Monday, February 17, 2014

Xterra Key Biscayne - Virginia Beach Park - Miami, Florida

Xterra Key Biscayne

Distance:  Half Mile Swim / 12 Mile MTB / 4 Mile Trail Run

2nd Overall Women, 1st Age Group

It was beautiful, calm and cool day in paradise...

Equipment used: Huub Axena wetsuit, Specialized Stumpjumper Carbon Comp, From Bike Tech Miami, 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 Thunder Burt, ESI Grips, Rotor QX1 34t Chainring, Salomon Sense 3 Ultra, Suunto Ambit 2 S, Light and Motion Solite, Kuat NV Bike Rack,
Clif Shot Gels.

Beautiful sunrise

First Xterra of the 2014 season did come in a little early, actually a whole two months earlier than last year.

Besides our bellowed Xterra Miami which we usually have in March but will not be taking place sadly this year.

View from transition

The race was a little longer, more technical and better set up than last year. You can tell this time around it was a true Xterra course on every aspect of it.

So when the rest of the country has “how to get this snow out of my way” mind set, we are ready to have some fun in the sun, while surrounded by sand, palm trees and a beautiful ocean. It kind of cannot get better than that.

Heading to Transition not minding the darkness :-)

Fortunately for me (I like cold!) we had a chilly front passing through and on the dark race morning we noted 49 degrees Fahrenheit.

It was an early start for me and my husband since we live some 1-1.5 hours away, depending of the traffic gods. We woke up at painful 4 am and headed out the door just around 5 am.

Roads were quite empty, however the closer to Miami we got the more crowded it become, plus the detour bonus we got off the turnpike. But we got there eventually and still at a decent time, a little after 6 am. It was cold and dark and our Light & Motion Solite and Taz 1000 we both happily used to bike to the transition area for transition setup.

Getting set up
The views were just beautiful since we were just meters off the beach and could observe changes of the scenery each passing minute.

Just before the start of the swim
But for all of us that showed up today to the race site there was not much time to spare, and I quickly realized how much more complicated racing off road triathlon is comparing to a bike race.

National Anthem

Since tri race season was asleep for quite a few months now I had lots on my mind and felt very overwhelmed and distracted with all the little things and details that go into racing. I triple checked everything until I realized my helmet buckle came undone and almost got lost and we spent half of my warm up time fixing the strap. The moment we finished we were asked to be already on the swim start which was a few minutes of walking away. Therefore I was pulling my beautiful new Huub Axena wetsuit on while marching nervously to the race start. I got to the water quickly and nerves started to disperse just like that. Ocean was calm and at the perfect temperature, just enough to be wetsuit legal. Seeing all friendly faces right by my side made me feel better and I knew I was not alone.

Final picture before the start: Scott, Jonathan, Myself and Frank
Huub in action: Scott and I
Then I got big hug from my husband and I was ready to go. The cool triangle red buoys were set up on the ocean at the last minute and they were pretty far. Also a strong current was pulling from the side which I knew was going to make our swim more difficult. Race director announced 30, 20, 10 seconds to go and we were off.

Swim start

I felt the pull of the water in an instant and everyone was going at a decent speed toward the first buoy. Half way there I looked up and I realized how tiring the swim already was and how far we still had to go to just get to the first turn. I had to back off my pace and settle in.

The first buoy had something that I will call now a “sea lion” guy right under it. Not sure what he was doing there and why he was under the big red triangle but when he got out his big arms and legs started flying right next to me. He stayed by my side for a while and was swinging hard; I got out as quick as possible from this encounter. After that it was me and the ocean, since everyone else was scattered all over and I really didn’t have any close company. The next buoy was far, parallel to the beach, it felt when I looked to the side that we were some 100-150 meters out in the ocean. But by my surprise I could see some 15 feet below beautiful grassy and sometimes sandy bottom, and it kept me calm. We swam now against the current and even though my Huub suit was cutting through the water, the swim still felt very tiring and slower than I would expect. After passing the second buoy I had a female swimmer catching up with me and making a pass, I really wanted to finally find someone to draft off but I couldn’t keep up with her and the bubbles of her feet become more and more faint.

Running to T1

I was too far to get any benefit but at least I used her as a guide to the third and final buoy since she was zipping there in a perfect straight line. I felt thirsty by now and couldn’t wait for the swim to end, still had however a long time to go. I kept my mind occupied with the views underwater and was admiring them to keep myself composed, at some point I noticed a beautiful yellow colored and quite massive star fish at the bottom of the ocean and I think it is going to become the symbol of my swim today. I got to the final turn finally and was dealing with another set of side currents that was accompanying my final stretch to the beach. I didn’t have a clear view of the exit, but remembered a white life guard tower and was heading in this general direction. After all I was not that much off and quickly found myself running on the beach and grabbing the quick release zip and pulling my suit down to my hips.

What was new for me also in this race was the amazingly smart Suuto Ambit 2 multisport watch that I used for the first time. At one click of a button I was able to switch from the swim to bike and then to run modes and thanks to it I have awesome stats and a map for my whole race.

Xterra Key Biscayne Race Stats and Map...

My T1 went well and I was off on the pavement leading to the trails. It was cold now, or at least I could feel the chilly air on every inch of my wet skin. More speed, more wind chill but I didn’t care. Putting gloves on my wet hands while biking is very different than doing it during practice while the whole body is dry… Yeap, it took much longer, but I did it and after that everything was a blur… :)

Now I was in my element, so glad to be on the bike and on the dirt and the speed was only increasing from now on. I loved the course and the trail system, and felt surprisingly good considering I just got out from a 1k ocean swim.  All was good until I got an update that there is a lady a whole 4 minutes ahead of me already on the bike course. Apparently it was Misty Becerra who is an amazing swimmer and swim coach and also a great runner. I didn’t know however at that time who was it I just knew I had lots of work to do from now on. So I pushed, I cruised through the trails like they were my personal roller coaster, I passed full speed one by one a whole galley of riders who were faster than me on the swim.  Thankfully Xterra racers are just plain amazing and when given the right amount of time everyone allowed me to pass quickly and safely with not much fuss. I definitely felt the course and was in a way refreshed, maybe from the cold air and saturated clothing. Toward the end of the first lap I got an update that now I was only two minutes back. That gave me even more inspiration for keeping up with what I was already doing well. Some sections were so much fun and flying at full speed into the narrow and snaky single track was a bliss…

Beginning of the bike

My husband proudly was cheering me on and encouraging to keep pushing and to don’t let go off the gas. I was so focused that I could hardly see or hear anyone or anything, nothing could distract me at that point, and I just somehow knew however that he was right there and right with me throughout this effort.

He told me later on “Beata you were killing the bike”, which was really nice to hear…

Getting some speed on the downhill

Finally some two thirds through the second lap I saw my opponent. I sped up and was hoping to get into the Tom Sawyer trail before her but unfortunately I missed it by just seconds. So I stayed back and the moment we came out on the open double track I made my pass and took off at full speed. Too bad during the Xterra we were missing this sweet speaker system with loud music on that we had during the bike race just a week back. But there was some work to be done still and I knew I was going to have a tough run ahead. I tried to make up as much time on the bike as I could. When the trail system spilled me out on the final half a mile of the pavement that was leading back to the transition I was now a full minute away. I knew it was not a lot but it definitely felt good to reach T2 as the race leader.

I'm flying now!

I dropped off my lovely bike Sollie, unsnapped with a breeze my New LG biking shoes with a pop out boa system (which worked out beautifully for transitioning purposes) and got into my new Salomon Sense 3 ultra shoes that I just received a few days ago and couldn’t wait to try them on in a race. I took off quickly, instantly reaching the soft beach sand. This year however my feet stayed so much lighter and quicker to what I felt the previous year. It was not easy by any means but so much better. It seemed also that I always had some company during the run which is always helpful. Just minutes into the run we reached the first water crossing that was maybe 2.5 feet deep. Not good enough for swimming but too deep to run it. So I waded through it while trying to avoid tree roots hiding underwater.

My shoes just seconds later were light like a feather again when we got out of the water on the gravel path of the historic park. This is where I think now Misty was only 30 seconds back. I was running the best I could but apparently my best was most likely not going to be enough today. I suffered, but I didn’t want to give up. I felt like a little sardine that knows that a bigger fish is approaching and it really didn’t feel good. I tried to stay positive and pick up my pace, each time I checked still there was nothing. I wondered that maybe I will be able to get away. I went through the zigzags in the trees and onto the grass, after that crossed the road full of volunteers next to transition. Then again on the grass that was leading us to the second beach sections. But before I got there I heard suddenly those little steps squeaking right behind me in the deep grass. I just got this big lump in my throat knowing I have been caught and just seconds later passed. It was exactly on mile 2.63 of the run, since I made an effort to look down at my Ambit 2 and take a note of that. I thought my speed was really good, but today Misty’s speed was even better. I watched in slow motion her getting away foot by foot further from me. We did together the beach U turn while looking at each other faces but already going in opposite directions. It did hurt since there was nothing I could do at that point. The soft sand was getting to me now and I was approaching another, this time humongous water crossing which we had to swim for a very long time.

Run course...

 By that time I totally lost sight of Misty I swam and swam through the crossing. And by the time I got to the final run section on the beach I was completely tired and knew that she was gone. In the company of a few other runners I ran as quickly as I could to the finish line and was very glad to be finally done.  I was also so glad I had small 50ml Salomon water flask with me on the run since on the 2nd mile there was no water but only Gatorade, it made me quite unhappy but luckily to me I had a little water to sip on in my flask.

Shortly after crossing the finish I found out I placed 2nd overall missing the win by 1.5 minutes.
On the good note however, I was done, I had an awesome race, and my husband was waiting for me at the finish line. Friends and fellow racers started to congregate and share stories. Now there was time to reflect and enjoy what we all accomplished.

At the finish line...

My only complaint from the whole race would be the missing water on the water station on mile two. Also some of the sections of the trail system during the bike and run were not taped off or marked properly and/or had a volunteer there to direct people. Because of that there was probably a good amount of people that didn’t bike a section of .4 miles and their run was shorter by a good distance as well. This didn’t affect me in any way thankfully and mostly applied to the guy’s field but to be honest for someone to fly down here to Florida from up north, and compete for series points and standings and lose only because the course was not properly taped or marked, is just not right.

But besides that I really loved this race, the course and the whole experience. Also I’m very happy with my performance during this first race of the season.

Overall Podium of Ladies

I loved how I rode my bike and how I had the fastest bike split by a whole 5 minutes. All I can say is that I have such a joy of riding and racing my bike that I can’t even describe. Something that started out as a already great Specialized Carbon Comp bike after all the ridiculous components added to it, it becomes a light, fast and ultimate racing machine that I just can’t get enough of.

My swim and run was pretty good also and gave me an idea where I stand fitness wise. It was a great test and I can’t wait for future races.

Misty, Me and Michele
South Floridian Xterra fanatics - Scott, Jonathan, B, James.

Xterra racing is so amazingly complex, from all the different racers, with their preferences, skill sets, abilities, backgrounds. You never know what course is going to suit who and can only wonder of the race outcome. We all got here from different sport disciplines, some of us are swimmers, some bikers, and some well ex table tennis players like myself. But maybe this complexity makes it so much more interesting and more appealing to all of us. After all we keep signing up for the next race again and again and just can’t get enough of the off road racing. There is in South Florida such an amazing group of people who commit their all free and not so free time to triathlon training and racing. And while it is a tough cookie to bite on and requires a lot of work and self-discipline, we do it and we do it with gratitude and smile on our face…

Cynthia finished her first Xterra and LOVED It !!!

Big thanks to my husband Pax. Once again awesome pictures and even more amazing support!

Also I wanted to thank everyone who took their time to read my blog two weeks back when I was full of doubt and to write to me all kind words full of encouragement. I just wanted to say thank you, it is very appreciated and I think I can say safely now - I'm back.

I feel like I'm racing to my potential once again and am enjoying the ride!

Of course my life is easier, my bike is faster my body is stronger and my dreams are possible because of all my amazing Sponsors:

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, Huub and Rotor Bike Components!

Until next time!