The Xterra West Championship was the first U.S. Points Series race of the season. I was excited to start the season as a new Luna Chic, but the weeks leading up to the race left me a bit nervous. About a month ago I knocked a rib out of place and I attended a 3-day strength and conditioning conference in Las Vegas during the week of the race, all which limited my training. When I arrived at the race venue on thursday afternoon I tried to shift my mental focus to a positive one and got some pre-race riding and running in to familiarize myself with the course conditions. Like Danelle, I also skipped the chilly pre-race swim on Friday to let my rib rest a bit more.
On race morning, it was much cooler that I expected, and very wet. The rain kept up until just a few minutes before the start of the race so my usual pre-race warm up routine didn’t leave me feeling very warm! Luckily, I took some advice from a friend (a great Xterra athlete from Alaska- so he knows a thing or two about swimming in cold water!) and enjoyed the hot water that Zac poured into my wetsuit to create a warm layer before jumping into the frigid 57-degree Lake Las Vegas. I got in the water with enough time to swim for 5 or 10 minutes before the starting cannon blast.
When Kahuna sent us off I had a decent start and swam with the group to the first buoy but lost them as we headed back to the bridge. The injury and lack of swimming for the past month was showing as I just didn’t have the speed I usually do. I managed to remain calm, knowing that especially in the cold water if I struggled to increase my speed I would only do more harm than good. I exited the water and struggled in T1 with my dexterity as I felt like I had ice blocks for feet and polar bear paws instead of fingers!
Out on the bike course, everything but my feet warmed up on the 2 lap, fast moonscape course as I pushed the effort level to make up the time I lost in the water. I passed a couple of women and entered T2 feeling like I put in a solid effort. Again I struggled to change my shoes because my feet were still cold and my calves cramped every time I pointed my toes! As I ran up that first short steep hill to begin the 10K, my boyfriend Chris was there to tell me I was in 5th place with Melanie about 2 mins ahead. I decided to take the pace out smooth and steady for the first 5K and negative split the second 5K to prevent blowing up as a result of the many hills early on. I kept pace with a guy in front of me for a while then passed him as I neared the half-way point. I was feeling good and picked it up quite a bit knowing that it was soon to be all downhill to the finish. It wasn’t long before I heard footsteps coming behind me and had a feeling that it was my teammate Danelle. I know how fast a runner she is and knew at the start of the run that at some point she might catch me. Sure enough- Danelle breezed past me, gave me a few encouraging words and was off to catch Mel who was now within 30 seconds- striking distance! I kept my eyes on both of them and opened up the legs on the downhill, making up about another 15 seconds. With 1 mile left I watched Danelle pass Melanie and knew I had some serious work to do if I were to do the same. I emptied the tank but Mel held me off by 9 seconds and I finished 6th.
In the end, I was a bit disappointed to miss the podium but happy with 6th place as it was one place higher and six and a half minutes faster than last year’s finish at this same race. It was also my first race on my new Orbea Alma 29er and it felt smooth fast and fluid and leaves me excited for my next event, the Whiskey 50 mountain bike race in Prescott, AZ where I’ll be joining Luna pro teammates Georgia, Shonny and Teal. The next Xterra race is May 19th in Pelham, AL which will also be the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship. Until then, you’d better believe I’ll be working hard to regain my swim fitness!