Xterra SE Regional Championship - Pelham, Alabama
Equipment used: Specialized S-Works Epic WC from Bike Tech Miami , Louis Garneau custom Tri Kit, LG Course Helmet, LG T-Flex 2LS Shoes, LG TR-40 Bag, Magura MT8 Brakes, Syntace Duraflite Carbon handlebars, Syntace FlatForce Stem, Syntace P6 HiFlex Seatpost, Xpedo M-Force 8 Ti, NoTubes Race Gold's, Schwalbe Rocket Ron's and Racing Ralph's, Huub Axena wetsuit, ESI Grips, Rotor crank, Rotor QX1 34t Chainring, KMC 11SL Chain, Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground, Suunto Ambit 2 S, Light and Motion Solite, Kuat NV Bike Rack, Clif Shot Gels, Oakley Radar Sunglasses with G30 lenses and Garden of Life nutrition Every Day of my Life...
|Fun and Crazy Xterra Athletes!|
Wow. What a race and in such adverse conditions.
From the hail cold rain to the dark and wet single track to the sunny run finish.
I pushed so hard I spent 20 minutes after the race in the medical tent. It was all worth it.
I got 2nd place in age group and 6th overall and Fastest Bike split of all age groupers by over 3 minutes and even beat 3 pros.
And I received a qualifying spot to the Xterra World Championships in Maui. Yay.
I was happy to start our drive to Oak Mountain on Wednesday morning, even though we were already after a few long days at work and pretty tired. This is one of my favorite trips in the season and I always make sure to make everything just right to enjoy it.
|Native cross vine...|
To do so we decided to book a beautiful cabin right in the park way in advance and invited a bunch of friends to stay with us. We definitely had our weekend cut out to be fun and interesting with a few personalities under the roof. From dolphin fast Misty “Rybka” (which in Polish means little fishy) to our future Pro racer Grayson and fellow South Floridian Jonathan and myself and my husband we had a full house. It was a good change from our normal rather peaceful and quiet approach to the Alabama visit.
But besides the company it was all about the race and the race was all about the terrain, competition and also the weather. It was quite tough to figure out what we were going to get during the actual race since there were mixed weather predictions and really Mother Nature was playing some games with us this whole weekend.
During our 11 hour drive from home and rather lengthy stop for lunch we knew were running slightly late to what we wanted to be but we stayed optimistic. But when we finally left the state of Florida and crossed the Alabama border with all the Peanut shops scattered all over we knew things were going to change. The sky got dark; angry almost dark blue and purple clouds seemed to touch the pine trees on the sides of the highway. And the rain started and it down poured for three hours straight almost until we got to the cabin. But at least our bikes where nice and cozy in Kuat NV Bike Rack! Unfortunately when we got there it was already dark and damp in the park. I knew I was not getting today my mini 15 min spin out from the travel ride and we just headed as quickly as we could to bed. The cabin was quiet and felt quite empty but it was all going to change the following morning.
The skies cleared and the sun started drying up the park. The air was cold however and we had to layer up to come out on the deck and have morning tea. After a nice breakfast prepared in the cabin’s spacious kitchen we were awaiting for our roommate Misty to arrive. She made it to Oak Mountain in very good time and the three of us were able to head out to pre ride the bike course. It was a joy ride and we didn't rush it at all and enjoyed the park as much as we could. The roots were still slick and some sections were still a little wet therefore there was not much of a very aggressive ride. Super-fast or just fast worked for me and I just loved jetting down the single track of this beautiful course. My Pax was riding his hoodie wrapped around his neck and at speed looked like Superman on the bike. It cracked us up and inspired us to snap the Super Girls picture right next to the boulder that tumbled down just recently off the massive mountain just by the side of the 3 mile jeep road climb that was part of the race course.
On the blood rock section we stopped for few minutes and I was able to get lower than in previous years but still didn't attempt to ride it down fully. Right about now the rest of our roommates got also on the course and was getting their practice in. We loved the rest of the ride with the rather lengthy Rattlesnake Ridge trail and we headed to the cabin. Plan for tonight was to get together with all other Xterra racers and have a nice dinner from the grill at the cabin. It was so brrr cold outside however, I think in the 50s that after throwing the chicken on the grill everyone just conglomerated inside. We had an awesome meal and great evening together.
Since everyone was tired from their travel and practice we went to bed at a decent time. The next morning was just the most perfect day you can imagine, with this gorgeous blue sky, crisp cool air, little breeze that would carry the amazing flowering honeysuckle vine smell all over the forest. Now the trails were just perfect and we only wished it would be like this for the following morning. Since everyone has their pre-race rituals we did some things together like go for a little swim in the lake and some separated like for a bike and run practice. The plan was to have another simple meal at the cabin and settle early for race morning.
Since there is practically no phone reception in the cabin and no internet no one really knew the weather pattern for the race. I would not expect that in the million years by how gorgeous our Friday was that Saturday morning would wake us up with a grey sky, very cold air and a light drizzle.
For past few days with the weather playing tricks on us, that made us wonder if it was going to be sunny or rainy and the lake temperature kept hovering near wetsuit legal and not legal digits. No one knew which way we were going to race so we practiced small swims in both.
|Under the Xterra banner swim continues...|
After a very quick and racer specific breakfast we headed to transition. Some of us decided to drive and some of us biked as a warm-up. It was definitely wet by now. I had my race kit on, than a t-shirt, sweatshirt and a rain jacket. Now we are talking about some serious layering, but it could have been 85 degrees out too like in many past years, but you just never know what you are going to get.
So we got the 54 degree wet morning and my gear I was setting up was getting just simply wet before the race even started. Water felt much cooler than the past two days and I enjoyed having my fast Axena wetsuit on with this 68 degree water.
|Finishing the swim leg.|
|Out of the water.|
|Trey from Xterra crew took this nice pic!|
While approaching the cabins area and going through the Rock Garden trail which as the name states has tons of little rocks scattered all over the narrow path it suddenly got insanely dark. It was so dark and we were also under a dense spring tree cover that I felt like I was doing a night ride, I thought "where is my L&M Seca 200 Light!". I could not see anything and all the roots and rocks just blended in with the ground and it was amazingly difficult to have good speed now on the course. When I got on the flatter and faster part of the trail system still it was impossible to see, the wet wooden bridges were shaving off the speed and all the wet rocks and stream crossings. On one of my favorite fast single track sections I was stuck behind three riders with a girl leading the pack and keeping everyone back. It took some time and convincing to finally have her work with us and let the faster riders go by. Now I was racing again and soon was spilled on the bottom of our long 3 mile climb. I failed to grab water from the only aid station at this spot and hoped that what I had with me on the bike would be enough.
|Fast downhill after Blood Rock.|
|Got to eat!|
The jeep road was covered with slimy boulders and was challenging at times. This is where I caught up many other riders and after I passed the famous boulder from our pre-ride area and a bridge with a nice waterfall like overlook I noticed Misty. She had this cutest super flowery and colorful outfit on but by now it was all covered with mud and completely lacked of color besides brown. We said "hi" to each other and I kept going. Few more riders and few more climbs and I reached the top of the climb. Now I was in company of the guy and a girl for the next few hilly and open miles which culminated with an ultra-fast descent that was preparing us for the Blood Rock section.
|Coming out of the trail after Blood Rock.|
On the open jeep road I reached some serious speeds without still maxing out my awesome Rotor Qrings. The pre-blood rock little trail was sketchy however and it was important to stay put there. At the blood rock approach I had two riders on my wheel and I was a little afraid they would possibly interfere with my riding the most grainy section and I sped up slightly to make sure I can ride on my own there. Some cheering people were scattered all over this sections and I got nice props for clearing the first part. I approached the next boulder drops one by one but things started feeling more screechy now and opted on dismounting my bike early and run the rest. Thankfully the guys behind were still further back and were also running the bikes by now but when I was mounting the bike and ready to tackle the next very fast and bumpy and rocky section the guy was pretty much just by my side. I asked him quickly if he wanted to go first and he said to me to go ahead, to be honest I was glad I was going first still since I could ride at my own pace and fly like an eagle and had nothing to worry about besides being safe and fast at the same time. My Magura MT8 brakes worked like a charm in those conditions and were there for me to rip my tires in the ground when needed! I just love this feel and sound!
|Finishing the bike with a splash!|
|Out of T2 onto the painful pavement...|
|Nice single-track on other side of the lake...|
When I glazed to the left I saw already Pro Men running their first lap. Final road and I was off the bike turning to transition. I got my shoes on and I was off. Now it was sunny out and starting the run on the uphill paved road didn't make things easy on me. I happened to have today the fastest bike split of all age group women and faster than 3 Pro Women and was heading out now to the run in 2nd overall position. It felt good, I was happy and proud of myself but yet so fatigued and with still a long road ahead. On the downhill on the road before getting to the double track with lots of small hills in it I stumbled upon one runner who actually was going to spend the rest of the race by my side. But here there were so many other people approaching now, not sure where they all came from but all this hard work on the bike and all the passed by me racers were going by me one by one. And the count started when the first lady went by me like I was standing still and then the next one; one by one I was losing my overall spot because of my run. It was not fun and even less fun because I was so extremely tired now, my legs were awfully heavy and I was not looking forward to those two long full loops around the lake. I got to first water station and trashed my cup on the sunny dam and blazed by my fellow racer and today's run partner, seconds later he caught up with me on the first hill, and we suffered together.
|Almost end of the lap...|
He told me when you get to the dam hit it again like you did before. We tried and pushed each other during this tough run. All I could think of now was 1 being over but really 1 getting to the next water station. I was so terribly thirsty. After the dam I got finally a nice cup full fresh cold water and I sped up again. Now my heart rate went even higher and I knew I was not going to be able to maintain it for long, I didn't feel well and I started to feel lightheaded. I wanted to get to the finish. The climbs and muddy crossings were brutal for the second time around and my friend now was getting away from me slightly, but when we got on the last asphalt stretch I was able to get closer to him. I was very happy with my shoe choice for this race, as Salomon Sense Pros worked wonderfully on the pavement with extra cushioning but also were grippy and agile and light on the technical stuff. And they were amazingly kind to my hurting for past few weeks foot. Now the last little run on the edge of the lake and I was flying to the finish shoot, and just a little before it a group of little kids was aligned with their little hands sticking out and I clapped every single one of them for their little support!
I sprinted to the finish and the moment I crossed the finish like I just bended down for second and simply my legs just collapsed from under me. I was done, I sat there and got help from Xterra crew power woman Kalei who gave me a hand and I tried to walk everything off. But something was not right and I could not catch a breath, I felt like my lungs were constricting on me and I had only 10% of air available to what I needed. I tried not to overreact but I walked over the Medical Tent and was looked into and helped there by the amazing crew. One kind guy John stood out (a dirt biker in heart) and was taking care of me during this difficult experience. I was very lightheaded, was breathing fast and my hands were tingling. I had everything checked and I was thankfully fine I just needed to calm myself down and relax. I pushed so much that my body went through a lot of stress and it was really taking a long time to get back and recover. After some twenty minutes in the tent I was good to go and almost instantly went to the podium announcements.
|Myself with firefighter John who loves dirt bikes and knows how to care for exhausted Xterra athletes.|
My race mates and cabin mates did awesome and super-fast Grayson placed 2nd overall for amateur men and won his age group. Jonathan placed 8th in his age group and fell in love with his first Xterra SE. Misty after her stellar swim and half of the bike course got two flats and unfortunately was not able to finish the race. It was sad since she really had big plans for this year as far as getting a Maui slot.
As far as Pros Emma Garrard placed second and Flora Duffy won the race. For men it was a Josiah Middaugh and the second fell to well-deserved local Craig Evans who was working hard a few years to make it that far.
|Emma and I after the race|
After all I got second place in my age group after Brook Pace who is a swimmer and was leading the whole race from the start. Even though I had the fastest bike split from all the age group women and I managed to out bike even three pro women I placed 6th overall for all age group ladies.
I had the fastest swim and run in the history of my racing and first time the fastest bike in a full big Xterra race but still there were plenty of fast ladies on this course today.
|The Poduim: Myself, Brook and Jeanine|
After the podium, a nice big lunch in the cabin, little power nap I went with my husband for little cute boat ride on the Tranquility Lake. I could do this every single day of my life and don't be bored. Paddle on the little kayak in the middle of the forest, be surrounded by trees, beautiful flowers and smells and enjoy the day to the happy chirps of the wild birds and chasing around squirrels and cute deer walking by. It was refreshing and I can only wish it would last for longer. Getting back to nature and simplicity takes out only the best of people and gives the most joy. I want to spend the whole summer in a place like that and just ride my bike every single morning and take beautiful walks on the gorgeous quiet paths. Life at its greatest I would say.
|Kayaking on the lake... It was so peaceful...|
Not only me but also my husband had a big day today, chasing me all over this humongous forest. This time he hardly used his bike however and was all over the place popping out and photographing and cheering racers. To his excuse however of not riding a bike it was really raining cats and dogs today.
I can’t even describe how soaked and muddy I got, my pretty LG outfit was so filled with dirt through that after coming to the cabin and washing it some ten times the dirt still didn’t go away. There will be more washing on the way... During the race I tried to use my handkerchief which was just full of dirt and I would only smear more dirt all over my face while trying to use it. The fresh water from the bottle had this nice and grainy taste! The Huub towel that I put in my transition I had to wring and whole new stream of water (that should be named) came out of it. There was definitely a mud fest to try to clean all this gear after getting home!
And let’s don’t even go to my new and beautiful bike Sonia who got a taste of some serious racing this weekend. She was just covered with clay, mud and pine needles but besides the dirty look she flew on those bumpy trails absorbing all the bumps like there was no tomorrow. But thanks to my husband’s love for my bike she was taken apart just 1 hour after the race to all the little pieces and cleaned so thoughtfully. Thanks to Pro Gold and their amazing cleaning supplies it was a breeze. Now she is just waiting for me ready for our next adventure!
|After all the mud racing, traveling and cleaning my shoe sprouted!|
The Xterra crew had something planned for everyone for the evening today and we all headed to Margarita Grill for chatty dinner and get together to talk about and share everyone’s accomplishments. It was great to hang with Xterra ambassador Frank and meet finally in in person the whole Xterra crew and an Xterra legend Casey Fannin and his awesome wife Andrea who placed 2nd after having a great Sprint race on their beloved Alabama course.
|Someone got a Maui Slot!|
Simply we have tons of great memories to bring home. Off Road Triathlon is such an adventurous, diverse and amazing sport that attracts this special kind of good people that it is impossible not to fall in love and just enjoy it.
Thanks to my husband Pax for amazing pictures and endless care!
Thank you as always to all my amazing support who keeps on fueling my dreams and keeps propelling me forward!
As always Thanks to...
Bike Tech Miami, Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Pro Gold Lubricants, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT tape and New for 2014 - Specialized, Salomon, Suunto, Louis Garneau, Selle Italia, KMC Chains, Oakley, Huub and Rotor Bike Components!
Thanks for reading and until next time!