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2015 XTERRA World Championships... the race

For big races, I love to find a song... or have a song find me... that becomes my mantra during a race. I can usually pop it into my head when I am struggling and for a few minutes, it gets me over the hump of mental weakness and pulls me toward the finish line. I was beginning to stress that leading up to Maui, I couldn't find a new song that spoke to me, lifting my feet up and making me want to push harder during those final tough workouts as the seasons began to change in Colorado.

2 days before the race we were cruising around downtown Lahina when I heard it, my new mantra song- "Could Have Been Me" by The Struts. Now, if you check out the YouTube video you might think I am whacked because the video is not the most inspiring, but the lyrics spoke to me. I downloaded it onto my phone and played it on repeat to let it sink in. It really is a great, fun song, but what I didn't plan for was which lyrics would get stuck on repeat in my head on race day and how taking them out of context served as a self-fulling prophesy of sorts.

Fast forward to race morning. The race didn't start until 9am (so it was going to be nice and toasty by the time the bikes climbed to the top of Razor Ridge- if you haven't watched the video highlights from this year's XTERRA World Championships, check it out when you have time. The scenery is beyond breathtaking in this little piece of paradise) so we had plenty of time to get transition set up and hike down to the beach for a warm up run and swim.

Jay Weber, a wonderful friend of mine from XTERRA Wetsuits (in other words, he knows a few things about swimming with that job), gave me a few pointers before I got in the water. He told me to swim out a little bit, observe my surroundings and find a point on shore, then float on my back for about 10 seconds. After, observe if the current carried me either left or right of where I first started floating. Then, I can gauge where I should stand to start the swim on shore, factoring in the current pull when aiming for the 1st buoy. Lucky for me when I tried this, not only did I not sink -love the buoyancy of salt water- but I didn't move much at all. The current wasn't pulling much and the waves were wonderfully calm compared to the days preceding the race. Nervous energy turned to excitement. I was ready to do this!

After prerace announcements and a Hawaiian prayer and blessing of the athletes, the cannon went off. The pros took off into the water, the men lined up to take their charge next and finally, we women in the white swim caps pulling up the rear of the start order. Do I dare admit that the swim was fun that day? Okay, maybe I should have been swimming harder to where I wasn't taking in the crystal clear warm salt water, schools of colorful fish swimming below, or that I noted sweet Jordan Cooper from Gunnison, CO was swimming alongside me during the second half of the race. I matched Jordan's pace and a small pack of us worked together to overtake slower men (who reminded me of giant sea turtles being carried in towards shore with the waves) on our way back in to the beach.

As we exited, Jordan and I side by side, I saw Beata Wronska a few steps ahead. Beata is a phenomenal mountain biker from Florida who won the overall amateur title this past year at XTERRA SE Championships. She just "graduated" to the 40-44 age division this year so I knew if I had any chance of trying to make the podium, I had to keep her in site during the bike leg. Beata must have come out of transition behind me because she came flying by about a mile into the bike leg. At about the same time, the path narrowed into a tight singletrack and the climb began... and so did the traffic jam. Beata disappeared in front of a pack of (mostly) guys who hopped off their bikes at the first sign of any challenge. I have never been so frustrated as I spent most of my time and energy practicing balancing on two wheels while not moving going up a muddy hill. I am not going to lay blame or call out specific nationalities, but lets just say that not all cultures share a respect for women, or at least a female's ability to ride a bike. I was floored that at a world championship event, some of the cyclists were actually wearing tennis shoes- maybe because they knew they would be walking -and taking up the entire width of the trail- hiking on the left side while leaning sideways into their bikes which were on the far right, making it impossible to pass. "Passing on your left" apparently is not a universal courtesy (although it was emphasized during the pre-race meeting). I started playing a game of leap frog to pass the time and slowly make my way up the line, waiting for a guy to pass me, then hopping on his wheel so he could call to the riders ahead that he was passing and I could sneak by with him. Okay, I admit I sound bitter, but I had trained so hard with hill repeats upon repeats all summer for this moment and at this point, I couldn't even call what we were doing an aerobic effort.

The trail opened up as we neared the top of the climb on Razor Ridge and I used the opportunity to let the legs play. I passed Beata, but she quickly passed me back when I got caught behind another guy. As soon as the decent started, I threw caution to the wind and let it go, passing Beata, but only to be caught by another pack of 5 or 6 bikers. In the middle of the pack was Christina Ward. Christina and I are 2 Colorado girls in the same age group who have gotten to know each other's racing style quite well over the summer, racing almost all of the same races. She beat me in Beaver Creek, but I got her during the run at Nationals, so today could have been either of our day... but unfortunately, both of us were stuck riding the brakes for the most fun part of the course, the twisting turning long flowy descending miles, weaving around the shade of the trees and smooth roots most of the way back to T2.  After sitting in the back of the slow moving train riding their brakes for a couple of miles, I had had it, my frustration and ego getting the better of me. I attempted to pass the group on their left when I found an opening on a wider section of the tree lined trail... only to completely wipe out as the trail took a sharp 180 degree turn and headed back uphill right after I passed. Embarrassed and beyond frustrated, I tried to hop back on my bike as the group approached. Of course, one of the guys in a thick foreign accent hollered "come on!" -which only added to my irritation. I flipped my twisted handlebars back around and scrambled back on to the bike, not realizing that my water bottle must have hurdled out of its cage and was forever lost in the woods. With 5 miles to go, I passed the pack again, but now had a new issue to deal with. Should I take my Powergel with the double concentrated 1st Endurance electrolyte drink in my Camelbak to give me calories to start the run or should I see how far I can go before getting water and taking the gel I had waiting for me with my run gear in transition. Between mile 17 and 18, I decided to take my gel with electrolyte drink - a cardinal no no which I should have known better with my stomach on an already hot humid day.

By mile 1 of the run my stomach started revolting. It was doing everything it could to move that drink and gel back up the path it came down. My run slowed to a crawl. I walked the 2 steep climbs and the downhills became a tiptoe event. Each bounce set the gel/liquid up the esophagus, begging to get out of my body. I feared letting go of that nutrition -although in retrospect, that would have been the smartest thing to do. When I finally arrived at the beach and the final half mile to the finish, Hailey came running up to me and ran alongside as I hugged the water's edge. I so much wanted to smile, happy to see her and hear Dave and friends cheering, but the reality was I just ready to be done. Approaching the finish shoot lined with flags from all the nations represented, my stomach must have known the end was near... and it decided that it was time to end the battle as well, sending all of its contents back out as I finished the final 10 yards and crossed the finish line. Bending over with a cold wet towel on my shoulders and lei around my neck, whatever liquid left in my stomach exited. A concerned volunteer asked if I was okay or needed medical attention. I stood up, smiled and replied "nope, I'm good now, feeling better than I have all day." Why didn't I throw up at mile 1 and let me stomach be happy for the run? It truly was the slowest run I have ever run in a race, averaging over 10 minutes/mile. "It could have been me"... but not on this day.

So, I finished the race and the season, placing 5th at XTERRA Worlds in my age group. Do I have unfinished business with this course? -most definitely. Am I happy with my result? -in truth, no. I know I trained so much harder than I was able to race. (Even Dave, not trying to be hurtful, commented after the finish that he was expecting me to come in to the finish from the run 10 min faster then I did - and he was right. Even on a slow, easy run day, I would have run that course much faster, but as with all things XTERRA, you can prepare the best you can, but you never know what the day will hold in store for you.) That being said, it was an amazing season filled with so many new adventures, courses, memories, and getting to know such incredible, inspiring people in our extended XTERRA family. I hope to have the opportunity to go back and race here again in 2016 if I can qualify and the budget allows, but for now, I can't wait to enjoy my girls, my husband, and be just mom for awhile.



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