Sunday, October 23, 2005

2005 Xterra World Championship

Makena, Maui

Beach on race morning

Getting There
So here I am at the Xterra World Championship, this is the top of the mountain for the racing I devoted a big portion of my life for the past 2 years. There is a great feeling in the air the whole weekend leading up to the race. Sure, we’re Maui which is probably the most beautiful place in the world, with an incredible magic of it’s own, but you could just feel it the excitement.

I register and say hello to some old friends. Just in front of me is Peter Reid, 3 time Ironman world champion, cleaning off his bike from a ride on the practice course. Up in the lobby Olivier Marceau, Melanie McQuaid and countless other professionals at the top of their sport are milling about. There are camera crews roving the grounds and groups of people are busy setting things up for the race tomorrow. By far, the largest production I have seen yet…and, deserving or not, I am an actual competitor. Nearly all of the athletes here have qualified for this race in one way or another, but I missed by 3 minutes in Richmond. An at large bid brings me to Hawaii and now I’m starting to feel like I might not belong at this race.

I head out to pre-ride the course; it offers a small tasting of what is in store for us, lots of climbing, loose rocky descents, volcanic silt wafting in the air, lots of climbing, and lots of climbing. I manage ok and my legs feel great, I get in 2 laps and feel confident that I can handle this infamous course. The rocky parts are pretty similar to some local trails and they are much wider which can leave some extra room for error. I lower my tire pressure to account for the deep sand pits and to help cushion the rocks.

On race day I get to transition early to see that the expected brutal sun of the day seems to be replaced with an overcast sky. Angry seas greet the racers as we head down to the beach for the 1.5k swim. These angry seas are softened a bit with a rainbow that appears on the horizon. Seeing as I’m not the best swimmer, I take this as the island’s mana telling me that everything will be fine.

Swim start with obligatory Hawai'i rainbow

The Kahuna blasts the cannon and over 500 athletes race for the water. I am on the inside track to the buoy and fully expect to be pounded. As I get closer to the turn there is still relatively clear water ahead of me and room to get into a rhythm. This could be because a majority of the field is already head of me, hahaha. I only got my goggles kicked off once (salt water in the eye stings like a mother) and made it back to shore only moderately disoriented. I feel like the vast majority of the swim field is ahead of me, but it looks like there is quite a bit behind me too. I figure I’m middle of the pack, great considering the competition.

The second lap goes incredibly smooth and I did not make any ground, but I did not lose any either. I get out of the water staring up at the 10,000 foot volcano, Haleakala, that lies ahead and I can only hope I make it off of Madam Pele’s former playground in one piece. I blast through transition, blowing a kiss to Stacey and head out.

Out onto the road to the trail head and I’m surrounded by people. Lots of folks towards the back of the pack and as we start making our way up the volcano I begin picking my way back through the field. My legs feel great today on the bike so I keep a pretty aggressive pace. The run has always been my strong suit, so I figure I can go pretty hard and my legs will survive enough for a decent run.

After about the 160th consecutive hill, I see the trail still rising. It did this continuously over the first hour or so the bike. I pass Kate Major (Ironman superstar) and a few friends and am feeling great so I keep the fast pace. I pass a ton more people and hope for at least a decent run but my back and legs are starting to hurt a lot, I focus on drinking and spinning easy gears but the going is tough.

The downhills were no piece of cake either. Between loose lava rocks and deep silt it’s hard to keep the bike on the trail and it requires just as much energy as the climbs, so there is no rest. The descent is incredibly super fast and sketchy. If anyone gets in front of you, the volcanic silt billows up to make a smoke screen. So you can’t see the trail in front of you AND you are going 20-30 miles per hour praying for no surprises.

I cruise back into transition and see my support crew of Stacey, Vince, Nate, and Nate’s dad Mike and sister Mel (sorry!!). They get me charged to tackle the run. As I get to the rack I realize that there is still a huge amount of bikes still out on the course so I excited that I am in good position. I jet out of transition with the mind set of reeling in a few people and finishing strong.

On the first ½ mile to the trail head I get my breathing under control and begin to pass people. The run course is different so I don’t really know what to expect, but I could not have imagined what lies ahead. Once on the trail we start climbing. It was pretty tough but I’m trying to keep a steady (albeit, slow) pace. The trail proceeds to go up for the next 2.5 miles and completely demolishes me.

This run is killing me

Sprint for the finish
The uphills are killing me and I can’t see an end…..up, up, up, up. I had to walk a few sections of it because my legs would not respond. I definitely took it too hard on the bike. I can see a grueling finish and I resign myself to seeing it though. The going does not get any easier as people start catching and passing me. I tell myself to run my own race, but it is still frustrating to get caught pretty consistently.

Over the next mile or so I just try to stay in control and not fall down. The descents on the run are fast too with just as many loose rocks making a massive spill likely. When we finally get to some flat land I think that my troubles are over, but they have just begun. The last mile or two take us onto a few beaches and through a windy forest with sandy trails as well. This is where my legs fall apart. I try running down by the water but my legs are barely moving. I’m still pretending to run but I’m not really going anywhere. I know there is not much left but just cannot lift my legs any faster. This physical (and surprisingly mental) challenge continues for what feels like a life time.

Towards the end of the sand I get passed by Kate Major. Dang! And I wanted to beat a superstar...oh well. As I head back onto solid ground a fellow Xterra ambassador Jay finally reels me in. We have had many battles over the past 2 years. He offers me encouragement and I pretend that I’m not hurting as bad as I am, cursing my race strategy gone awry. With less than a quarter mile, I surge to drop him. He cheers me on as I pull away, except...I went too soon. Not 100 feet from the finish line Jay comes storming back and we sprint for the finish. I don’t know how but my legs are, but not fast enough. He beats me out at the line and we settle into 174 and 175 place overall and 25th and 26th in our age group of 46.

Post Race
I am completely spent and can hardly stand. For the next few minutes I continuously pour ice cold water over my head and drink just as much. What feels like a mighty battle is just one of hundreds that have taken place all morning over the landscape of southern Maui. Finishing 175 of over 500 in the world championship race makes me feel incredible. Despite falling apart at the end I still feel amazing and that I have met the challenge. What were feelings of insecurity and over-reaching before the race has changed into tremendous feelings of accomplishment and confidence.

This look says it all
I am so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity the pit myself against some of the best athletes in the world. As I sit here chewing on some starburst (hey, it’s the off season) I think that while I may not have qualified outright to be here, after surviving and finishing the hardest course on the planet, I now feel like I belong here competing against the best.….and while I will never be battling for 1st place, I’ll be battling for 175th place just as hard.


PS The post race party was a friggin blast. Check out our costumes.

PPS Thanks to Dr. Kathy and Eric for keeping me together through this long season when my body wanted to crumble, and, of course, thanks to Stacey for always being there.

Rest of the Trip
The rest of the time we were in Maui we saw and did some of the most incredible things. Maui is THE most beautiful place I have ever been on this planet, and it is true that you can feel it. We went snorkeling to Molokini, drive the Road to (and past) Hana, went to a Luau, went surfing, jumped off of cliffs into the ocean, ate incredible meals (thanks Mike), saw an Ozomatli concert and just had an incredible time, all in all. Vince and his friends showed us a great time. I would recommend a trip there, no matter the cost. Now if I can just convince Stacey that we should get married there.

Dolphins were showing off
One of the countless waterfalls on the way to Hana