Sunday, March 18, 2012

US Cup East SERC at Haile's Trail

First race as a Sport contender and I placed 3rd. Not bad at all...

Those trails were on my mind for the longest time. I dreamed for more than a year to get there and bike. This park is little special, since it is on the private land and opens only for two events per year. Last time one of the FSC series took place there and I wanted to go there so badly but my super-fast race bike was not ready yet. So I had to wait. I watched some videos and knew that the trails are located on the old rock quarry site and there are a lot of huge hills and elevation changes, something we are not used to in South Florida. I remember watching people pushing their bikes up the hill and thought to myself, it is probably not that bad; I will be able to do it. Well we got there; finally, after months of waiting, the dream destination with the unknown was waiting to be discovered.

Park is located slightly away from civilization but the moment we arrived there, the grassy parking lot was full of buzz and high energy. Tons of people were pre-riding the course already and ocean of tents set up by different teams and vendors were filling the space. There was a specialized demo day and a bounce house for the kiddos.We changed to our biking clothes, grabbed the bikes and headed off to the trails. My team mate Jen told me that looks like the course is set up the opposite way to what it was last time. Meaning that the toughest section that was left for last was first now. So the moment we started biking and made the first right turn still on the grass the path took us to the first climb. Climb changed to sudden technical downhill section than to the next climb which leads us to the next mountain with even more demanding terrain. We climbed to the top and started heading down when I stopped and just said “Is it a joke?”, “Are we really going to ride it in the race?” This section was not only challenging with very long and steep ascends but also with very technical with fast descents. After that we headed to the third hill with even more advanced climbs and descents. Everyone was huffing and puffing and this was only the start and just a pre-ride! Finally the trail opened up and we hit the brakes hard to take a look at the scenery.

Whooo, look at that! There was a huge giant hole in the ground with the most beautiful lake far far down and a cliff just feet away from us. This was the next section that we had to bike on the rugged ridge of the quarry. Sweet. The ride was good that day and very exhausting. Things got little better there on the trails later on but was still full of surprises. This course was very taxing and my knee that was still not completely recovered from last week’s triathlon told me about it very quickly. I was all in pain, it was sharp and very intense, and at some point I could not put any pressure on my foot at all.

I wondered now how I was going to handle the race. My knee was shot. But I rode because I knew I had to. I didn’t come here so far to just give up. I even did a second lap and while trying to clear one rocky section I jammed the hurting knee straight in the face of a rock! It didn’t make it any better as you can imagine. But the second lap for some reason was easier, when my mind and body were equally warmed up. All I needed to be done now is to wait for tomorrow, wait for the race. Conditions were little sandy on the course and it made it little sketchy on the tough parts. But in the evening we had nice little rain and this helped with firming up the trails.

 So far I was calm and had no worries besides the condition of my knee and the first section of the course. We arrived early, very early on the Race day and everything was covered in dew. I headed up quickly on the course to warm up and started with the rocky section first and then aimed for the climbs. It was not that bad today, trails were now hard pack but still slightly wet and mud was building up on the tires. We waited for the start. My knee was not great today and it was my biggest concern for the day. My husband told me that if I need to stop because of it, it is OK, as long as I do my best. Last second before rushing to the start line I decided to tape up my knee with huge ugly band aid. Who cares how it looks like as long as it is going to help me keep my knee together.

I stood there with the rest of the girls when I spotted Duffy on the other site of the start line. I went to her and we both admitted how stupid it was for us to feel so terribly nervous at this moment while we really should not have much expectations from this race, since it was first time when we were riding with the big boys and big girls in the Sport Class. We didn’t know how we would handle the distance and how good the competition was. I didn’t know if the girls will fly by on the big climbs or they will struggle on them. All of it was one big question mark, but still the butterflies in the stomach were flying around full speed. “10 second left”, the race director announced. Oh the pain and the pressure. Few more seconds and the gun goes off and we go!

I stood up and cranked the pedals, settled little later to a nice fast pace and could hear only one girl on the left of me. Oh, I was in the lead from the start, but the girl passed me and then two more when I noticed the big hills coming up and decided to buck off a little to make sure I have energy for all the climbs. I cleared the first climb section and headed to the next one, here Duffy showed up on my left and just went by, I said “Go Duffy” since she is such a strong rider. I didn’t want to interfere that day with anybody’s ride and just see what I can do for myself. Everything was brutal and I noticed that some girls didn’t handle the terrain any better than I did, but one of them decided to pass me quick and the moment it happened I was stuck behind her wheel on the edge of the cliff. This was the section that I know I can clear nicely but the girl in front was taking her time. I wanted to pass her back but there was no space to do so.

While riding behind her wheel in between sharp rocks there was a very small alternative line to take. I decided to take it and was about to pop my wheel up and climb the rock when the girl arrived there exactly at the same time that I did. I hit my brakes and let her go. Now I was regretting that I gave all of those girls so much credit and decided to go for it. Finally I passed her in the forest and was keeping a pretty good pace. There were some other monster hills coming up in the middle section of the course and I was about to reach one. I made it almost to the top and there was another girl right there in front of me. I made a quick pass and zoomed down the trail. Some flat tiring section took us to the top of another quarry, this time we had to ride all the way down the rocky path and tape in the middle was dividing me from people climbing back up. I could see there who was ahead and how far. The climb was grueling and seemed never ending and it took us to the forest again where more hills were waiting for us.

 I cleared most of them but the further you got and with each passing lap they were getting more and more difficult. When coming out from the second lap I had girl in front of me in the feeding zone, she was taking her time and it was a good opportunity to make a pass. With Clif gel hanging out of my mouth I crossed the finish of the second lap and headed off for the final lap. In the first climb section it is also where I was able to catch up with another girl on the second lap and pass her on the top of the hill. When making one of the steepest climbs there I had to scream and give all energy I had to make it to the top. And I did and there was a group of people standing there and cheering you on during your struggle. Third lap felt pretty grueling especially in the hills and the quarries. The second quarry decent that was ending with a big gulp sandy drop on the bottom was just a misery when you got to climb it back. I could not think to myself any longer how much more there is ahead that will require high effort, it was to painful to even think about it. So I just took one section at the time and focuses on each and single task at hand. It was right here and right now that mattered and nothing else. I made the climb and got back to the forest to get to more climbs. I made them, but there is one, some three stories high assent covered in sand and tree roots. I got off my bike and walked, I walked the most painful walk of my life. All I could see in my head was the world champion Conrad Stoltz and him walking the bike during the world championships in Hawaii. If he can do it and go through the pain and fatigue like that than I can to. My legs were burning and felt like noodles and my heart was pounding like crazy. The sun was already high up and was just burning my exhausted body. I was almost at the top. I told myself than a lot of people would love to just collapse here and rest, but I knew that no matter how bad it feels right now I will be able to recover when I reach the downhill section. So with a shivering body from the exhaustion I mounted the bike and headed down. It took some time but it felt better eventually. I started cranking up and going harder since I knew it was the last lap. It was not easy and the moment I could see and hear sounds of the finish line through the trees I was in a happy place. I jetted to the finished with my hand high up when race director announced my name and that I was finishing my first race in the sport class.

I got third today and Duffy second who was already there waiting on the finish line to congratulate me. She was 4 minutes faster than me, she did awesome, and we both did. There was only one more girl in the second spot that was really faster than us, because the first place girl was a competitor from the higher Expert class that dropped down to our category. If not for her I would have a spot on this beautiful podium that day. And it was a very beautiful one in a great forest setting. Would love to be there and I was so close. I think we did both better than we expected and will know for the next time to fight even harder and don’t give too much credit to our competition. There is a lot of hard work involved in mountain bike racing and a lot of it will have to be put on once more to get to the level when no matter who shows up on the starting like you can feel good that you can ride faster than them. And I need to thank my swollen tortured knee for making it happen for me today and allowing me to finish the race. Thank my husband for being there for me no matter what is being thrown at as. And for those awesome friends and teammates that make this whole experience so much more enjoyable and worthwhile. This is a dream come true to be a part of such an experience.

And of course it was all about the socks! They make us cool and they make us FAST!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Team USA Xterra

Well I just got accepted to be on the USA Team for the 2012 ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship on May 19, 2012 in Pelham, Alabama.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Xterra Miami 3-11-2012

2nd Place in age group
5th Place Overall in Women
41st Overall Everyone

Oleta River Park, my favorite place to ride and race….

Finally after two long years I am able to challenge myself on those trials once again, but this time on the Long Xterra Course. I am used to competing in the Sprint Triathlons here and I know I can handle those distances, but the long course is another story. I missed Xterra Miami 2010 because of my bike accident which resulted in two broken arms and this took me out for a year. The following 2011 race has been cancelled by the race director and there were really no other local races to compete in. So time went by and finally I got to the point when all this waiting and dreaming and wondering become a reality. I knew the park well and I thought I knew the course as well, but there were some additional sections that were not included in the sprint course in the past. So to the last second I or anyone else weren’t completely sure of the race layout for this year.

The preview day was hot, sunny and very busy. We rode the bike course and biked over to some sections of the run to see where the markings had been set up. Then there was a time left for a little swim and I was very unsure on what I was supposed to do since race became wetsuit legal. Water temperature was so warm (we practically had no winter this year in Florida) that I did not even consider this scenario in the past; therefore did not practice for it. My long sleeve wetsuit that I got for Xterra Canada in Whistler (with water temps in mid 50s) had not been touched once for half a year now. I gave it a try and noticed that my arms were getting very fatigued in it very quickly. I was not sure I can swim this way whole distance so I opted on not using the suit. 

And then the race morning comes…

Rude early awakening by darkness, rain downpours and change of time took place. Long drive from Palm Beach to Miami culminated with me and my husband sitting in the car in the dark parking lot in the park, while rain just decided to go for it and it was just pouring like crazy. After a while the rain settled and I went to the transition area to reserve a spot.

Hanged my bike and got body marked. More and more people started pouring in to the race site. Slowly light of the sunrise started taking over the darkness and it started feeling like the race was taking shape. It was cloudy, windy and I would say cold after splashing around in the water and waiting for the start; which was a brutally long wait. My whole body was shivering like a little leaf in the wind. I noticed more than half of the racers were geared up in the wetsuits; therefore they were not sharing my experience, they looked just fine. Oh I wished that time I did allow my husband to purchase me a sleeveless suit which would be just perfect for this race.
We took our positions on the edge of the water and the horn went off. That’s it, now there is no turning back. We all jumped to the water and started swimming out. It was a frenzy, all I could see was the choppy angry water and millions of white bubbles all around me. People were everywhere. You go just fine for some 30 seconds and then it hits you. You look around and you realize in what kind of bad scenario you are in. Water becomes deeper and darker and people are grabbing your legs by your calves and keep pushing them under water. I tried to kick and get them back to the top but someone keeps on pushing down on them and submerging them again and again. I got overwhelmed and the fear of this situation caused the lungs to contract. Now I can’t breathe properly and I’m surrounded by close to a hundred human bodies in the middle of the angry bay. I kind of stopped and looked back; it was a moment when I was not sure anymore if it was something I wanted to do. I looked back and in that instance got smacked hard into my face by someone else’s arm. I checked if I was fine and decided to give it another try. I swam and swam and swam, and no part of it was easy. My breathing and unsettled mind was not giving me any break. It was a rough one. Usually my swimming experience is not that bad. I started to see some big boulders in the water and was approaching the buoy for the turn and this gave me a tiny bit of confidence that I needed so badly. I started heading back and tried to keep straight, still didn’t feel confident at all but I just kept on going. Running out to the beach was a big relief but this lasted only for a few seconds and I just shook my head and run back into the water. It was a little better this time around but I had one swimmer, tall big guy in the full suit that decided to just keep swimming over and over again my little body. He kept zigzagging in and out and the moment I thought I’m finally fine he would just zigzag back and swim on top of me again. Each time I had to slow down, give him space and settle behind his feet. Than he bounces off and I’m gaining speed again…
This lasted almost forever. If I was braver I would have made a pass earlier on, but I was just trying to hold on. After the final turn on the second lap this situation kept repeating and I really got sick and tired of him and when he finally bounced to the right I accelerated as fast as I could and finally got away from this nightmare. You would think people would be more considerate of other swimmers, but unfortunately no and you need to rely on you and only you in situations like that. Now I could see the shore already and had just clear way to the transition. I ran out to my bike and was about to put my shoes on when I realized how dizzy I was, I could not stand up straight, especially on one leg and kept fighting to keep the balance and don’t fall. I got everything I needed and headed for the bike section. Finally I’m heading into the trails. I settled into a nice pace and was so happy to be on the bike when I realized my next challenge. My swim was so poor that I had tons of slower bikers ahead of me that I will need to keep on passing for most of my first lap. Right in the first trail there were whole groups of people biking, walking, doing whatever they were doing to pass the easy wooden boards that were laying on the ground. They just blocked the whole trail. After passing them there was a next group taking their time on the very rocky section that requires some skills to clear it properly. And then there were more and more people to pass. The girls that I was here to compete with were long gone and ahead of this mayhem. If not for the swim my ride would be a totally different story and I realized how important the swim part of the race was.

Trails were wet, very wet and all the roots and boards in the park were saturated with water. There were mud puddles here and there and this was a very new scenario for me on this course. I saw a girl ahead of me and was approaching her for a pass, she took one 90 degree turn very wide and I decided to go on the inside. Boom, out of nowhere my bike did slide out on the wet roots and with no warning just slammed me into the ground sideways. I lifted my head up and just watched the girl biking away. Shoot, I checked my left wrist and looked like it was fine. I got up as quick as I could and kept on going.

Since then I realized how dangerous the wet course was and decided to be more caution. I did catch up with her again and she had some slower rider in front that could not make a climb on the gumbo limbo trail. I yelled to him in advance to give her and I space to pass and clear the path, he moved and so she did. This was good and allowed me to pass them both safely. Rest of the lap went quite uneventful and I wondered where the girls that I race mountain bikes with were. They got a lot of distance on me and I was left alone on the trails. I headed back to lap two and had a nice smooth pace and I even thought to myself, wow I’m not that tired at all. My breathing was easy and I felt quite fresh. Did I fail to push hard enough on the most important part of the race? Maybe it was me not knowing the distance that well and making sure I will finish my first long course. Maybe it was that the swimming discouraged me from pushing harder and that my competition was already a long time ahead. Or maybe it was the course that was very challenging that day and people were crashing left and right because of it. On the second lap I crashed two more times, once not that terribly bad but the fall squished my knee big time and I got scared there for a second that it can affect my race. I felt a sharp pain but with time it seemed to be not so bad. Next time I washed out pretty badly while approaching Stairway to Heaven. The trail was covered with roots going in different directions across the whole path; there was not an inch that did not have roots in it. I got to this section going fast and in the high gear; I told myself oh this might not work for this situation. And bum! Bike did slide across the trail flying like a razor full speed while I was falling full speed to the right and landed on my side. I got up and noticed that nothing happened, not to me and not to my bike. And it was almost over; this was almost toward the end of the second lap. While speeding back to the transition area a volunteer told me to go straight, I’m like “Straight? Why?” Apparently there was one more additional section for the bike course that had to be done. I finished quickly the little rocky and twisty trail and headed back. Got to the transition and managed to get rid of my biking gear quite quickly, changed my shoes, grabbed the race number and headed for the run. 

The run was OK, not super-fast no super slow, quite strong but very tiring. I got to the first water crossing and saw a guy floating ahead of me below the older mangrove trees and roots. We were supposed to be able to walk it but water seemed to be quite deep and bottom was very soft and mushy and I made a good use of the roots of the trees dangling down and used them as my pulleys in the water. I got around the guy and headed out of the water. There was another young guy that I was going back and forth with throughout the whole run. We approached the next water crossing quickly and after a quick fix of my shoe lace I got in to the water. The crossing was long and deep and there was a rope designated for racers to use to pull ourselves across. I grabbed it little here and little there and tried to swim some. Wow, the swimming with shoes on is almost impossible and you are just stuck in the same spot for a long time. I managed across finally and headed to the famous Gilligan’s Island which is super fun to run and bike on with tons of man-made hills, staircases, bridges, switchbacks. Something however that seems like great thing in the training doesn’t have to be necessarily so awesome during the race. It was cool but very exhausting. I told myself “Beata you love this trail, make it happen” but I was getting more and more tired. However what I managed to do is to pass other people and leave the ones next to me way behind. I guess I was keeping good speed and when I did come out finally from this trail I was told that I was doing great on my run. Oh good, at least something is falling in place in this race for me I thought… 

The more flat the path was the more monotony was kicking in giving me more time to realize how tired I was. Didn’t like this part! I got in to the rocky mile section that is covered with 100 percent roots and rocks and just zoomed by it. I passed some more people on this trail and headed out across the grassy lot. There was Jen my team mate and my husband Pax cheering me on. I was tired at this point and sun was beaming on me at full strength right now. I grabbed water from the aid station and poured it over my head. I was almost there and was running along the intercostal on the open dirt path that lead me to the final grueling part of the run course that I did not have a chance to pre-run and honestly didn’t know it existed until the day before. It was a section straight from hell with big loose sandy, rocky climbs and descends, whining up and down and sucking out every bit of energy you have left in your body. I had a group of guys there with me just following my steps in this misery. I did not stop or slow down, I took one little step after another and told myself I will keep on going and don’t allow the exhaustion to get in. When we got out some guys passed me and jumped into the last water crossing, it felt good and refreshing and even though the water was quite shallow none of us missed the opportunity to just dive in and submerge our overheated bodies in this refreshing goodness.

All I got now is to head to the beach and have the famous beach shore run to the finish. I know from the races in the past how easy is to overdo this part since it seems so close to the finish, but actually it is still quite far. So I just kept a strong solid pace and kept on pushing without going to crazy. But I knew it was over and crossed the finish shortly after with a big smile. I was done, finally done with my first full Xterra! It was completely awesome to have it finally under by belt after all this time.

Funny part is that I wasted no time to check on anyone or anything. But instead of celebrating I made complete U turn and headed for the bay. I jumped into the calm now cheery wavy water and enjoyed my body being cooled down by it. I sat there for a while sipping on the water I was handed on the finish line. Life was good now and this moment of bliss and tranquility lasted for a while. I looked far ahead on the islands and the city line in the distance and was in such peace.

My husband found me finally and encouraged me to get out and get back with our friends.
We had great after race meal that seemed never ending. The race was run pretty well and shortly we all got nice printouts of our splits, I found out that I was 2nd in my age group and 5th overall. Four and five minutes behind my friends and competitors Duffy and Melissa. Jen like usual took the first and Michaela that also races bikes with us and is a runner took 2nd. Overall with all this good and bad that happened on the course I did pretty well. All the girls that were faster than me today had more experience with triathlon racing and with long distance racing. So I’m happy. Could I have done better? Probably, but hopefully this is just the beginning of my race journey. Also it was great to find out that I had 3rd best run for all the women, considering I’m not much of the runner. Those events will always surprise you one way or the other. Maybe this is the reason why we all keep coming back race after race and asking for more…

Melissa, Jen and Me after crossing Finish Line...