Thursday, November 03, 2016

Xterra World Championships 2016 - All the Epic

 Quick race stats:

SWIM DISTANCE: 0.93 miles (1500 m) at DT Fleming Beach, West Maui, Hawaii
MOUNTAIN BIKE DISTANCE: 20 miles (32 km), 3575' elevation gain on the slopes of the West Maui Mountains
TRAIL RUN DISTANCE:  6.5 miles (10.5 km), 1226' elevation gain
Epic.  Brutal.  Those are the two most common words I heard fellow competitors use to describe this race after the fact.  Also, 'most difficult conditions ever in the 21 year history of this race'.  Lucky me that this is the year I pick to take this on.
I spent a fitful night before the race listening to the ocean.  Every time I woke up throughout the night it sounded angry.  Mad.  Super angry mad.  I woke up in the morning and figured it was my imagination.  Looked at the waves and thought maybe not.  Made the mistake of checking the weather only to find that there was a High Surf Warning with strong winds and 10'-12' waves, hazardous conditions for swimming.  Well, maybe this would not be accurate.  It was accurate.  Note the screaming in the background.

Posted by Janet Soule on Sunday, October 23, 2016

But let's not get ahead of myself. I got to the venue (Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua) nice and early, 6:40 a.m. or so.  Transition didn't officially open until 7:00 but it was open by the time I got there at 6:45.  Got a primo parking place in transition.  And plenty of time to find someone to take my photo.  Because if you go to all the bother of going to World Championships you should get a 'before' photo.  At first I posed very boringly standing next to my bike but the woman taking my picture insisted I flex some muscles.

Worlds has some interesting things like tatoos for your race number on your arm and your hand instead of regular body marking with markers/ink.

Also you get a number plate and bib number with your name and country on it.  Fancy Shmancy.  This was kind of cool because during the race you could see where your fellow competitors were from.  Especially if you end up slogging through the mud pushing your bike side by side for hours and have plenty of time to commiserate, er, chat.  But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Transition ended up being busy busy.  Funny to see the Chicago flag on someone's race jersey.  The skinheads in Chicago would put those on their leather jackets back in the 80's.

Intermittent rain showers and downpours had soaked the bike course from Thursday thru Saturday making it unrideable during that time.  They closed it  to pre-riding at some point, can't remember when.  We even got chased inside by a downpour during the swim clinic Friday morning before we got to the swimming part.  It didn't rain for long, these showers were short lived but there were enough of them each day and enough volume of rain to keep the bike course a slimy mud pit.  And the road was wet when I drove to the venue on race morning so it had rained overnight.  My coach's husband used to race cyclocross which can be a very muddy event and he told me to put chain lube on all of my bike's moving parts and grease in my pedals which I'd switched over to clipless for my last few races so yes I'd had to deal with trying to clip in with muddy cleats and pedals.  He also sprayed my bike and moving parts with silicone spray.  SO thankful for his help with all my challenges with this race.  Not much else I could do.

After getting set up and my bike sprayed I made my way down to the beach and watched the waves.  There is a Hawaiian named Kupuna Clifford Naeole who does race day blessings.  You stand in line and when it's your turn he touches some water in a bowl with a palm leave then touches you with it in various places and says a blessing.  I stood in line and got my blessing.  I figured I could use all the help I could get, spiritual or otherwise.

There's some video of him here on the race highlights as well as video of the challenging surf and bike conditions.  There's also video of one of the challenged athletes that I ended up leap frogging with him throughout the day on the bike.  We saw each other in the airport on the way home and nodded at each other, knowing the hard experience we'd both been through.  I can't even imagine though as hard as my day was how much harder it would have been dealing with all that mud with a prosthetic leg and quite a few challenged athletes finished.  Truly inspirational the amount of effort those athletes put in.

2016 XTERRA World Championship Highlights from XTERRA TV on Vimeo.

Waiting for the race to start I was surprisingly calm.  I practiced getting in and out again a few times with the huge waves and it was for sure more challenging than the previous days but I still felt like a had a handle on it.  It wouldn't be pretty, certainly would be a slow swim but I'd get through it.  Just stay calm, swim within myself, don't go too crazy worrying about Fast.

While waiting for the starting cannon to go off at Nationals someone told me that at Worlds they wait for an opportune time between the wave sets to fire the cannon for each athlete wave (there were 4 waves this year with all the women going last) but they didn't appear to be doing that this year.  The cannon went off like clockwork at the scheduled time for all the waves and the big age group men's wave starting with a huge surf wave.  The women's wave was last and we started 13 minutes after the pros.  Somehow the waters were calm-ish for our start and we got in without any big shore break.  But the waves were there the whole way to the buoy.  I couldn't even see the buoy, I just followed the people and all of a sudden the buoy appeared right there.  I started a bit off center to the right of the buoy because of the direction the current was pushing us and this worked perfectly except for the part about stepping on some coral in the water that I couldn't see at the start.  Coral is sharp and I worried I'd cut my foot but by the time I reached the first buoy I'd completely forgotten about it.  It was crazy out there, I'd feel a big wave coming and dive down, I'd fight against the current, try not to get blown into my fellow competitors and hope they didn't get blown into me.

The course is a big 'M', you swim out to a buoy, turn around and swim back to shore, exit the water and run a short distance on the beach then get back in to swim the second lap.

After the first buoy the surf had picked up even more and it was difficult to get out of the water.  It wasn't pretty, I stood up, got pulled back by an incoming wave and sort of washed up on the beach but I didn't get slammed into the sand and I was o.k.  Getting back in was also a challenge and I had to use my diving into the wave skills.  The waves were even worse for this lap, it was almost comical the way we were all getting tossed around.  Somehow I found the buoy, it magically appeared again just as I came up to it and then the current brought me back in though it hardly felt easy.  Hardest swim I've ever done.  Clicked my watch off when I got out of the water at 39:42.  I swam 1883 yards for a pace of 2:06/100 yards.  Slow for me but I was happy enough to survive that ordeal without a single moment of fear or panic  I was intentionally holding back on pace and keeping well within myself since it was going to be a long day.  The race was supposed to be 1500 meters or 1640 yards but when I compared my yardage on Strava to others who had done the race my yardage wasn't so bad, pretty close to or less than what many others had swum.  I was pleased with my swim and glad to have survived.

There's a bit of a run from the beach up to transition and I didn't run very fast, even walked a bit to get my balance back and recover.

I thought T1 went quickly and smoothly but my time was 5:40 which seems very slow especially since I didn't have to take off a wetsuit.  I did have a swim skin but this came off way more quickly than a wetsuit.  I'm guessing it includes some of my run time up from the beach and also the transition area was huge.  I did take a bit of time to grab some ice packs from my little mini soft sided cooler but it didn't seem like it took all that much time.  Oh well, a mystery.

On to the bike.  Oh the bike.  So much pushing my bike through the mud.  That Xterra highlights video above shows lots of riding but this was not so for most of the age groupers.  Apart from the already muddy conditions, it rained again for a short bit during the race, maybe withing the first half hour I was on the bike.  Can't recall exactly when or for how long but while the rain felt good and cooling, it turned the muddy trail even further into soup never mind the nearly 800 riders churning it up.  Not only couldn't you ride in it but many people's bikes got so bogged down with mud that they couldn't even push them.  So many people littering the trail while they scraped mud off their bikes just so that they could be able to push them again.  These two videos are a way more accurate portrayal of the first 9 miles or so of the course for the typical age grouper.

A couple minutes of Heather Horton's video from the steep switchback section of the 2016 XTERRA Maui bike course...
Posted by Carl Horton on Wednesday, October 26, 2016

XTerra World Championship 2016 Bike Course from beth lamie on Vimeo.

I mostly pushed my bike for the first 8-9 miles and this is where a good chunk of the climbs are. Took me somewhere between 2 1/2 - 3 hours to get to the top and to a place where trail conditions were such that I could finally ride for an extended period.  The only good thing I can say about it all is that it seems I'm pretty good at pushing my bike through the mud and perhaps all the silicone helped a lot because my bike didn't seem to be bogging down as much as everyone elses and I passed a lot of people.  People who are normally way way faster than me.  Also this was a place for good mental management.  Lots of people were getting wound up and frustrated over the mud and wasting precious energy and stress.  There also seemed to be some strategy as to where you pushed your bike (I mostly kept the bike to the grassy-ish sides of the trail while I slogged through the mud).  And some strategy as to where and when to try to ride.  Because there were short bits and pieces here and there that you could kind of ride.  But trying to ride in deep mud was a mistake because your extra weight only caused the bike to clog with mud sooner.  Also it seemed like riding through the mud took more energy than walking or running your bike through it.  And there were places were you could sorta kinda run and most people weren't, they were slogging along in a grumpy mood.  In different conditions I would have been way further back in the race riding mostly on my own but for the whole bike I had people to ride with.  Also it was cooler and windier for the first part of the bike than on my pre-ride and this went a long way towards me not getting dizzy and overwhelmed with the heat.  The ice packs helped a LOT.  They made all the difference.

After the last big climb, maybe around mile 9 the trail conditions improved, things were starting to dry out and the course went down hill for a while.  I was careful with my speed because you never knew when you were going to hit a muddy patch but apparently I was  pushing things more than on the pre-ride because according to Strava I had many faster times on the downhill portions, especially the first long downhill portion.  I was 22:30 mins. during the race compared to 29:54 on the pre-ride.  I guess the confidence of having my own bike, not being loopy with the heat and having other competitors to race made all the difference.  Also having knowledge of the course makes a big difference on the downhills.

Most of the rest of the course was rideable.  There were a few muddy patches and places that were super steep that I had to get off for but mostly I could ride and this put me in a good mood.  I saw some rodent type critter start to scamper out of the pineapple fields but when he saw me he quickly ran back in.  It was kind of big whatever it was so I'm glad it took to the hills and left me alone.  I heard all kinds of noises in the forest but never saw anything.  There were still many little steep punchy climbs here and there but only a few longer sustained climbs.  Lots of twisty downhill that was kinda fun.  I had a much better time of it than on the pre-ride.

When I finished the upper loop and passed the check-point from the pre-ride they told me I was 5 1/2 miles from transition and that I had an hour.  Both I and another guy misunderstood and yelled back, 'An hour???!!!'  thinking he meant it would take an hour.  But what he meant was we had an hour until the bike cut-off.  The day before I was worried about that cut-off.  At the pre-race meeting they said they'd extend it from 2:00 to 2:30 and maybe even longer on race day depending on conditions and how people were handling them.  The women started 13 minutes after the official start of the race so I felt a bit cheated and that maybe I'd have difficulty making it if I became overwhelmed with the heat and had to walk.  But on race day I wasn't worried because so many people were bogged down with the mud I figured I would be o.k.  And an hour was plenty of time.  I think this meant they extended the deadline until 3:00 or so (race started at 9:00).  In any case I was thrilled when I realized what the guy was saying as I knew I'd easily make the cut-off.  There were maybe 9 people or so who didn't make the cut-off out of 740 so I'd say Xterra was pretty generous.

My time for T2 was 2:48 and this also included time to grab more ice bags.  Miraculously they had stayed frozen in the Maui heat.  As I was stuffing one down my bra I looked up to see the t.v. camera right there filming and the camera guy laughing.  It'll be just my luck that that makes the cut and I'll be on national t.v. at World Champs stuffing ice bags down my bra.  But I just laughed and gave him the thumbs up because sheesh what a day.

The run went o.k. considering.  I walked some uphill bits to prevent myself from overheating because by now the sun was out.  But the trade winds were blowing and they'd hit my ice packs and it was kind of like my own little swamp cooler.  They lasted almost until the end of the run.

The only issue I had was with my orthotics.  Not only were my feet soaking wet but there was water sloshing in my shoes and my orthotics are old and worn out so they were slipping and bunching up in the front and the hard arch was moving under the upper part of my foot on the downhills.  So I had to stop after all the steep downhills to re-position them.  Luckily I could do it without taking my shoes off but I did have to stop many times and it cost me some time.  But at that point all I wanted to do was finish, my time and placement were irrelevant.

I was able to run, not super fast but it was running and I never got dizzy or nauseous or overcome with the heat!  I was so excited about that.  The run was kind of fun too, up and down and twisting through the woods.  Some technical places of vaulting over downed trees (thank you parkour class) and ducking under low tree limbs.  Fun!  There were some trippy bits to watch for, little stumpy things sticking up into the trail that I didn't notice until I started stumbling over them.  There's a big steep unpleasant climb on asphalt in the last mile or so and then you head down to the beach where you run the length of the beach in the sand to the finish line.  It was funny running along the beach and the tourists doing their thing stopping to cheer me on.  The 6 1/2 miles took 1:43 but somehow it never seemed as long as that.  And felt so much better since I was able to run, albeit slowly, without the terrible dizziness and nausea that have plagued me in those previous races.

And then the Finish Line!  So so excited to see that and finish the race.

Photo Credit:  Steve Schwarz

The guy doing the live stream pulled me aside and did a little interview with me.  Jonny got a video of it.

Not the most coherent I've ever been in my life, but heartfelt.

Xterra World Champs 2016 Survivor

I wasn't as muddy as some folks, I never fell, but still, poor bike.  After the race I waited in line at the bike wash for about an hour so I could clean my bike.  I spent a long time on it but it was getting dark and I was getting cold to the point of shivering so I forgot to do a wheel and came home with some Maui mud.

Based on my finish time at Nationals and looking at other folks times who had done Worlds and Nat's. I figured my finish time would be around 5:30-5:40, maybe 5:20 if it wasn't too hot and I had a great race.  My time ended up being 6:54:36 (hours/mins/secs).  Most age groupers were 1 - 1 1/2 hours longer than their finishes in typical years.  The pros were maybe only 15 minutes slower though to be fair their trail conditions were probably not as chewed up as ours.  Xterra's press release says more than 800 athletes from 46 countries participated.  The official results show 740 people and 26 DNF's (did not finish).  Probably 9 of those were folks who didn't make the bike cut-off.  There were only 3 major injuries which is way down from previous years most likely because the mud prevented folks from building up any major speed.  Fewer people require IV bags because conditions were cooler and walking huge parts of the bike course meant folks weren't building up as much body heat and getting overheated.

I was so tired I almost didn't go back to the Ritz for the awards ceremony but my coach and her husband offered to drive me and I was too tired to try to make my own food so I went.  Thankful that I did go, the food was good and they even played the Ramones during the awards.  Plenty of speeches about the history making conditions from the organizers, the pros, even the man who did the morning blessings.  They started the age groups awards with the oldest age groups which was nice because they had all the 70-79 finishers up on stage at the same time and that was truly inspirational.  There were 2 men in 70-74 and one in 75-79 and one woman in 70-74 that finished.  The oldest woman was 71 and the oldest man was 79.  There was another 79 year old man competing and he finished the bike but did not make the time cut-off.  I spoke to him in the parking lot a couple days before the race and he said he'd competed and finished many years (can't remember how many but it was a lot).

They also took some time on stage to acknowledge my coach who turned 65 this year and won her age group for the 7th time.  She's retiring from Worlds this year though will probably still compete at other races.  She's on to other exciting adventures in her life.  She won her age group this year by just a minute against a competitor she wasn't familiar with so it was a nail biter for her up until the finish.  Glad for her that she was able to finish out her Worlds career with a hard won win in such challenging conditions.

They give you a nice finsher's medal which I wasn't expecting in addition to the colorful lei of real flowers.  I bought a few bits and bobs but didn't go too crazy with the souvenirs.

I enough real life memories from that experience to last a lifetime

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