Or, 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Swim Start', or, 'So there was this moose . . . '
Indian Peaks Xterra
1000 meter/1093 yard swim
21 km/13 miles off road bike
7 km/4.3 miles off road run
The day before this race I was not feeling the love. Usually I'm excited the day before a race, picking up my packet, putting my number on my bike, etc. But instead I was tired at the very thought of a race. It was hot and I was starting to feel the strain of races every 3 weeks. Hard races. In thin air on steep hills. I've never done this many races before so I didn't know how they would effect me when I signed up. Now I know. I didn't even check the weather until late afternoon before the race. Usually I start checking several days before. And when I saw the prediction I couldn't believe it. 49 degrees for transition set-up, 55 degrees at the start of the race, a max. of probably 65 degrees during the race. Normally I would be thrilled with these race conditions but the swim, people. The water was 61 degrees last week and probably not much warmer this week with all the rain they've been getting up there. Air temp. of 55 degrees plus water temp. of 61 degrees sounds like the perfect recipe for hypothermia even with a wetsuit and neoprene socks and 2 swim caps and I wonder if I can wear 2 wetsuits.
It's cold when I take the dogs out for their morning walk, the coldest it's been in months. Cloudy, overcast. I sit in the car contemplating not going. I figure I may as well get my moment of 'this is stupid, what am I doing, I'm going home' over with in the driveway rather than the middle of the lake. Oftentimes though it's socked in with clouds in Boulder and you get up to Nederland and the sun is shining, beautiful blue skies. However as I drive up Boulder Canyon the clouds are getting thicker. And when I turn the corner into Nederland I can't see the mountains at all. Driving up the shelf road to Eldora is even worse, I can only see the car in front of me. The road goes right next to the lake we'll be swimming in just before you enter the ski resort and you can't see the lake. Then magically I turn the corner into the ski resort and there are the sunny blue skies. So freaky but I'm not complaining.
Blue skies over the transition area
Once I get my bike racked and my stuff set up and I realize it's going to be a beautiful day, my mood shifts entirely and I finally start to feel excited for the race. There's a chilly breeze but the sun is shining strongly and I'm sure I won't get hypothermia.
I put a light fleece in transition just in case but I don't end up wearing it, temps. turn out perfect for both bike and run.
Down at the swim start I decide to wait until the race start to warm up since the water will be so cold. I want to be acclimated to it when I get in for my start. Last year I warmed up too soon and was cold again when I got back in at the start. So the race starts and I get in the frigid 61 degree water, get the head freeze over with and after a minute or so it's not too bad, I do a quick swim out and back and it feels good and, well, you know how when your dog who never breaks his start line stay goes and breaks his start line stay say during Steeplechase and you're taken completely by surprise as he races past you and you spend the rest of the run bumbling around trying to save it? I get back to shore and a guy is frantically pointing to the adjacent shore and there's a huge bull moose drinking from the lake, about 20-30 yards away. I can hardly believe it, such an amazing sight! And my camera that's up in transition may as well be on Mars. I swim out directly in line with the moose and stop to admire him for a bit, so cool, and then I turn to swim back and realize the end of the race is almost in the water. It's a time trial start and you're supposed to start according to your race number. I'm number 163 and with 5 seconds between starters I figure I have 14 minutes but somehow after only 5 minutes they're at the end of the line and I've missed my start.
Edited to add: Stole this photo off of Facebook, sorry for no photo credit, don't know who took it. Those cones and flags are the swim finish.
I scramble up a steep embankment to get out of the water and rush to the line, telling them I'm out of order and they say it's o.k., go ahead. There are only maybe 2-3 people behind me. But when I get to the shoreline I realize I'm completely out of breath, heart rate through the roof. No way I can get in the water like this, I won't be able to breathe especially given the 9400' elevation. So I wait for a full minute and a half until my heart rate goes down a bit, watching the race leave without me. I halfway consider bagging it but at this point I'm too mentally committed to give up. The minute and a half of time isn't the issue so much as the fact that now I'm on my own, no one to race with and push me along not just for the swim but for the bike and run as well. But I eventually get in, swim a few minutes and realize I'm still gasping for air. A kayak is paddling right next to me since I'm the last swimmer so I take advantage and hang onto the side for I don't know how long, 30 seconds, a minute? Finally my breathing returns to normal and I finish up the swim, passing people who are doing breast stroke, back stroke, treading water, etc. but I don't think I pass any people actually swimming freestyle. In the end my swim time isn't as tragic as I thought it would be, 22 minutes 50 seconds including the 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 minutes of down time, putting my moving pace at roughly 1:53-1:55/100 yards, a decent pace for me at such an elevation. At least I manage to get my wetsuit off in record time with record ease even with the huge house arrest ankle monitoring bracelet timing chip.
Next there's a 650 m/711 yard dash from the lake to transition and it's a steep slog up a rocky trail to the road. I carry my wetsuit, swim socks and gloves since I'd heard someone in transition suggesting this so that you could save time by putting them on while running to transition. The only problem is that I've chosen full fingered gloves since I think it'll be cold and if I put these on ahead of time I'll struggle putting on my shoes, helmet, etc. Unfortunately I figure this out too late to put the gloves back. And of course I drop one. Thankfully a spectator has picked it up and she jogs up the hill to give it to me as I run back down to meet her. Thank you kind woman, whoever you are.
In transition I realize my sunglasses are messed up and I have to remove the prescription insert and re-insert it. At this point all I can do is laugh at the comedy of errors mounting up.
I think the bike is going to be very lonely but it turns out there are a few guys left grunting their way up the steep service road at the start. I'm following a guy up the hill and hear a voice behind yelling at us that we've missed the turn onto the trail. I think there's usually a volunteer at that turn but not this year. So thankful to that guy from behind, don't know how far I would have gone up that road following the other guy.
I ride in a small group of guys for the uphill parts then they drop me on a longer downhill section and I'm on my own. I catch up to a guy with a yellow Camelbak at the uphills and he drops me on the downhills and so it goes. I have to get off and walk at the start of the steep technical climb on the Rising Sun trail and though I'm usually able to get back on and ride the rest I'm so out of breath today with the altitude that I decide to walk for a bit until I catch my breath. It's a point of pride that I usually ride it when so many people have to walk but I'm breathing so hard and who's going to know but me anyway. I get out of the way to let someone ride up and as the woman passes me I hear, 'Get back on your bike!!' and I see it's my friend Melissa. She used to race Xterra as a pro some years ago and finished 4th overall in the rankings her last year. I know exactly 2 people doing this race and of course one of them has to pass me on one of the very few parts of the course that I walk. I laugh. And get back on my bike. And when I go up Rising Sun for my second lap I stay on my bike other than one very short steep part that I can't seem to get up.
The race gets very lonely and it's hard to keep motivated to go fast so I imagine the cyclist with the yellow Camelbak in front of me and chase him down. And occasionally I catch a glimpse of the actual real cyclist with the yellow Camelbak but then he's quickly out of sight, like he was a ghost. On the 2nd lap I finally pass 2 people who are walking up Rising Sun and of course they pass me back on the technical single track downhill on Fatty Mills. But I catch them up again on a steep climb near the end, first passing the guy and then the woman. And finally on the last super steep rocky climb I pass yellow Camelbak guy who's walking up the hill. I catch him up right at the top and he says, 'Awesome' and I thank him, wish him luck and move on. And of course he passes me on the last downhill into transition.
Thankfully T2 goes quickly without a hitch other than my rack mate's ginormous bike lying on its side in front of my rack space. I quickly push it out of the way and I'm able to rack my bike without losing too much time.
I'm excited for the run. My big goal for this race is an improvement in my run. But it's a bit tricky to measure this since the race director changed the course from last year, taking the course through the woods on a not so official trail marked with little ribbons in the trees. Lots of twists and turns and rocks and logs to jump - fun! I love this sort of trail running, I feel like a little kid following the winding path through the secret woods. But I don't think it's doing much for my time. But then I decide I don't care, so much fun.
Finally the woman I had passed on the bike catches up to me on the run and at first it seems like she screams past me at too fast of a pace for me to follow. Then I realize she's not really going that fast and I try to keep up. I pass her on the uphills, she passes me on the downhills and on a relatively flat-ish part of trail I fall in step behind her, letting her pull me along. Feels so good to sit back and settle into a pace and have someone to pull me. But then I lose her on a downhill. This course is much more rocky and technical than the one 3 weeks ago at Mountain Champs so I can't go bombing down it like I did that other course. I have to be more mindful of my bad knee and be careful not to fall or twist an ankle or something. When I picked up my packet the woman passing them out had a huge brace on her leg. I asked her what happened (I kind of recognize her from masters) and she says she fell during the run at Mountain Champs, about 20 yards from the finish line. A guy standing next to her asks her is she crawled across the finish line anyway. She says no, she was more worried about her body going into shock as her knee cap was several inches above where it's supposed to be. So you can hurt yourself on the run if you're not respectful of the trail. And you're tired and loopy from all you've already done.
I eventually catch her up again on another steep uphill. 'You must train a lot on hills', she says to me when I pass and I tell her , 'Yeah, lots of hills', because that's what I've been doing. Hill repeats, long runs on hills, hiking on hills, all the steepy steep I can get. She follows me through another technical part of the trail through the woods with the little bits of ribbon marking the way. Last year I was able to follow a guy for this part but this year I'm stuck with the job of finding the trail. There are a lot of climbs, short but oh so very steep and I'm pretty worked by the time I get to the top of the last one. And just like at Mountain Champs she takes off as soon as we hit the downhill with maybe a little over half a mile to go and I simply can't keep up and that's the end of her. Though she finishes quite far ahead of me distance wise she beats me by only 21 seconds because of the time trial start. But at least she's not in my age group.
There's one last hill before the finish line but this year I'm prepared for it. I put my head down and grunt my way up without looking to see how far is left. Soon the finish line arrives and I'm so happy to be done. The guy that cuts my chip off asks me how it was out there. I say something like, 'lovely, such a nice day,' and he looks at me strangely. 'Well you're the first person that's said that', he says. I can imagine. This is a tough race.
Thankfully there's food for me at the finish line. The volunteers have been guarding the pizza like prison wardens, making sure people take only 1 slice so there's some left over for the likes of me. At first they don't even want to give me any until I tell them I've only just finished and not had any yet and then they're so happy to give me my piece, telling me to take some bagels and bananas as well. I thank them for guarding my food for me, I'm very happy to have something to eat.
I hang around a bit for the awards ceremony. Melissa's relay team takes 1st, of course. She may not be racing pro anymore but she's still wicked fast and she has a pair of star teenage swimmer/runners on her team. There's a chilly breeze though and my clothes are still wet so I have to get to the car and change before I get chills.
Unfortunately I was actually slower this year than I was last year by 2 minutes, 28 seconds, very close to the time I lost at the start and during the swim. Oh well. Hard to compare because the run was different. The new run section was more technical and there was a steep hill added in. The good news is that I did beat 2 people in my age group, one who came in about 45 minutes after me and another with a DNF. The points I got for 5th place move me from 7th to 5th in my age group/region. With only 3 weeks left in the qualifying period and with the chance to get points from one more race added to my score I'm certain to finish in the top 10 and get my spot at Nationals. Xterra Lory is in 3 weeks and Nationals in 7 weeks. A couple days of rest/recovery then it's time to hit the hills again.
As kind of a cool side note, a woman in the 50-54 age group, not a pro, came in 2nd woman overall and only 33 seconds behind the first place pro woman. She also came in 6th woman overall at the Mountain Champs 3 weeks ago and beat 3 or 4 women pros. They actually held up the results of the race because they thought there was some mistake somewhere. I guess I can't use my age as an excuse.
Swim: 1000 m/1100 yards, about 21 mins./1:54 per 100 yards (last year 21:11 mins./1:56 per 100 yards)
650 m/711 yard Dash: 6:59 (last year, 6:45 mins.)
T1: 2:04 (last year, 1:47)
Mountain Bike: 14 miles, 1:58:48 (last year, 1:58:02 hrs./7.1 mph)
T2: 0:53 (last year, 1:07)
Trail Run: 4.3 miles, 1:01:29/14:18 min./mile (last year, 1:02:12 hrs./15:10 min./miles for 4.1miles)
Total: 3:33:34 (last year, 3:31:06)
164/171 Overall (last year, 195/209 Overall)
46/50 Women (last year, 52/64 Women)
5/6 Age Group (last year, 7/7 Age Group)
Swim: 5/7 Age Group, 46/50 Women, 157/171 Overall
Dash: 5/7 Age Group, 43/50 Women, 152/171 Overall
T1: 4/7 Age Group, 34/50 Women, 104/171 Overall
Bike: 5/7 Age Group, 43/50 Women, 160/171 Overall
T2: 1/7 (tie) Age Group, 12/50 (tie) Women, 51/171 (tie) Overall
Run: 6/7 Age Group, 45/50 Women, 162/171 Overall