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...

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