Coming out of T2 at Xterra Worlds 2013. Just a little dusty! Loving it!
A few years ago, 2011, when I got to this spot on the race course I was almost done the bike portion. At this moment, October 2013, a training day, I am wondering where the f#%$& the end is! This course, it just keeps going! I am thinking. “I should be finished by now” and “what the hell?” Though I am trying to be calm and present with where I am on the trail, I am wondering when it’s going to end. Stubbornly, I am not taking in anymore calories cuz I am supposed to be done which is only adding to the frustration. A little dip in the blood sugar and my resulting frustration are a sure sign that I need food.
Of course I live through my self made drama and later find out the bike course is now longer than two years ago. Oh. Two more miles were added on to the end of the bike course. Oh! Well that explains why it took me, at the time, like forever to get through this training ride on the Xterra World Championship course for 2013 in Maui. I am so glad I rode the course ahead of time and happy I made this mistake on a training ride vs race day. One of the rules of triathlon, like one of the Ten Commandments of the sport, “know thy race course!” And this turns out to be a prime example of why- I screwed up now, so I am less likely to screw it up later during the race.
It was hot, but I was really prepared to embrace the heat. Something I learned along the way with racing and just life in general, be present and in your body to fully live the experience, heat included. Having a few weeks in Hawaii before the race helped, both mentally and physically, me to be prepared for whatever came as I went along. Really, there’s nothing else to do, take it as it comes.
A highlight of race day for me was a 9am start! Sleep and a normal breakfast. Plus a warm-up ride to the venue on my Mtn bike, along the shoreline of Maui, through neighborhoods of homes, condos and bodegas. Such a feeling of connection to the place as I pedaled, blessed and happy with the opportunity so much so I didn’t really want the race to start as much as I did want it to start. If you know what I mean. If it didn’t start, then it couldn’t end.
Setting up transition went smooth. I was lucky to be in some shade, which meant the frozen liquid in my Camelback would last a little longer. Setting up transition was nothing new to me, but an Xterra is a little different; gloves for holding on to the bike when my hands got all sweaty and therefore slippery, the Camelback for liquids which made it much easier to ride and drink because it has a hose to sip out of instead of reaching for a water bottle. But, it would take a few seconds to put on, both of these necessities added a few more seconds to transition time. Everything counts in a race, even the transitions. Speed in transitions requires no fitness, just organization and calm, so I view it as “free” time to gain.
This past year I’ve been incorporating yoga, a sun salutations sequence, as my warm up for training and racing. Today would be no different. I brought my yoga mat along and after setting up my transition, I found a shady, out of the crowds way, spot where I went through my yoga routine. I overheard a few comments from people passing by on what a “brilliant” (my emphasis) idea to bring a mat to stretch on. Agreed.
Down at the beach, 100’s of athletes milled around in the swim corral. It was a very large corral, too. The swim would be two “v” shaped courses with the traditional Xterra run across the beach between each “V.” This meant two runs into the breaking waves, what fun! The order would be the pro men, then the pro women, age group men, then age group women-my group. Only two minutes of a gap between men and women, “hmm not going to be good” I thought as I watched the men’s wave head off for the first segment of the swim, many of the men going no where fast.
Two minutes pass quickly. The signal for the age group women to start sounds, and we hit the water running. A little frantic with other women around me for a short period before I find some open space. I stay calm, yet quick. The ocean waves are quite “sporty”, I am getting bumped, pulled and slapped by the water, but then so is everyone else. It’s kinda fun, playing in nature! We women caught the back of the men’s wave in no time. Many of the men in that wave hadn’t even made it to the first buoy before we caught them. I watched, as I overtook these men, wrestle and fight the water, with the water obviously winning. These men were working very hard for such little return. The problem they were creating for themselves: using/wasting lots of energy in the early stage of the race, you can lay down during the swim (literally) if you have good swim balance. The problem they were creating for me by not being efficient swimmers: many of these guys were going to want to pass me on the bike, which is my weaker link To their strength. “Crap!”, I thought as I passed.
On my way to the first buoy my goggles started to fill with water. This totally surprised me, though I remained calm. In that moment I couldn’t figure out what happened as I’d been wearing this pair for weeks without a problem. I went as long as I could, water sloshing, but they were only getting worse. Calm in my approach, I stopped to fix them by draining the water then pressing firmly back on against my skin. All good at first. Around the first buoy and they then totally popped off! For a moment I thought they broke, but no, I slipped them back on and kept going. I was grateful they weren’t broken.
First “V” finished, then a 100 yardish, kinda, sorta, quick run across the beach. It was exciting if only for a second given the cheering crowd. My legs “shocked” into working after doing nothing on the first “V” of the swim. Diving back into the waves for the start of the second “V,” through the surf, and suddenly a feeling of exhaustion rolled through me. The run across the beach was intense and I just wanted to lay on the water to rest. But I couldn’t, it’s a race! I pulled up my big girl panties to get going. As expected, I eventually caught my breath, and the blood moved from my legs back into my arms. On my way again. Still a few more guys to pass in the water, I am guessing they’d likely see me again on the bike.
The Xterra guys who plan the course for the World Championship just don’t give it away. Outa the water, more deep, soft, sand to run through, a grassy slope, a little more up hill-1/4 mile, then finally arriving in transition. More running for me to get to my gear, a mental path I had laid out before the start of the race during my pre-race walk through so I’d know where to find my stuff in the fiery energy of transition. An awesome crowd cheering us all on, “you’re all nuts” I am sure they were thinking. Not me, I was thrilled to be here, doing what I was doing, embracing “peak sensations” in this body. A gift for sure.
Onto my trusty rental, full suspension Mtn bike. The word for the day was up. And up we all went. Over the beautiful mountainside of a volcano. Who’d a thunk it. 20 miles for the course and somehow it seemed like we just kept going up! Well, there were a few deep downhills, some good sliding in the airy, dry, dirt, cornering, breaking, more sliding. Such fun! The chatter of the other athletes, the fragrance of some sweet fruit growing on trees, the forest, the sky, in the distance the ocean, I take it all in, it’s what makes this experience what it is.
A highlight of the bike course for me was this fast and extremely dusty decent on a dirt road. How dusty? So much so I was praying a little cuz I couldn’t see very well. I didn’t want to give up the free speed though. Bouncing over dirt, dust and rocks, it was dangerous to not be able to see! Some riders passed going much faster than me. I convinced myself not to break at all in this section. My poor contact covered eyeballs were starting to stick together. I laughed inside, loving every minute of it. Down the screaming decent-I was screaming in my mind, I couldn’t scream out loud, it’s a World championship after all.
I welcomed a flat section of road where the dust was less of an issue due to gusts of wind carrying it away. An athletic looking, “ball of muscle”, woman in my age group commented to me when she saw me, “I hope I am as dust covered as you are!” She said. Looking at her closely, “yes, yes you are,” I assured her.
Next up was the “noodle on the trail” section as I like to call it. Earlier in the week when I was pre-riding the course, I noticed one of those “swim noodle”, green, on the trail. “Strange, wonder how that got here”, I thought as I passed it that day. Shortly after seeing the noodle, the trail dropped steeply and quickly down into a drainage ditch complete w “ginormous” rocks, followed by a “hop off your bike and hall it” and yourself up the other side using the “dirt” ladder someone created. This sudden changed surprised me. Now, on race day, the noodle acted as a marker for me noting this challenging part of this bike course is coming up next. This second approach went much smoother than my first attack on it during my training ride. The noodle was an indicator to be prepared, knowing the extended course was helpful. And certainly proper fueling goes a long way for emotional stability- overall I was doing much better on this race day than I did on Wednesday’s pre-ride. This time the bike was fun! I ate and drank more appropriately leaving me ready to run off the bike.
As each one of my pedal strokes brought me closer to T-2, I was preparing myself for the transition by stretching my legs a little on the downhill path. A certain level of relief melts over me. Downhill. Gravity sucking me down the path. Enthusiasm and sadness share the stage: the moment of completion close, and relief, yet the moment of completion of something marks a nibble of time and experience passing. Aliveness in the effort, acceptance of the discomfort that can come with physical and emotional challenges. Shifting my mental gears, dust built up in layers over all exposed areas of my torso. At this moment, I visually going through my rehearsed transition: my path to get to my run gear, Food I will take for the run, bike shoes off, run shoes on, camel back off, then my path to the run exit. It’s rehearsed, its quick.
As I exit transition I left my bike gloves on and my camel back on. I will take the gloves off as I run, no need to waste time taking them off in transition, I’ll do it while moving forward. The goal is the finish line as fast as I can, taking gloves off in transition would be eating up time. The camelback, I leave it on as I hadn’t consumed it all while on the bike. This leaves me a little behind on liquids for the run, so it stays.
I am conservative at the start of the trail run. It’s uphill outa t-2. Earlier in the week I covered 4 miles of the 6 mile course. This made me familiar with the first two and the last two miles. As I trekked up the hill, organizing my gloves, and gels, checking in with my body, I felt pretty good. A bit hot, very dust covered, sweat mixing in to make mud, kinda like a clay bath happening. I was in good spirits and ready for the run, excited for the run. Trail running has always been a favorite. The same duality came back: excited to be making my way to the finish line, yet not wanting this experience to be over. The passing of time, of a beautiful experience.
The opportunity to be present. To stay in the moment. To be fully accepting of the physical and mental challenge is a spiritual practice. There is a constant need to be conscious of the body, the breathing, fueling, drinking, foot-strike on ever changing terrain. These are all aspects of sport being a spiritual practice. To be fully connected. On the trail, I feel even more connected to nature. Yes, I am racing, but by bringing awareness into the racing, I feel more alive, at peace, full and whole. Yes, my body aches from the physical challenge, I embrace it. I feel so alive and vibrant! The ego chatters on in my head, looking for some “air” time, for an ear to tug on. It grabs me at times, I recognize it, then leave. Change the channel. I drink from the camel back. A coke at the aid station. The dust covered “ball of muscle” women I saw earlier tries to run with me. The ego voice in my head wants to talk about her, put her down with thoughts, I leave those thoughts, they don’t serve me or anyone. I stay in my body, the breathing the fueling, the corners, the ups,the downs, how to place my foot, then the next, the next. A rhythm. Where I am I on the trail? Oh yes. The tree to duck under, the log to scramble over, a steep hill to climb. Hot sun beating down. Challenges I love and embrace. I remind myself, this too shall pass, so eat it up now!
I push my body, transparent to the ego that wants to stop, to slow. The duality: finish, no make it last! The trail is familiar, the last mile at hand. Across the sandy beach, a slog, patient. People cheering, some sit in their beach chairs- a day at the beach for them. Pump my arms, it helps to move the legs. I sink down in the soft sand, stay with it, stay focused, the final push, I talk to myself.
Back on the grass. The finish line, the finish shoot, 200 yds to go. Happy and sad, yin and yang. Over the line. I stop. Aware, amazed.