early on. But with traffic on the course and people fumbling the technical sections, myself included, it quickly bogged down. Only the best technical riders could avoid pileups at features, and my saving grace was the ability to run around and get back on faster than most of the riders. But it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was the ugliest bike leg I’ve ever had. And the sad part was, I was probably barely Zone 2 for 75% of it.
Suffice it to say, my technical riding needs work.
The bright side though was that I managed to drink 2 bottles and actually take a gel—unprecedented feeding for me. Normally, I’m a couple of sips kind of person, so I was really focusing on that, since it was hitting 90 degrees by 10.
Thankfully, the bike finished and it was on to the run. Quick transition and I was out and racing mad. It started on a lot of road, so I used that to get past as many people as I could. Everyone was pretty speed out though, so sometimes, I wouldn’t have anyone to chase, and that made it more difficult. But I was passing people quickly, and actually feeling good.
Unfortunately, the course wasn’t marked with mile markers, and with the technical terrain and no watch, it was impossible to gauge how far in I was. After the climb the boulder field and some more crazy technical ups and downs, we hit the bridge to cross back over and I realized we had less than 1k to go.
And I felt fine.
Of course, by the last 1k, you don’t want to feel fine. You want to feel maxed out, like you can’t go any faster, you have nothing left…and then you go faster just to squeak by that 1 person before the line.
I tried to empty the tank in that last couple minutes, but definitely was annoyed at my pacing when I crossed the line.
I guess the best solution is to pre-run as well as ride (or do the same race next year with that knowledge), but with work, I couldn’t leave earlier. The people I chatted with after all said the same—doing it next year will be easier, and getting out a day or two early is key.
At the end of the day, I didn’t win my age group—the girl ahead of me was a brilliant mountain biker, she blew past me a few minutes into the technical sections and I never saw her again—but second place was enough to secure the slot for Xterra Worlds, so it was still a win.
Three weeks til the Xterra in Ontario, and I’m feeling psyched on racing again!