Friday, October 04, 2013

Come Hell or High Water - Xterra Nationals 2013


Swim course distance: 1,500-meters advertised (0.93 miles) Combines two 750-meter laps (no run in-between), course was long, probably 2100 meters/2297 yards according to one pro
Elevation at Port Ramp Marina for swim start:  4,900-feet
Water temperature: Probably around 67 degrees
Mountain bike course distance: 28-kilometers (17.7 miles)
Total climbing on bike: 3,400-feet
Elevation at highest point: 7,300-feet (where Sardine Peak Trail meets the ridgeline)
Elevation at T2/Snowbasin Resort Lodge: 6,400-feet
Trail Run course distance: 10-kilometers (6.2 miles)
Total climbing on run: 700-feet
Total climbing on course: 4,100-feet

Well, I made it to Nationals this year.  Just.  Between losing my grandmother and Cody and dealing with the flood all in the space of a month or so I was wondering if I should go at all.  I got my car Thursday afternoon before the race and that in itself was an adventure, trying to navigate the Boulder Creek path on my bike to get to the car dealership.  There was much hike-a-biking through big piles of mud and flood waters and eventually I had to leave the path and cut through a condo parking lot because I turned a corner and was faced with  a raging river covering the creek path.  Anyway.  We drove up Friday for and the race was Saturday.  The 7 1/2 hour drive took around 9 1/2 hours with all the stops for dogs and caffeine deprived husbands.  And I may have expressed a desire for lunch at some point.  Actually the dogs were easy, the humans were the ones who couldn't seem to sit still for longer than 2 hours at a stretch.  Highway driving makes me dizzy and sometimes queasy and I like to have a day or two to decompress before a race never mind pre-ride the course but oh well, at least I got to go.  Because of the flood I'd been unable to do much training in the 2 weeks before the race.  A couple of short easy runs here, an easy swim or two there, no biking at all.  Extreme Tapering.  And mentally the last thing on my mind until Tuesday or Wednesday or so was the race.  I'd adjusted my goals to simply finishing and enjoying the trails as best I could.

It was a perfect race morning in T1 once again.  All my races this year have had stellar weather.

Having Jonny there this year was a huge help.  We got to T1 plenty early, I got a great spot for my bike then he drove me up to Snowbasin to set up T2 then drove me back down to T1.  Didn't have to worry about catching a shuttle or worrying about taking enough warm clothes back to T1 to wear while waiting for the start.  It was chilly before the start, I was happy to be able to wait in the car.

But the sun finally started letting loose some warmth and the swim start was glorious.  At the pre-race talk the night before the race director said the water was 61 degrees which is super cold and uncharacteristic.  Usually water temps for this race are around 65-67 degrees and last year was probably around 64-65.  I was not thrilled with this news but I had neoprene socks and skull cap with me so I bundled up and hoped for the best.  Turned out the water was warmer than last year, probably around 67 degrees.  I was a bit overdressed but it was o.k.

As you can see by the guy standing to the right of me, I wasn't the only one overdressed.




Last year I positioned myself far to the right of the field, in line with that first yellow buoy.  I was mostly fine for the first leg of the swim then got caught in the crush of a traffic jam at the first turn buoy.  So this year I tried a different strategy and started far to the left, probably out of view of this picture.  It meant swimming farther but I figured it would be worth it if I had a clear path.  I did not have a clear path.  It was a lot of chaos as we bunched together heading for the buoy.  And as you can see there was so much glare and the first buoy was so far out you could barely even see it from shore.  I can't even see it in this photo.  I started to feel a surge of panic as I got caught up in the flailing crowd but I quickly turned that around and was fine mentally for the whole swim.  I got slapped a few times and had some people swimming into me but nothing major.  I drafted as best I could, followed the crowd as best I could in the glare and eventually after what seemed like forever I caught sight of the first buoy.  The second buoy came more quickly and after that turn the crowd was reasonable and I found some feet to draft off of.

The second lap was uneventful, had the same problem of glare but jumped from feet to feet so I had some draft but ended up on my own for the last stretch of the swim.  The water was a bit choppy and wavy but still I thought I was having a fairly strong swim so I was surprised and a bit disappointed to see 47:23 on my watch as I exited the water.  My time last year was 39:10 and the swim was long!  But I had to leave the disappointment behind, I still had a huge day ahead of me.  What I didn't know was that the swim was even longer than last year, around 2100 meters/2297 yards by one pro's estimation, which put my pace at 2:04 mins/100 yards.  Not great but not horrible considering the choppy water and the extra yardage I swam being so far to the left at the start.  And that yardage is an estimation, the course could have been even longer.

The run to T1 felt faster and easier this year.  I put some flip flops off to the side but the crowd was so thick I had a hard time finding them at first.  Next year I'll leave them in a more obvious place rather than some random location.  Ummmm, did I just say, 'next year'??!!

T1 went much quicker this year, I was better organized and more focused and I knew I didn't need to put on an extra fleece for the bike.  Time was 5:01 for T1 + run from beach (2:53 for T1 only) compared to 6:37 for last year.

Leaving T1

The Bike.  Ah, The Bike.  What can I say about The Bike?  It started out o.k., I was a bit queasy from the choppy, chaotic swim and I'd probably put more effort into the swim than I'd realized.  The long drive the day before didn't help either.  But after Buffalo Creek a few weeks ago I remembered not to take any gel until my stomach had settle despite the mile or so flat-ish stretch before the climb up Wheeler Canyon.  Trouble is my stomach never settled all that much.  I felt o.k., good even, better than last year going up Wheeler Canyon and once I got out I think is when I had some gel.  But somehow I didn't remember a relentless climb after that.  But there it was.   A steepish, long climb that went on and on and ON.  I knew it reached a downhill eventually so there was a bit of recovery before the next long climb up Sardine Peak but it took much longer than I was expecting and at some point I started wondering if I'd be able to finish.  If I'd even make it through the bike.  I felt weak and dizzy and queasy.  No way I could eat any more, I knew that would be a huge mistake.  But I slogged on and eventually reached the downhill. 

Which was the most horrible part of the race because this is where the fast folks from the sprint race caught up to us slower folk doing twice the distance.  And these guys/women were awful about passing.  The race director warned them to be nice in the pre-race talk but these folks either weren't there and/or didn't care.  These are locals who came out for a short sprint race and they were interfering with those of us who had trained and raced all year to qualify and traveled a long distance to be there.  They were even more rude than last year and one guy even crashed into me trying to pass me on a narrow stretch of downhill single track.  I managed to stop and catch myself without falling but he went over the handlebars, got up and kept going without so much as an apology never mind making sure I was o.k.  I had people yelling nasty things at me.  So obnoxious.  If I don't go back next year this will be why.  I wish they'd do away with the extra races entirely and only have the Nationals event.

Anyway, in retrospect I could have bailed before Sardine Peak and ended my day with the Sprint Racers but I was so happy to be rid of them when the turn-off came that it didn't even occur to me.  There was a guy from the 50 or 55 age group behind me who was equally as rattled and we both heaved a sigh of relief at the turn-off.  I paced him for a while then he passed me as I started to fade even more on the climb up Sardine Peak.  I tried to get some food down at the bottom of the climb but there was no way.  All I had for the whole nearly 5 1/2 hour race was 1 1/2 gels, about 150 calories.  Not sure how I did it.  But I did.  And I even passed someone from my age group near the top of Sardine Peak.  I couldn't believe it but there was someone in my age group struggling as much as me.  This was not a huge incentive, I had no goals regarding placements, I was going to be thrilled to have enough in me to finish but still I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling good to think I might not place dead last in my age group.  She passed me on the downhill but there wasn't downhill and still a bit of climbing before the bike ended and I wondered if I might pass her back on the last few climbs.

I felt much better after having some time to recover on the descent down Sardine Peak and the last bit of climbing on the bike felt o.k.

Final descent into Snow Basin.

As bad as I felt my bike was still 10 seconds faster than last year.  Not the 10-20 minutes improvement I was hoping for but at least I wasn't longer.  And I did it despite feeling not so great.  Time was 2:59:20.

I never caught the other woman on the bike but I saw her in T2 and I started the run ahead of her.

There's a terrible steep mile long hill at the start that most people walk up.  This is the bottom of it and I'll confess I only ran long enough for Jonny to take a picture.

Despite feeling bad on the bike and not being able to take in any food and temps. being hotter than last year I felt much better on the run.  Perhaps it was simply a matter of knowing the course a little better but I swear the hills didn't feel as steep or as long.  Somehow I managed to enjoy the run this year.

The final descent.

One of many many steep switchbacks near the end.  This one's not too steep.

I never heard the woman from my age group coming up behind me but I'll admit the thought of her behind me was a bit of incentive to keep up a good pace.  For the second race in a row I was able to hold off someone in the run.  I was only 31 seconds faster than last year though, finishing in 1:31:08.

Finally the finish line.   Such a sweet sight.  Though there was one cruel steep horrible hill before you get there.  Someone's idea of a sick joke maybe.

SO happy to be done.

No finisher's medals this year which was kind of a disappointment.  Funny, last year I was expecting one and it was a pleasant surprise.  This year I was expecting one and not getting it was a disappointment.  It's all about the expectations.

I finished in 5:24:40 which is a whopping 5:57 mins. slower than last year but given the longer swim I think this represents a faster time.  In any case I was simply happy to be able to race and finish.

Strummer and Jonny were at the finish to greet me.  I was so grateful to have him cheering me along at various places in the course.  And it's always great to have pictures.  We had lunch at Snow Basin during the awards ceremony and he helped me carry all my crap back to the car which I remember was a big challenge and hassle last year.  He even went out that night and braved the big noisy, crowded Harvest Festival going on downtown a block away to get us some food for dinner.  What a luxury not having to go out in that.

The fall colors weren't anything near as beautiful as last year.  It looked like they'd gone straight to brown somehow.  Still the trails are beautiful and despite the warmer temps. (maybe high 70's?) there was a stiff breeze going and I never felt too overly hot during the run, felt fine during the bike.  A beautiful day on some beautiful trails, I felt very fortunate to be able to enjoy them and put aside all the chaos of the last few weeks.

Final Stats

Swim:  47:23 (2:04/100 yards if 2100 m/2297 yards is accurate) (39:10 last year)  
            278/342 overall (307/330 last year), 84/110 women (96/107 last year), 8/12 age group
            (9/10 last year)  An improvement in my rankings so possibly my swim was faster.

T1 plus run up from beach:  5:01 (2:53 for T1 only) (6:37 last year)

Bike:  2:59:20/6.06 mph (2:59:30 last year)   326/342 overall (316/330 last year), 101/110 women
           (99/107 last year), 12/12 age group (8/10 last year)

T2:  1:48 (1:40 last year)

Run:  1:31:08, 14:27 min/mile (1:31:39 last year)    317/342 overall (308/330 last year), 98/110
          women (96/107 last year), 11/12 age group (8/10 last year)

    Run Splits:

    Mile 1:  18:16 (17:47 last year)
    Mile 2:  11:44 (12:05 last year)
    Mile 3:  19:22 (18:15 last year)
    Mile 4:  13:28 (13:50 last year)
    Mile 5:  15:22 (mile markers not shown, time is approx.) (13:45 last year)
    Mile 6.2:  13:07 (mile markers not shown, time is approx.) (16:03 last year)

Final Time:  5:24:40 (5:18:43 last year),  315/342 overall (311/330 last year),  95/110 women
                    (96/107 last year), 11/12 age group (8/10 last year)


  1. Congratulations!!! Sounds like a tough race - a testament to how hard you worked that you were able to conquer it after everything else that happened.

  2. YOu amaze me as always. Especially given all the emotional things going on recently, being able to concentrate and get this done is fantastic. I enjoy seeing the photos, too, brings it all to life; thanks, Jonny. And I'm sure you'll do even better--ahem--"next year."