Monday, April 24, 2017

Humble Pie with a Side of Fun: XTERRA ATX 2017

My second season racing XTERRA officially kicked off with XTERRA ATX, which takes place at Pace Bend Park near Austin. This was my second year racing this race, and this year was vastly different in many ways!

First, I'll get my "excuses" out of the way.

1. Racing with a broken knuckle is hard, but still possible. I found out that two weeks ago when I wrecked pre-riding this course for a TMBRA race, I broke the knuckle in my pinky finger of my right hand. The doctor I finally saw said taping my fingers was all I could do, which was great news, because ain't nobody got time for a cast. This didn't significantly effect my race other than my grip isn't at full strength, I just really wanted an excuse to share my x-ray. :)

Whoops!

2. My back tire took on quite a hole when I was riding the Monday before the race- big enough the sealant couldn't stop it. I got a new tire and new sealant at my LBS on Wednesday (and a great tutorial for what to do on the trail if it happens again so I'm not stuck walking!) and was dismayed to find that on Friday, the sealant was still not holding and my tire was consistently losing air. I didn't want to risk a flat, so I had to pop open my tire and throw in a tube (I left the sealant in too, because what the heck.) This was NOT ideal for Pace Bend, especially on a wet, slick morning, because instead of running my tires at  22psi, I was forced to run them closer to 32 to avoid a pinch flat. Pace Bend is very rocky, very technical, and very slick in places. This absolutely slowed my riding down, which was frustrating, but I didn't wreck and I didn't flat, so it was what it was!

XTERRA recently changed their points system, so that rather than a best 5 of 7 points (or whatever it was), now Regional Champions are determined by whoever has the most points in each age group. Basically, the more you race, the better your chance of winning. There are pros and cons to the system, but one pro for local race directors like Joel and Dion at Race Revolutions is it makes their local series MUCH more popular! Where the fields were merely 100, with maybe 10-15 women last season, this race was very nearly sold out, and there were 40 women total!

This meant there were a LOT of rookies (welcome, everyone!) who caused some traffic jam situations on the trail. While frustrating in the moment (I said, move that Huffy outta my way, fool!) it ultimately meant the sport was gaining more exposure and a bigger family, which is good! It also meant that rather than each woman essentially being the only person in our age group, several age groups were 5-7 deep, making the competition real! My AG, 30-34, was one that had more than 3, meaning several weren't getting a podium spot. (This may seem silly to the men who race against dozens of their peers at every race, but as we work to grow the sport among women, know that it was a big deal!)

I was apprehensive about this the whole week prior to the race. I had raced against one of the women in my AG two weeks prior at the TMBRA Pace Bend race and found out that she was definitely as fast or faster (faster, indeed, as she won our Cat 3 race a few minutes ahead of me!) and knew, therefore, I'd have to race as hard as possible the entire race to have a chance. This changed my race dynamic, kicked up my sense of competition, and added a whole new, fun element to the season.

The Swim

The swim went off in two waves, men and relays first, women second. I was not enthusiastic about this as the swim is my strongest sport, and I knew it meant over taking the slower men and also tangling with them on the first lap of the bike course. However, safety first, and it did make our swim start super easy. I was able to jump in on the lead pack right away and will say I felt my swim was executed pretty flawlessly. I stayed on course, kept a steady, fast pace, and swam well, finishing with a 1:40/100 yard pace, which is great for open water. (I think I can push a little harder, and will try at Muleshoe) When I left the water, a volunteer said I was the fifth woman out overall, which was fun to hear!
Do you see me?

The Bike 

Aforementioned tire problems aside, I love Pace Bend's trails. They are challenging, technical, but 95% within my skill set. There is one major climb that I walk, and one drop I walk because it just screams broken arm at me. Otherwise, I'm able to crush everything out there. During the race, after untangling myself from the men in the back of their pack (who were, generally, good about moving aside, but the newbies who got scared at obstacles and stopped right in the middle did muck things up. They'll learn, though!) I pushed hard but could tell my speed was diminished by how much my rear end was bouncing around. This also seriously wore down on my lower back. I would have committed a felony for a full suspension bike, or at least a full tubeless set up, by the time I got done with the 14.5 mile course. My competition, Sarah, caught me at mile 5, and passed me. I told her I'd see her at the finish line and she laughed and challenged me to keep chasing! I thought that put me in second, and kept riding hard because you truly never know. I knew there was another rider in our AG not far behind me from Fort Worth. She was having some difficulty with the terrain since North Texas has nothing like it, so I tried to put as much distance between us as I could.

Despite being slower than I wanted, I was still MUCH faster (over 2mph faster) on this course this year than last year, and hit transition feeling so much better than last time. That made it a good experience, despite my back being mad at me.

Rounding the corner for lap two.

The Run

I hit the run with my friend yelling after me, "NO walking!" and that was my goal. I ran my first mile at a 9:40 pace, good for me on off-road, and made it to the one giant hill on the course and my heart rate had enough. I had to walk the hill. The other girl in my AG I knew was behind me on the bike passed me at about 1.25 miles, and when I say passed, I mean flew. She had to be running 7:30 min/miles. There was no way I'd catch her- I can't run that fast ever, and certainly not when I'm whipped! That, I thought, put me in third, so I kept pushing as hard as I could, ending the 3.5 mile course at about an 11 min/mile pace, which was faster than the year before, and thanks to the strangely cold weather, I didn't come close to vomiting, so I marked it as a victory.

After-thoughts 

When I got to the finish line to congratulate Sarah on her 1st place and tell her I got 3rd, she told me she actually got 2nd. A woman from Arkansas somehow passed us all on the bike and we just never saw her (she must have dodged the body marking, because I was for sure checking every calf that passed me!). This was a major bummer, because I knew it meant I got 4th, and no podium. I originally thought it was 4th out of 4, which was a real blow to my pride, but have since seen it was 4th out of 7, which makes me feel a bit better.

The experience was definitely humbling. I had grown accustomed to knowing that I'd get a medal no matter my performance, because of sheer numbers, and with that, had developed perhaps a false level of confidence in my skill level. When your only benchmark is yourself, it's hard to see what's really going on! Therefore, even though it was a bummer to miss the spot, it was the kind of motivation I needed to train and race hard every time, not just when I feel like it. I think in the end, it will prepare me better for the season, especially for Worlds.

Also, I raced as hard as I possibly could, and saw significant improvement in my time from the year before - by over 20 minutes on the bike portion alone! When you give it all you had, you can't be mad, no matter where you end up, and that keeps the fun in the competition. I want my shiny medal, my points, and the cool champion jersey again, but no matter what, it was FUN to race, and that's what I really do this for. I am ELATED that more women are racing XTERRA, and hope they keep coming back!

If you need me, I'll be eating my delicious Humble Pie trail-side, as I work to get better, stronger, faster, and have more fun in the dirt! Hopefully it gets me where I want at the next one; we'll just have to toe the line and find out!