Friday, October 5, 2007

Xterra USA Nationals Redux


The promise of the beautiful lake Tahoe scenery made the 2 hours in LA traffic, during which my fiancé and I drove all of maybe 15 miles, bearable. The plan was to leave around 2pm on Friday to make it up to Lake Tahoe and get a good night’s sleep before basking in the gorgeous mountain sunshine during an easy pre-ride of the bike course.

Coachancé decided we should take the 395 instead of the 5 in order to exchange the enduring smell of cow and fertilizer for a more scenic route. By the time we got to the scenic route, it was dark.

No matter! We were going to Lake Tahoe, baby! To race at Nationals! Awesome!

Once we turned to take the 50 toward Lake Tahoe, we thought we’d be on the home stretch. Too bad the home stretch decided to become engulfed in a white-out blizzard. WTF! (I believe cussing is allowed only in situations related to when the weather is not sunny and warm. That’s what happens when you grow up in Phoenix. And this was not sunny and warm.) WTF! I’m supposed to swim in a lake—and it’s snowing! OK, I’m hardcore. I can do this. Let’s sleep first.

I truly feel for all of the people who did the Xterra Nevada race. They went to sleep with snow flurries in their heads and woke up with it all over the ground before they had to go break the ice to begin their race.

Coachancé and I bundled up all nice and cozy to preride the course—right when other people were bombing down it. I believe he might have forgotten that the course is like a lollipop, and the part we’d share with Saturday’s racers included us riding straight up for 3 miles, and them bombing down at us. It was quite nice to finally begin down the Flume Trail—probably the coolest mountain biking trail in the world. Just sayin’. Non-technical single track with a mountain’s jagged edge on one side and a cliff overlooking all of Lake Tahoe to the right. Pre-riding allowed me to stop and enjoy the scenery—because you know, you’ll ride the way you look and if you’re going to try to take it all in on race day, a helicopter is going to be removing you from the mountain.

A delicious awards banquet was held that night in which one of coachancé’s former college tri-teammates, Mowhawk Will Kelsay, won Mr. Xterra for the year. Right on. He’s definitely the coolest and most recognizeable dude out there. AND he didn’t end up in the med tent this time, which is usually where to find him after a race (if you couldn’t spot his neon Mohawk earlier).

So all of my fretting over the WTF weather turned out to be for naught. Race day was too exciting to worry about my core temperature. Walking around in thick neoprene also helps. So does running and jumping in it. And having the air outside cold enough that below 60 degree water feels warm. And peeing in your wetsuit. Not that anybody I know does that. But I hear it’s a good strategy.

The mass Xterra start usually seems to me like it’s rougher than Ironman—because everyone’s clawing at each other and not just accidentally swimming at each other. Somenow, coachancé picked a very nice place to start and we got out without much kicking and punching. Thank goodness my parents threw me in a pool before I could talk—presumably so I could take off fast in Xterra races and avoid damaging my person on other people’s fists.

I felt slow, though. I definitely felt the altitude and had to stop to get air every few strokes. And the water that was glassy only seconds before had become a whirlpool of waves with human parts sticking out of it everywhere. I drank a lot of Lake Tahoe. Good thing it’s a big lake or there’d have been nothing left for everyone else to swim in.

And it also became a good thing because however I stuck the bladder into my camelback, it twisted up the straw and I couldn’t drink for the entire ride. There was no way I was stopping to fix it. I was determined to prove that I had become infinitely better at mountain biking than I was the year before in the Nevada race—and I believed I could podium. So I was going to ride like I was being chased by blood sucking zombies, because as far as I was concerned, that’s what the other girls in my age group were—until I saw one of them pass me on the climb. Then I became the blood sucking zombie that had to chase after her. So after a long climb, a sweet bomb down the Flume trail, another freaking long climb and no blood to suck, I decided the aid station with Gatorade would be my hydration savior.

But those doofises didn’t take the seal off of the bottle! I sucked as hard as I could and nothing came out! F*&^! I shouted and threw it to the side. Totally hardcore. Don’t ask me where this cussing streak came from. But I swear a good howling F(*& will give you the kick to go harder when you feel you have nothing left. Growing up in AZ also provided me an advantage here, because while I have no ability to warm my frozen body, I do have hydration needs resembling a camel’s.

I hurled myself down the more technical switchbacks (which were my favorite part of the race. And also somebody else’s favorite part, because he told me just before he kicked my butt down them). Then when I popped out on the fire road, I was back on my blood sucking mission. To my complete surprise, I actually passed other people—people that have more regard for their organs than I apparently do. I drafted another woman on the road back and noticed she took off her gloves and stuck them on her handlebars so I decided to do the same, to be cool like that.

Then off to the run! I hadn’t even thought about it. I had 2 goals for this race: to actually race the mountain bike instead of pussyfooting it like, well, a pussy, and to not die. I felt good with my mountain bike and was not yet dead, so I ran for it. It’s amazing how ducking under one little low-lying log can make your quads cry. You only have to run under this log two times in the whole race, but after the first approach, your quads will be trying to talk you out of doing it again for the next 3 miles.

Under logs, over logs, over little streams, around bonked people. The course is so twisty and turney. I loved it. If every triathlon had a trail run, I’d be a happy camper.

Finally, after having run right by the finish line on my way to the second run loop (set up this way for pure torture purposes, I assure you) I was so close to the finish line. That’s when I heard the announcer announce a girl—in my age group—as the “runner up”! ACK! I had only thought 1 girl was ahead of me! Well, this was it. I kicked it in, almost fell off a log, and ran as fast as I could to secure 3rd—and not too embarrassingly far behind the other girls either. Not bad for having mountain biked a grand total of about 5 times this year—on all of my friends mountain bikes. (I don’t have one…but will accept all donor types!)

Coachancé righteously kicked bootay and cheered for me on my run, with such cheers as “Looking HOT right now, cute buns!” much to the delight and embarrassment of other cheering family members along the course.

So this AZ turned CA girl conquered the fear of freezing to death in what turned out to be the most perfect day for racing ever. Bright and sunny, the trails had mostly dried from the snowfall, the lake was not frozen over, and the race was perfectly put on. This one of the few races I and many of my buddies actually feel like the race fee is worth it—like the directors spent a good wad of the fee on us. And we appreciated it.

Xterra rocks!

Happy off-road Tri-ing!

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