Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013 Xterra USA National Championship

2013 XTERRA USA Championship   

1.5k swim / 28k mountain bike / 10k trail run

After 1.5k (May have been more because the buoys drifted) of swimming at 5000 feet of elevation and 3400 feet of elevation gain in 18 miles of biking and then 700 feet of gain in 10k of running I finished in 3hrs and 55 minutes to take 9th in my age group. Not bad for a Floridian from the sea level :) It was a tough race to be in for a flat-lander...

Our day started early on Wednesday morning when our alarm went off at 4 am.

Family Portrait

We headed for the airport and had a whole day of travel ahead. After a long and bumpy flight to Salt Lake City and an hour ride to the condo we still had to put my bike together so I could get some riding in.

Going up the Wheeler

Time went by so quickly that by the time we got to the trails whole canyon was filled with shadows and really cold air. I managed 30 minutes of riding and I quickly noticed how short of breath I was with not even putting much effort into my riding. I was tired and done for the day. It was me, my husband and his mom and later in the day our friend Scott also arrived, the only other racer besides me from the Sunshine State. It was not in the plans before but we both got a notice that the next morning some great pros were going to have a group ride. I didn’t think it was going to be possible since I knew we were going to be exhausted from the work, travel etc.  But somehow we managed to get up, thankfully we had a nice breakfast on the table ready thanks to my husband’s mom and we actually made it to the top of Snowbasin on time for the group ride. We rode today the whole Sardine Peak Trail and even though the climbing is persistent and just doesn’t let go even for a second, we had a pretty good time and once we got to the top the sky did open up and the views from there were just spectacular.

Group Ride with Pros: Josiah Middaugh, Nicolas Lebrun, Adam Wirth and few minutes later caught up with us Emma Garrard.

Downhill part of the Sardine trail is really fast and fun and it makes you wish that there would be an easy way to get up there to do it again and again. After the ride Scott and I decided to bike a little more and go to the Middle fork trail for some more downhill action. We also went later on for the swim, which was cold but nothing close to what it was going to be two days later. I was happy to deploy my husband on some of the downhill parts of the trail system here, since this is what he enjoys the most and thankfully he was not disappointed. It seemed that we all did what we could to preview as much of the course as possible and prepare for the race. Now there was just one more formality to be done…

Sollie overlooking East Fork Trail

The Race

We had to wake up quite early on race morning. After all, there was two transitions to be set up which were some 18 miles in distance and 2 thousand feet in height apart. Still a dark sky and mountains were lit up by the giant full moon and the reflection of it on the surface of the reservoir far below our condo…  It was a cold morning and I could not say I was at ease. Not many words would come to me while we were driving in the day waking up from the darkness to set up T1 at the race start.

T2 at Snowbasin Resort

After we found parking in the field we had to carry the bikes and keep them off the ground to avoid punctures from goat-head thorns.  The temperature hovered today around 47 degrees but for some reasons I didn’t feel uncomfortably cold. Shortly after, we headed for a 20 minute ride to set up T2 all the way up the mountain in the base of Snowbasin resort. It was always great to see Dan Hugo also preparing for his race. This didn’t take long and in just a few minutes we were heading back down to the race start.  By the time I did my warm-up, stood in some port-a-potty lines, and made sure my transition was set the way I wanted it to be it was time to rush down to the marina and hop to the lake. Apparently all this time I thought we had went by in the blink of the eye and I had maybe 2-3 minutes in the water before we were asked to prepare for the race start.

Always I happen to find this Polish Flag! :-)

I had an idea where I wanted to position myself at the start; amazingly I happened to stand right between Ben Allen and Kristine Jeffrey (Big Fish), the two best swimmers on the Xterra circuit. It wasn’t long and they went off, Pro start was only a minute ahead and we were shortly to go after, all four hundred of us.

This is the only part of the race that I was not looking forward to. The water today was cold, very cold and I could feel this uncomfortable stream of coldness running down my spine when I was trying to warm up.

Pineview's "Red carpet"

It was nothing close to what we experienced two days ago during our practice.
The lake was brown, dark, cold and buoys were set awfully far… I was trying to have no feelings and thoughts and just pretend like I’m going for any other swim.

Just seconds later I was about to find out how different this swim was going to be from all the other ones...

Yep, beautiful morning glare. It's little tough to spot small yellow buoy which keeps on drifting away when no colors are present...
The gun went off. Just moments later seemed like someone impatiently just swam over me. I didn’t get disturbed by that and just tried to sight for the first buoy, which really was not visible at that point in the race from the swimmer’s perspective.  I probably got somewhere half way to the first buoy when I experienced, for the first time ever during the swim, a cramp in my calf. I don’t remember if someone pushed on my leg down and I had to kick harder to get myself back level but it happened. Not much later I started feeling like all the warmth just rushed away from me and my head felt now very cold and I was becoming more and more woozy, dizzy and uncomfortable in this water. Flipping on the back didn’t solve the problem and made me breath even more intensely and uneasy and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I veered off course and just swam to the first kayak I could and decided to hold on. I just stayed there, tried to relax, talked to the person inside. I looked back and I was ready to quit, I was still far away from the first buoy and already so uncomfortable. I am not sure what in me made me do it but I decided to keep on swimming. After finally reaching the buoy which was completely for some reasons so much further to the left than I anticipated I got the same cramp in the other leg. I would find out the hard way that I will be getting them; left and right with very little break in between for some mysterious reasons for the whole swim today.  Somehow I managed to keep on swimming however and now was determined to finish the first lap.

I wanted to see this finishing shoot and the 3rd buoy so badly, after that however I had no plan. I was most of the lap 50/50 if I should just go out to the shore or keep going. The idea of getting out when I was just 30 feet away from the green carpet and just rushing to my husband’s arms instead of enduring this misery felt just so good… I told myself that it was fine, things do happen, we can just take our bikes and go out and enjoy ourselves, we still can make this whole trip worthwhile. I stuck my head out and looked for him on the shore but I couldn’t spot him. I was approaching the buoy and was slowly and slowly going around it with such hesitance; I still really didn’t want to go for the second lap. But I kept circling it and shortly I was facing once again the deep part of the unfriendly reservoir. After reaching the furthest buoy once again I realized how cold and dizzy I was getting, I hoped I had more protection from this cold on my head and maybe this would make my swim completely different from what it was. I was not tired, my strokes were smooth, but something was just very, very off. I went for the kayak once again and later on another time. I had an amazing lady who understood what I was going through and offered to follow me in her kayak for a big chunk of my second lap. I cramped again and again and some point so badly that I could hardly move my leg. I was also afraid of going unconscious from this cold and that’s why I asked to be watched. I can’t even describe how grateful I am by this amazing volunteering woman who kept an eye on me for such a long time.

Every few strokes I would just look to the left and she would always be there. It was such a comforting feeling that I needed so badly during those tough times. I was maybe some 50 meters away from the shore when a final monstrous cramp kicked in in my right calf, I raised my head and just said “ouch, ouch”, lady asked me if I wanted hold on once again and I said no thank you I just want to finish this thing. And I did, I finally made to the shore in what happened to be the longest swim in my entire life… I was so happy to reach the Xterra exit shoot and I just looked back and thanked the amazing volunteer for what she did today for me…

In the meantime a few things happened that I found out a little later about. Apparently our buoys did drift away quite a great amount and instead of swimming 1.5 k and equivalent to 1 mile, we swam approximately 2.3 k which comes up to 1.45 miles! That’s a lot of swimming if you ask me. A few people mentioned the incident and swim finishing times confirmed that.

When I finally reached the carpeted 200 meter run up the boat ramp we went by a group of little kids reaching their little hands to the swimmers who were going by. It was cute and I was not going to miss on that and I did high five a few kiddos. Right after that my husband mentioned that our friend Scott had a shoulder problem and was pulled out of the water. This was very unfortunate.

When I got to the T1 however I saw his bag neatly packed and the bike was gone. Of course there was an ocean of white plastic bags in the whole transition since I obviously didn’t have a stellar swim with my 48 minute performance, when during normal (warmer water) race I’m in the 28 minutes timeframe. It was great to be finally on the bike however, which was my domain and I told myself that definitely I was not going for a win here, not even podium and it was completely fine, but I was going to give myself the pleasure of riding my own race and trying to enjoy it from now on and see what I can still do. I was cold, but not super cold, I must say I kind of enjoyed the freshness that I would not feel in a standard Floridian race…  After two minutes of biking through the brush we were spilled into the road for some 1.5 miles. I felt good, started picking up speed and passing groups of riders. I even had my husband cruising in the car next to me giving me further updates on Scott. He was already on the trails and 8 minutes ahead of me. That gave me something else to focus on and see if I will be able to catch up somewhere during the race…

Wheeler canyon was full of riders, this is the first time when I decided to try my sweet little bell that my husband got for me here in the local shop in Eden (Diamond Peak) and put on my handlebar. The canyon is wide and really you can pass wherever you want but I just wanted to test it…  By the way, the crew in the LBS here was super friendly and informative, really great guys!

This first section of 2 miles on this rocky trail felt the most tiring to me. My legs felt heavy and not ready for much. It was impossible to go fast here or push so I just settled on a rhythm and didn’t care much if I was passing or getting passed.

Than we crossed the road and went to the East Fork Trail which consisted of the single track which headed further up, with small whoopee up and down sections which I happily welcomed…

We passed a few bridges and the trail finally headed down. By then I was already going by groups after groups of riders. I admit I had quite a good time. With every passing minute I was picking off more and more riders, especially on the rocky downhill gardens where I kept repeating the phrase from Lesley “loosey goosey” to remind myself to relax and let the bike flow over obstacles.


My bell also did awesome job saving me some talking energy, I would just go “ding ding, on your left, thx” and be done quickly with every pass, well until I met up with the guy with a similar bell on his bike and we went the “ding ding crazy” there for a while just for the fun of it.

I got through the little wooden staircase which was not a very big deal as long as you stay to the left on the smaller steps. I still felt good and shortly was at the bottom of the long and what seems never ending Sardine Peak Trail which went up 1500 feet in matter of 4 miles. That’s a lot of climbing. Now we were in the smooth, facing up single track, tucked away in beautiful almost fall colored tree cover. That was the time to just look down, grind you teeth and keep on spinning, there was no other way about it.

I wanted to make sure all my nutrition was done by the time I reached the peak and by the mileage on my GPS it seemed like I was almost there. For a split second the forest canopy opened up and this amazing view of half of the mountain with a tiny person on the bike zooming across the ridgeway revealed upon me. Shoot, I still had at least a mile and a half to go up, I was still way below. Once in a while I would see a person that reminded me of my friend, but each time it was someone else.

Finally, maybe half a mile from the top there was a group of riders and I spotted his green helmet.

I smiled and just lightly rung my bell so he can recognize me. I was happy to see him and he was having a good ride, since I was almost on the top I pushed a little more and went by as many people as I could in order to have freedom of riding my own pace on the amazing downhill section. The panorama from the top was just spectacular, blue sky, full sun on, golden trees and just the vast of space, mountains and this incredibly strong wind. I was hoping it would not blow me away from the ridge when I was jetting down the mountain. Thankfully I had only one person in front who didn’t affect much my riding speed down and also one person behind who was completely happy with my speed, therefore I could just enjoy the moment and something that felt like my own downhill solo ride. The trail, after a while, turned into trees to even a faster section full of smoothness, some roots to watch for, switchbacks and soft corners. Otherwise it was an amazing fly zone and my eyes covered with glasses were tearing underneath them from all this speed.

I loved it!  Every part of this trail was superb.  After reaching some sharp rock gardens on the flat section of the downhill the single track continued, this time it was more technical, rocky, and soft and eventually we got to the gravel downhill which led us to the final technical trail the Maples and to the transition. I need to admit, I loved my bike today, and she was perfect, she rode like a charm; it was fun and a pleasure to ride her on those trails.  I was a little shocked with it since usually I much more prefer a more technical course definitely with less climbing to what we had to do here today.

When I was flying out the final trail I was happy to see my husband standing on the side with his camera. I didn’t feel done with the bike yet but it was time to transition to the run. I kind of missed my spot with my shoes; I had different towel colors in two transition areas therefore I was looking for the wrong one. I corrected my mistake quickly however and dropped off my bike and headed out T2.


The hill that was waiting for us in the beginning of the run was lightly put brutal. It was a gravely double track that headed straight up on a steep angle and seemed to be never ending. It lasted for a good three quarters of the first mile. I managed to keep moving forward on it taking one little step at the time until it turned to the left and there was another gravel road heading even higher. I gave up there for a minute and walked, kind of just like the rest of the runners around me did. To my happiness I finally reached the single track, which was quite technical and rocky. I was feeling good once again. In my self-talk I told myself how much I liked my Salmons Mantras and how good they were performing on this rocky terrain. I was so grateful to also have the Salmon 50 ml flask with me and kept sipping from it. Life was good and when I looked to the left I had this gorgeous view of the mountains all around and below, I was super high up. I really didn’t feel any pressure from the racers since at that point there was really not that many people that really were way faster and needed to pass and also not many people to be passed by me since I was not the super - fast runner, just the average one.

I would be picking off slowly person by person here and there and be passed by one here and one there but nothing major. Things were going good up to the mile 2 marker at the point when I finished my water. Also at the same time a ligament right above my left inner ankle started to hurt and tense up. Oh boy, the 2-3 mile seemed to be the longest… This 3 mile marker felt like it would not be early enough; I was very thirsty now, kept hurting more and more and was getting inpatient. I found out that other runners had the same issue, we were told there would be 4 different water stations on the run but I didn’t count that many. When I finally got to one on the mile four I asked volunteer to refill my flask while I was drinking my water from the cup. Xterra volunteers are simply the best!  It worked out well and took only a few seconds and I was on my way once again. Unfortunately at this time not only my left ankle was hurting so badly that I was on the edge of limping and now my right ankle started doing the same thing. All I could hope for is that the uphill running was going to finally end and maybe than my feet will get some relief. By now I really wanted to be sure I will finish my race even if it was going to be me walking it to the finish line. After what seemed to be an eternity of pain and climbing the mountains I could hear and see the Snowbasin resort below. Now the trail turned completely and started heading down. I was tired but I was also super grateful for this much needed change. I started gaining speed and flying down. With every turn and new section I was also picking off more and more runners. The ankles also felt better now since the angle changed. It was a long way down but finally did come to the end and it felt great to approach the long awaiting finish lane. Almost like in Maui, with not much warning I got very emotional while crossing the finish. It was this train of everything you trained for months and years, all the hopes, expectations, all the pain, mental challenges, all the unknown, today’s fatigue, it all culminated in this brisk moment once again.

I had a long day today. I was quickly to find out that I raced even longer than I did in World Championships in Maui. It took me 3:55 minutes to finish the race and 48 of it was during the swim part which recently I manage to get around 28 minutes during the standard 1.5 k races.

I was racing against the whole West Coast with the strongest mountain girls what seemed like on the circuit, while I was coming from the land of few feet of elevation in the highest spots. It was impossible for me to be as competitive as I would want to, therefore it was more about being there than actually being there and doing awesome. I managed however to have a pretty good bike time considering I was riding at altitude and mostly uphill. Therefore having the 36th best bike split including Pro women and 17th in all amateur women did come as a nice surprise.

I placed 9th in my age group and was 27th overall age grouper for women and I don’t consider it nor the major success nor failure, I rather take it as an experience which I come to accept and don’t over-analyze. Sometimes things get out of our control and it is just not worth replaying it again and again but rather better to just move on and focus on the future.

Ogden is very different to where I come from; it’s a small city with a special character and kind welcoming people. The harvest moon festival in the city center was very enjoyable, live music was playing, families and kids were dancing; we had some pretty awesome local pizza and some cool beer that went well with it. On the main stage the top age groupers were presented and some Pros. Unfortunately we had still a long evening of packing ahead of us and early morning flight back to Florida instead of a well-deserved rest.  Often I think that us, age groupers have a way tougher then the pros do. We rush straight from full time jobs to trainings, to races, than back to work with hardly any time in between; trying to constantly juggle the regular life with the life of the athlete. Our body takes a toll, our mind takes a toll. It is a very exhausting process that can hurt greatly along the way. There are however uncounted joys that this sport brings us, the camaraderie and competition better that you can ask for, events that take us to so many weird, different, extreme and otherwise maybe never visited by us places. All of it while having a great time, enjoying life, family, friends, nature and its wonders and often being stunned by our own strength and unexplainable drive to be better each time we compete.

And maybe that’s why we just keep coming back for more…

Race course map


Swim course distance: 1,500-meters (0.93 miles) Combines two 750-meter laps (no run in-between)

Elevation at Port Ramp Marina for swim start:  4,900-feet
Water temperature: 60 degrees F
Mountain bike course distance: 28-kilometers (17.7 miles)
Total climbing on bike: 3,400-feet
Elevation at highest point: 7,300-feet (where Sardine Peak Trail meets the ridgeline)
Elevation at T2/Snowbasin Resort Lodge: 6,400-feet
Trail Run course distance: 10-kilometers (6.4 miles)
Total climbing on run: 700-feet
Total climbing on course: 4,100-feet

Small preview video from the race: 2013 XTERRA USA Championship

Monday, September 2, 2013

Extreme 1.5k Ocean Swim Race - Pompano Beach, Florida

This is my second year taking part in the Open Water Challenge. The race once again was truly beautifully organized by the Pompano Beach Piranhas. I highly recommend it to anyone who wanted to test themselves in an open water setting.  And you could not ask for a more gorgeous morning with a few pinkish clouds above the horizon and very clear, warm and calm ocean.

When I went to warm up I didn’t want to stop swimming it was so peaceful and you can see the tiny sand waves on the bottom right below you during the whole course. You just felt very serine and safe and didn’t have to be bothered by the fact that it was a race. Even though as every swim race or triathlon race it will start a little chaotic (my husband Pax said "It was on like Donkey Kong"); however in less than the minute you will be just doing your own thing and just thinking of proper technique, distance, of how you feel, if you are holding the proper line etc. It’s simply you, few buoys and the ocean.

Little memories however kicked back very quickly form the previous year where right after the start one of my goggles accumulated quite a good amount of salt water in them and I decided not to bother and fondle with the goggles during the swim and just dealt with it throughout the race. Next thing was the warmth of the water which started getting to me maybe half way through the first stretch to the furthest buoy. It was getting warmer and warmer and I become thirstier and thirstier with every passing minute. I completely didn’t remember it until I experienced it once again this time around.

So those three elements were kind of bothersome and would pop up in my mind often. Besides that it was kind of difficult to draft since everyone had their own pace, after the turn I had a guy zigzag in front of me and when he crosses his feet would each time just lightly tap on my nose. I got tired of it and didn’t want to risk getting kicked hard in the face and just swam away further to the side to don’t get bothered anymore.


The swim was long and at some point I wished that the 500m buoy was the 750m but it wasn’t and coming back and trying to see through only one performing goggle with an already tired engine was quite challenging.


I barley could see the end buoy and mostly followed swimmers in front which were easier to spot. When I was close enough I finally saw it and was quite happy about it and that I was almost done, the little buoy however that we had to go around for the final turn was really hardly visible at that point but I found it. After reaching the shore there was still a section of beach run which we had to cover and it was quite tiring.

After all it seems that I improved my time from the previous year by 2.5 minutes and finally reached the 28 minute mark for 1500m swim. I am quite happy with this result. Once again I and my husband had great time and didn't regret for a second loosing some sleep over it...

Video of the Race...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

South East Regional Champion in Xterra

After two years of training and racing Xterra I’m very happy and honored to see my name on the list with the other best in the country and very talented athletes. Something that just not that long ago seemed like an impossible dream now turned into a definite reality.

When you make your way to Ogden Utah for the Xterra National Championship you are going to be awarded Lei flowers and Regional Championship jersey during Night of Champions dinner.
Me and my Pax at Night of Champions dinner