Thursday, November 2, 2017

Mahalo, XTERRA Worlds

I'm exhausted, jet-lagged, and my stomach has no idea what time lunch is supposed to be, so I thought now was the perfect time to write my race report from the XTERRA World Championships.

For those that do not know, XTERRA Worlds takes place in Maui, HI, and racers from all over the world qualify through a few ways, including winning a regional championship (as I did) or winning a World Tour Race, which is how many non-US residents get in. It is a 1-mile swim, a 20-mile mountain bike ride, and a 7-mile trail run. 

Let's break that down a little further. It is a 1-mile swim in rough open ocean water with 4-8ft waves. It is a 20-mile mountain bike with over 3,5000ft of climbing. It is a 7-mile obstacle course trail run with another 1,200+ feet of climbing, descending, and a quarter-mile beach run to the finish in the ankle-deep sand. 

It is tough. It was tougher than I even imagined. It ate me for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is apparently still digesting me because I am wiped out nearly a week later.

It was also a super amazing, fun experience, and I am so glad I had the privilege to go after qualifying! 

I could write pages and pages about our amazing trip surrounding the race, but I'll try to curb the humble-bragging and stick to just the event itself. XTERRA does a fantastic job for their athletes. Race fees are about half the cost of an Ironman, and include TWO full dinners at the Ritz, a Halloween party, race number tattoos, an awesome t-shirt, and great sponsor swag. It also includes a company that truly cares for their athletes at every level, offers fair pay-outs to their pros, keeps the family vibe strong, and knows how to create an amazing atmosphere to foster everyone's goals, no matter what they are.

There were 26 women in my age group, and they were truly from all over the world! When I looked at the start list, I was pretty sure I was in trouble. Chile, Brazil, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and so on.....those are some pretty mountainous countries! Austin? In Austin, we have FANTASTIC single-track with super challenging technical riding and some hills, but not climbing in the true sense of the word. The pure default of where I train put me at a disadvantage, but I was ready to see how it went, and my goal was to just not be last!

This would also be the last time my name was that high up the list. 😐
On the Friday before the race, they held a pro panel for swim tips and I attended with my friends Lauren and Sara, as all of us were pretty nervous for this kind of ocean swim. When we walked down to the water for practice, the swell was coming in and waves were head-high or higher, some booming into shore like fireworks. 

I was definitely not 100% sure about this situation 
 Our plane tickets and condos were non-refundable though, so we knew we had to just suck it up and get in the water. I'm a strong swimmer, so I was not concerned about drowning per say, just swallowing too much water and accidentally chumming for sharks. The water temperature was perfect, and I chose to swim in my swim skin rather than a wetsuit to reduce chafing and increase my ability to dive below the waves.
"Dangerous Shorebreak" is how I always like to start a swim!
After helping Sara calm her nerves about the waves and convincing her she was fine (She was FINE!), we did a bit of a Baywatch photoshoot in the waves. And by we, we mean Lauren, whose hair was somehow still perfect. (We love you even when we hate you for being so beautiful, Lauren! ;) ) I felt a lot better about the swim after practicing, and my time on my Garmin was reasonable. I worried about being in the mass start as we crashed through the waves but saved those worries for Sunday. 
Call us, Baywatch!
 We rinsed off and changed and hopped on our bikes to check and ensure everything was ready to go. I'm glad we did this because everything was NOT ready and I almost wrecked in the parking lot when I realized my stem was not tightened on to my fork. Whoopsie. We fixed that and did the first 2 miles of the course. Then, after feeling like we were dying just from that, we decided it wasn't worth the energy to keep going. The course itself had almost no technical features just a LOT of UP UP UP and then a little down, before more UP. We got the gist of it!

The point in time we decided we were good on the pre-ride and ready to go downhill.
Bike. Ocean. F$^& it, let's go!
The Saturday before the race, Bryce and I visited the National Park, exploring a volcano crater and hiking four miles round-trip to see some amazing waterfalls. We drove the "Road to Hana" on our way back, which took forever, but was essentially in Jurrasic Park the entire time, so it was a nice way to spend relaxing before race day.

Chasing waterfalls pre-race
 Then just like that, it was race morning. The start wasn't until 9am, so we got to sleep in until about 6:30. I got up, kitted up, and ate some breakfast. Parking was quick and easy. The harder part was the trek up to transition- a stark reminder that we would have to make that same "run" after the swim!

Racks were limited to 6 bikes each and assigned by age group. Our rack was in a super sweet location right near bike in/out and immediately behind the pro racks. It was really cool getting to watch them prep and pump up for the race as we set up our things.

Racked and ready. Flora Duffy and Leslie Patterson were RIGHT BEHIND US!

ATX Women ready to roll!
After going potty and double and triple-checking our things, we made our way to the beach for the start. The waves had calmed a little (nowhere near the insane level of the year before I was told) and the weather was perfect for a day at the beach! The waves kicked off with the pros at 9am and ended with the age group women at 9:20. The swim start is wide and you are able to pick wherever you want on the beach to start. I chose to line up just to the right of the first buoy and to the back of the pack so that I could time my entry between waves easily. 

Lining up at the swim start. Next time I'd see Jeanne, she'd be leaving me in her dust on the bike course!
The swim was two 750m out and back swims broken up by a short beach run in the middle, making an "M" shape. The first part of the M felt great and I seemed to be in and out pretty quickly. The second part I felt like I got caught in a weird part of the current and just felt like I wasn't. Getting. Anywhere. At. All. It was incredibly frustrating, but I finally broke out of it and made the final buoy turn back to shore where I again felt simply stuck for several minutes. However, I wasn't trashed by any waves and only swallowed one good mouthful of water. My time was a little bit slower than I wanted, but still not bad. I got out and walked to the top of the massive hill to my bike, talking to Bryce as I went, and got ready to ride. Swim :32:25

The bike course, again, had 3,500ft of climbing in 20 miles. It was insane, and my heart rate was all over the place the whole time. I rode as much of each climb as I could, but inevitably got off and walked my bike up the hills many times. I at first was being hard on myself about this, but then I saw that a LOT of people were doing this (including the 80-year-old man who I chatted with quite a bit!) and cut myself some slack. Some of those hills would have been hard to DRIVE up! It was really cool to see all the helicopters, dirt bikes, and drones with the TV equipment on it, capturing the day. They thankfully only caught me walking once!

The top of ONE of MANY long climbs. This one at least had a view!
 The views were spectacular when we were out of the jungle of trees and gave you a great perspective of just how much climbing we were doing from sea level. I took photos because I wanted them, and also wanted an excuse to stop and breathe.

Don't look down.

Hill. Other person walking their bike, both for scale and to show I wasn't the only one walking.
Lauren I knew was long gone, as she is an amazing swimmer and a great climber, and Jeanne passed me quite quickly on the first part of the bike. However, I knew Sara would be catching me at any minute, and was very proud to make it 14 miles into the bike before I heard her call my name from behind me (also walking her bike up a particularly stupid hill!)

I knew she was tired because where she normally passes me and I never see her again, I was right on her tail for the remainder of the ride. We talked about how much the bike course was killing us and how we were glad to be racing but also glad when it was over, and how the downhills definitely didn't make up for the climbing. Basically, all of the whining we wanted to make ourselves feel better, and it did! We rolled into T2 one right after the other and decided hell with it, let's do this run together to help it be as fun as possible. T1 + Bike 03:47:45

The run was an additional 7 miles with over 1,200ft of climbing and we knew from the map that the first three miles were a bulk of that. I hugged Bryce and told him I'd see him in like 2 hours because I knew already this wasn't going to be pretty.

We hiked up the hills, running the flats and downhills when they came and felt generally OK until about mile 5. At that point, my head really fell apart. I was dizzy, a little nauseous, and overall just felt like garbage. Sara spotted me some Skratch drops, which did help, and she drank a Red Bull, which smelled disgusting but perked her spirits up.

That tiny person up at the top of this obstacle course is Sara, encouraging me to not just lay down and die.
The run went from a hike to a total slog, and although I REALLY wanted to run the final downhills and along the beach, I literally could not balance well enough to do it. I felt awful and told Sara to go ahead and finish so she could hit her under 6hr goal. She told me to shut the hell up and keep walking. Eventually, finally, we passed through a could of pot smoke at the park to hit the beach (thanks, Maui! :/ ) and could hear the finish line in the distance. T2 + Run 02:03:19

How much gas I had left in the tank when we finished.
We ran through the finish chute, holding hands because we're adorable, and received our medals, leis, and snacks. I almost puked on the cameraman as he put a microphone in my face to talk to us. It was beautiful. I was 25th out of 26, which was a bummer, but I had stopped caring about halfway through the bike! Total 6:23:29

Bryce was there through the whole race and helped me keep it together afterward to get my stuff. He is the best supporter and fan I could ask for, and I'm so glad I had him with me and will have him with me, beginning to end, every time. He can't really complain too much, either, since his sherpa duties included hanging out on Hawaiian beaches, going to the cabana bar, and wandering around the Ritz. He definitely likes cheering for XTERRAs the best!

 Jenny Burden #132  Swim :32:25  T1 + Bike 03:47:45  T2 + Run 02:03:19  Total  6:23:29

<3 him, and my pretty Lei!
I have to make a specific point to talk about what this sport means for friendship, sportsmanship, and building one's chosen family because, for all of the sucky suckiness of that race, the impact of it will be with me forever because of this.

Sara and I are competitors who have become friends, simply from the excitement of having another woman to train with for these things. I met her at an XC race this spring when I saw her in her XTERRA jersey and knew immediately she was "that other girl in my age group." She spanked me handily at that race and yet we made plans to ride together ASAP to get ready for tri season.

We raced 5 races together this season out of the 6 total I did, and I only beat her once due to her dropping out thanks to asthma. She is faster than me at everything but swimming, and we are both super overly-competitive Type-A people. By most standards, we should be frenemies at best, and we joke about it all the time.

However, we aren't frenemies, we are friends, above all, even at the World freakin' Championships. We had joked all season about just crossing finish lines hand-in-hand so neither of us would beat the other, and when she stood over me in T2 as I pulled off my soaking wet bike shoes, we decided we would go ahead and make that happen.

There were many, many times she could have dropped me on the run, and many times I insisted that she should because it was killing ME that we were missing our time goals, and I knew she was equally bummed.  But she didn't and she wouldn't leave me. Even when I sat down at the bottom of a massive hill to take a break. Even when I refused to run down a hill (that WOULD have been fun to run down if I hadn't felt like I was going to die), even when there was a big crowd cheering for us on the beach and she was yelling at me, "Come on, the sooner we're done the sooner we're DONE!"

She thought she was being annoying, but I was so grateful to have her there, even if her Red Bull smelled terrible. We grabbed hands in the finisher's chute and crossed the line together (I shoved her in front of me a bit so that her chip would scan first!), relieved our bucket list was checked and we had survived.

Making our dreams come true!

 She could have been a few spots higher had she left me, but it was more important to her to be with a friend and enjoy the moment with that XTERRA off-road spirit. I told her that if we got interviewed, I would just tell them, "Ohana means family, and family means no one is left behind."

I didn't get to say that at the end because I was trying too hard not to puke on the microphone, but I felt it and I meant it. It is so important to keep in perspective the fun in the sport, the friends you make, and the spirit of lifting each other along when things get really, really tough. Thanks for doing that, Sara, and thanks XTERRA for bringing us together!

Let's pick a race with fewer climbs next time. Maybe Thailand?

Literally TV stars
 It was the experience of a lifetime, and I'm so thankful for my family and friends who helped get me there and who pushed me through. Thank you to my teammates at Maverick Multisport for cheering me on all across the US, my Peddler Bike Shop fam for getting me hooked up with a bike case and a dialed-in rig, and American Airlines for not losing or breaking my bike.

Mahalo all! Now I'm going to snack-nap.

Our vacation continued the next days with snorkeling and a submarine ride!

Check out the sweet highlight film here:  https://vimeo.com/240538855