Thursday, November 5, 2015

XTERRA World Championship - Maui, HI

XTERRA World Championships, Maui

7th AG, 27th Female

Equipment Used: Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper WC from Mack Cycle , We traveled with EVOC Luggage and Bike Case from EVOC USA, Louis Garneau custom Tri Kit, Specialized Evade Helmet and S-Work XC shoes, SRAM XX1 Drivetrain, LG TR-40 Bag, K-Edge Garmin mount, Selle SMP Composit Saddle, Magura MT8 Brakes, Syntace Duraflite Carbon handlebars, Syntace FlatForce Stem, Syntace P6 HiFlex Seatpost, Stan's Carbon Valor Wheels, Xpedo M-Force 8 Ti, Schwalbe Rocket Ron's and Racing Ralph's,  Huub Speedsuit, ESI Grips, Rotor crank with InPower, Rotor QX1 28t Chainring, KMC 11DLC Red/Black Chain, Enduro Cermaic Jockey Wheels from Enduro Bearings, Enduro XD15 Torqtite BB30 Ceramic bottom bracket, Squirt Lube, Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground, Salomon Flasks, Suunto Ambit 3S, Light and Motion Solite, Clif Shot Gels, Oakley Radar EV Path Uranium Collection with Prizm lenses, Marc Pro for recovery, Cycleops Powerbeam Trainer and Garden of Life nutrition Every Day of my Life... And I used a Pocketfinder that kept track of me so my Husband always knows at all times during the race where I am.

Sub Zero and Myself on the rugged cliffs in the background.

We were set for a long trip. Three in the morning and the alarm went off; we are about to start our 16-hour journey from Florida to Hawaii.

Bike and gear all cozy and ready for take off.

When we took off the flight become sketchy and lots of turbulence was taking place and I was way more nervous that I would be in any race. So getting there was actually tougher than the race itself for me. My hands were soaking wet and my heart was pounding. I started questioning myself why I do what I do and put myself through all of it. When I am down on the ground and look up and see a plane, it looks like a small dot and it seems unimportant and insignificant. It is tough to imagine and comprehend that up there in the sky are people with all their goals, dreams, purposes. Only what is on the ground matters. But now when I’m up in the air, in this little plane, wondering how technology evolved and that we find it a norm to be suspended thousands of feet up in the air in this little plane, things look much different now. Everyone’s future up here is strongly connected to what is happening right now. High above the clouds, zooming to their destination, everything below seems now dreamlike and not important, since it is so far away. Only the reality that we are in at present matters, at least matters to us. Everything in life is dependent of the perspective of the viewer. The same applies to racing.

Muchas in Maui. Molokai Island in the background.
Something that is so important to us bikers and triathletes, seems purposeless for those who live more ordinarily lives. But we are strapped in this different universe where things that we find important matter not only to us but also thankfully to a big group of same minded people. Often I would wonder of the purpose of this life as a whole and why I wake up and do the things that I do. It is this constant strive for something, new challenge, new adventure, better result. All this trouble to satisfy this burning and selfish in a way drive to chase a new experience and goal. All I can do is wake up and listen to my heart, it often knows what it wants next. I love just doing that and seeing where it will take me. Just follow the life force that is in me and let it drive me to whatever my destination might be.

I guess. this is how I ended up in this little plane looking down and wondering how I got here in the first place. 

Everyone including bikes enjoyed this view...

 The second plane was much bigger, which resulted in quite a smooth ride, it was however pretty outdated.

And this is my most favorite place for morning and evening walk... 
When approaching the landing in Maui we noticed quickly how strong the winds out there were. We were swinging left to right trying to level out as much as possible, it made for a really eventful but thankfully successful landing.

So happy we made it here...
It was magical to see the dark clouds covering the high and lush mountains in the distance rising from gorgeous and never ending ocean. Even though it was very windy it looked so peaceful to have such a vast amount of water around. When we got to our beautiful condo and looked out it was clear the waves were huge and were crashing on the cliffs below making huge geyser like explosions. It was beautiful but concerning for the swim we were planning the next day.

The registration and bike pre-ride was first and when we got out on the trails we learned that even the best athletes in the world had trouble riding some sections, since it rained a little the day before and even some more in the morning hours. I had a fantastic group of ladies to ride with and we did our best to tackle as much of the bike course as we could tire side down. Often we were sliding on the slimy clay so much that it felt like we were on an ice-skating rink, my bike would totally go sideways when I was still progressing forward. It was ninja skilled bike ride for sure. At some point I had so much mud on my shoes and tires that riding or clipping in was impossible. We were digging out all the gook with sticks in order to keep going. We hoped conditions were going to change by the race morning.

Windy evening with high surf. Everyone all smiles!
My swim this day with monster waves still going on (from a passing hurricane) was a total fiasco. I ended up being a few minutes in the water and got caught under a 12-15-foot huge wave and dragged under, span around, pulled and all I could do was hold on and hope to be spilled out.

Maybe here I started realizing that those waves were slightly to big for a safe swim...
I was getting now short of breath and when I got out I saw another massive wave instantly coming at me. I dove in as low as I could and unfortunately got grabbed again. Same thing happened and all I could do was hope I can hold my breath long enough when I am being trashed around like a leaf deep under and was just looking for light above me.

Power of nature. Raging ocean with the setting sun...

When I got out to the surface I had some water in my lungs already and was gasping for air, my goggles were partially torn off full of water and I just wanted to get out. I “swam” a whole 0.1 mile that day and since than got even more understanding and respect to the power of nature. I realized how hopeless we are while in the grim of angry waters.
Next day wind died out, sun came out fully and trails started getting back into shape. To Swim now was also possible and I did plenty of it, not without major reserves however.

All those goofballs are waiting for traditional Acai Bowl!
The pre-race Dinner with all 850 competitors from all around the world always is a treat and makes for a special moment. It is always awesome to watch the video of XTERRA World Series on the big screen showing what all the best competitors in the world had to go through to qualify for this main event.

Calm before the storm...

Every time a specific country gets on the screen there is so much noise, shouting and clapping from those that participated in that race. We didn’t see Poland yet this time but we will have it up there next year when XTERRA Poland will go live. Looking forward that!

Onto the Race

Third time in the row top 10. As the saying goes third time should be a charm, should be but it wasn’t.

Morning of the race, bike warm-up. It was pretty warm and humid already.

7th place in the world many would consider something to be very proud of and yes I’m not going to say that I am completely disappointed, but I can’t say that I’m overly ecstatic. This is not to a cocky attitude but rather to the simple reason to why things went the way they did.

For the most of the season I was not sure if Maui this year will be my goal or not, to be honest I kept it almost to the last moment to make the definite call to make this lengthy trip.

DT Flemming Beach

I already knew the course, knew the conditions, also was aware this race doesn’t suit me. Last year finishing in the medical tent with two IV bags didn’t make this decision easier on me.

I had to be pretty delusional thinking I could actually win this race and make it to the podium.

The beautiful black dress hung for over a year in my closet just because I didn't place last year and I refused to put it on even though I completely adore it. I called it my “podium dress” and unfortunately after crossing the finish line this year I said that’s it, I’m done waiting, I’m wearing it. Maui podium will never happen for me and not because I’m not strong enough of the triathlete but for other pretty frustrating reasons.

And my bike just turned into the Fatty!

When I got home I pulled finally all the results and put them on a spreadsheet, the numbers I saw were pretty disturbing. I was 3rd US woman, and the two girls that placed first and second and got on the podium were now 3x AG World Champion and 1x World Champion and this year 2nd place. I finished before the last year’s champion twice this year on Pro Point Series events. They never beat me on the bike course ever before. This time around however not only did they both beat me by a great margin but also had faster bike splits than myself. I felt sick seeing those results and even more unhappy knowing how actually well I felt during the race. I did everything good and as planned during the race, but still was so much off.

For once it is the treacherous swim that takes you all the way out in the ocean and back instead of swimming slightly closer to the beach in the more parallel to the shore way and traditional triathlon triangle or rectangle. This makes for one pretty scary swim especially with so many people in the water at the same time and also because the conditions are always here very rough.

Secondly, the bike course is not too technical, it is improving a little bit year by year but still it is very far off of what a mountain bike course should be like. I would know as I race quite a few mountain bike races and there is a lot to be done to make this course a true mountain biker’s dream destination. This ride is suited more for the climber with a roadie power engine and minimal biking skills. This for sure doesn’t allow me to excel since I can’t utilize much of my biking skills and get any gap.
The third and most crucial point is that this is pretty much a mass start and a mass race. With 850 people going off at the same time it becomes as unfair as it can get.

Super girls with their bikes. From right: Katherine, Debby, Christine and Myself. 
Don’t get me wrong I love this sport and I have committed many years of my personal time to keep racing and improving that’s why I feel it is important for me to say what I have to say in order to make things better for everyone who wishes to compete in this race in the future.

First there was the Pro Women and Men start. Five minutes later all age group men, then another five minutes all amateur women went off.

This was a good thing to happen for the swim, since it was not as congested and I started catching up to the slower swimming men on the way to the second buoy. The problem was I was surrounded by the full back of the men’s field right from the start of the bike leg. The heat was overwhelming that day, almost no wind, full sun, high humidity and almost no shade. Plus, we started at 9 am, which at Maui time is late, really late so it was pretty scorching hot before the swim begun.

Just before my race start. 850 competitors awaiting on the water's edge.

I was really not looking forward the swim, it is really intimidating here, but ocean was calm like never before just for me what felt like and I was going to try to take advantage of it and take all the doubt out. It was pretty wonderful right after the start, when all the men swam away I was swimming over the coral rocks. It made an illusion that it is more shallow that it actually was. I enjoyed this part and it kept me calm. The idea was to keep this calm going after at some point the rocks were going to end and drop off to the bottom floor. Now it got deeper and I could still see sand all the way down. The calm conditions gave us great visibility unlike the other years. I kept searching for the buoy and it was still way far in the ocean, no matter how far you got it was still super far away. I was hoping I will not freak out being that far away from the shore with all those people around me. But I was fine, almost forgetting I was racing. I was in this weird peace and approached the first buoy wide. My problem was going back since some people kept going to the right on an angle instead of turning back. I had a problem crossing over the left side since all the masses where on my left. I just hoped I would not get pushed too far to the right on my way back and kept monitoring my status. The current had to be pretty weak this day since I really didn’t drift that much away from the half way beach exit and run.

Getting out after lap 1

And done

Shortly I headed for the next round to the next buoy. Now women and men started to mix together, for sure you can tell you are surrounded by men since things get more chaotic and I will start getting pushed around more. What was keeping me calm was the view of the few people sitting on the surf boards near the buoy in the middle of the ocean as they were having a picnic. It made me feel more at ease, I aimed for the chatty group and didn’t feel like I’m alone in the middle of nowhere 400 meters away from the shore. It got a little rougher on the way back but still not too bad. I could see the calm and wrinkled sandy bottom all the way out here. It was calming and I was focusing on that view since it was the only thing that seemed was not moving. I was surrounded by plenty of swimmers now coming close to the shore, it was getting crowded again. And it was going to be this way for the rest of my race here. I run to T1 and was happy to grab my bike. First was the golf cart path up.

Now it's time to get to work. Rushing out from T1 onto grueling 8 mile climb.
By the time I hit the trails we were burning. Row of riders were covering the single track. From the second one I started my passing journey, one by one or whole groups at the time. It didn’t make a difference if I was on the trail or on the golf cart path, simply I was getting burnt by the sun and was crowded by people who were also suffering on this brutal never ending climb and often were walking their bikes. I tried to organize traffic as much as I could since I ended up having to pick the worst lines and ride on the loose rocks and grass or slime in order to keep passing people who were much slower or even worst were walking their bikes. One time I passed few riders on the climb, flew fast on the short grassy downhill and made sharp left turn into the next climb. It was a slimy corner and my bike just wiped sideways without warning. Now those that I passed went by me and seconds later when I was back on the bike I was passing them once again. I was very proud of my progress I really gave everything I had on those climbs, on the whole 10 miles of climbing. I don’t know how this heat didn’t get to me, how I didn’t simply pass out. My heart rate was often maxed out and I kept on pushing, I did everything I could right, I made it first time ever all the way to the top of the Razor ridge without putting my foot down. 

Covered in mud. On the single track. 
Everyone next to me gave up and walked the last part, I was fighting all the way to the top. The burn was excruciating but I knew the moment I put my foot down it was not going to feel any better. Pushing the bike up on this grade at this stage of the race hurts as much and doesn’t bring any better results. So I kept on cranking. When I got to the top and the trail opened up to this beautiful view I just wanted to look around and admire the scenery. I noticed a photographer sitting high up on a tree, I was ready to start speeding up, however all those riders were right in front of me going at a much slower pace. From there on I was always behind someone, always going slower than I would want to, it was getting more and more difficult to pass. On the “stinky crack” section filled with pig mud the mushed up nastiness was deep, soft and much worse than on the pre-ride. Everyone here in front of me stopped. At some point there were people to the left, right and a girl right in front, she just stopped and stood there, just staring at the never ending pile of mud. I was stuck right behind her, finally after a while I asked her, getting pretty frustrated, if she was going to actually do something or she will just keep standing there. Finally, I went around pretty much everyone and started running in the mud. I tried to encourage people to go, I yelled “This is good for your skin, keep on moving”. 

I tackled the second climb to the top of the mountain also, now it was even hotter and more painful. I kept making passes, the red dirt was like hot fire and it was showing in everyone around, we all suffered. After getting finally to the top we were directed quickly what used to be a plunge but now was a set of left and right carved turns in a grassy field. I was never sure what to make out of it and the same happened this time. Kind of very meaningless section. We would go to the downhill faster parts and then go through some slower parts a few times. I think I had someone catching up to me and hitting brakes really hard and slamming so terribly bad and sideways full speed to the ground. I heard the loudest helmet hit anyone could hear, I wondered and yelled to the person if they were OK. No one replied, we were going so fast probably 20 mph therefore in a matter of seconds I was gone. I called the first trail patrol person I found. Since than my descending did slow down, I realized how dangerous was going so fast on such a sketchy downhill. When I got to the bottom and traversed through the grassy paths to the other side we went to the last long and miserable climb. For some reasons it didn’t feel as bad as last year where my mind really wanted to give up my body was in so much pain going on the steep angle another mile nonstop up. This time I did handle it well and made a lot of additional passes. Later was a new half a mile of just cut grass and some passage through the trees and into my favorite section of the whole bike course, Pine Forest and everything that comes after it.

And here we are, infamous "stinky crack". Disgusting, deep, smelly mud section. Christine got it covered! 

It was actually pretty fun and seems like it is somewhat improving each year, single track here and there and grassy switchbacks on the other parts. Those final 5 miles are actually what the whole course should be like throughout this whole race. I was looking forward to this section and hoped to get some good time on it. The funny part was that the bike leg was almost over and I didn’t even see my main girls that I was supposed to catch on the bike. I knew that since I didn’t see them as of yet my chances of getting to top 3 were seriously sliding away. And then I just got completely depressed. While we approached the smallest rooty sections with little downhill and switchbacks everyone started hitting their brakes and started going in a snail pace or simply was getting off the bike. I said “bike people” but this was good for nothing. I just shook my head and knew my race is pretty much over. The row of people ahead of me was never ending, after all, the whole 600 men were ahead of me and not all of them were faster bikers than myself. I ended up racing hundreds of men instead of racing women, and especially women in my group for the world title. Even though I kept on trying it took my desire to push even harder and keep on trying. I said to myself in a sad voice “this is not mountain biking” I didn’t know anymore what I was doing here and why. Felt I was going even slower than on my pre-ride. 

Suddenly my whole attitude changed. I was going what felt like half speed that I was capable of pulling, I didn’t feel any longer like I was racing. It was a ride, it was a slow group ride that just didn’t feel right. The track was really enjoyable at times but how could I have enjoyed it? I knew my dreams will never come true and it is not even my fault. I calculated that between myself and my friend I was chasing there were 448 racers since she was much faster on the swim, I passed 200 out of them on the bike. This race for sure favors swimmers and punishes bikers big time. The bike leg would have to be twice as lot for me to pass another 200 people and catch up to my girls. I hit the final miles as good as I could and tried not to give up, I got my first split, I was some 8 places down. This took my spirit away even more since I knew I’m not a terrific runner. 

Some slick parts on the run.

I went to transition and for the lengthy over 3 mile long climb. It hurt, but once again not as bad as it did last year, I was making good progress and kept on moving. It was extremely challenging at some parts, especially the steepest sections but somehow I kept passing people, I know that I passed more people that actually passed me.

That was good, but once again even though I was progressing forward I had this feeling I was not going  as fast as I could have. I had my Clif Gel on the beginning of the run but soon after felt like I could have used some more. I didn’t put any more nutrition on my belt however and all I had now was just my flask with water.

This is my favorite part of the run. Numerous logs and obstacles, it just keeps getting better.

Somehow feeling pretty good.

It was great to finally get to the lake and top of the climb and start heading down. This time I actually could run the whole 3 miles down. I like the technical parts of the course and made sure to enjoy them when I was there. The numerous log hopping, scaling the steep climbs and after a miserable concrete climb going to final descent under the bridge and through the dry creek and onto the beach.

I was doing great and feeling great too and kind of thinking that possibly I felt too well, maybe I should have pushed more. I should have been way more exhausted. After all last year I was fighting here to survive and making a step was a world of pain and agony. Now I was speeding down feeling good not realizing I have been racing already for almost 4 hours. It was the longest race in Maui ever. Mileage for bike and run were slightly longer therefore everyone’s times are showing as such. The final miles on the beach went by and I loved people cheering for me while tackling this deep sand and final grassy uphill into the finishing shoot. I didn’t expect to get emotional, but for some reasons once again I did and simply teared up on the finish line.

And here we are once again. It was a lengthy journey to this finish line but I got there!
I wanted to win this race, I wanted to be on this podium, I wanted to race well. I have to be really more than satisfied with everything that I did logistic wise, I nailed everything as far as drinking and nutrition, I never felt better than this before on this tough course. I could have had an even better result. I placed 7 but was only short two minutes to the next girl and within five to two other ones. I find this very plausible and really believe I belong easily in the top 3.

Katherine did awesome today!

On the finish line there were still 150 competitors between myself and the girl that I was trying to surpass. 

Not an ideal scenario, not what one wants to hear.

I really wish that in the future this race will be run in the ITU format where Pro’s, Age Group Men and Age Group Women are going to have a separate race.

This is the only way to make it a true World Championship and give everyone a fair shot at winning. My bike split was ten to fifteen minutes slower to what it should be because I did come out of the water several hundred people behind that I was not even racing. The Pro Women were chased down by hundreds of age group men of which slower ones ended up in my way. I think this is really not conducive in any way to anyone who trains the whole year and strives to show what they are made of in a world class event and find themselves struggling and battling a bunch of people from all different classes and not be able to race their own race.

And here it is, finisher medal and lei flowers.

This is a magic island with for sure great possibilities to have a world class event but some things need to change.

It was awesome to have Greg Welch on the finish line announcing my name. Neat!
Congratulations to those who realized their dreams that day in Maui.

And this is one serious group of girls! From right: Mimi, Kelli, Margo and I.

Monster hugs to those that I met, spent a wonderful time with, shared this experience with.

Boogie board time. Spending some fun time with my Pax.

Even though I write here mostly of my racing adventure and my placing this trip was so much more than that.

We got some nice waves. Not on this picture however! lol

We did some sweet biking around Kapalua with breathtaking views from the cliffs. We did a beautiful sunset walk and cliff jumps. Swam in the coral reefs and had an awesome time boogie boarding and chasing sea turtles. We honestly had such a good time that leaving this paradise brought us both teary eyes.

So going back to where I started my husband asked me if I would have done it if I knew how I was going to place. It would be yes and no at the same time. I feel the result was not the fair one but at the same time I gained so much from this trip.

Ride with a view. This coastline goes and goes and it's so tough to stop biking. Views are spectacular.
I learned a lot about myself once again. I managed to look straight at and overcome my fears and my weaknesses. I had the most wonderful time enjoying the gorgeous views and lifestyle that Maui offers. The nature here is quite spectacular with all the native plants and birds. Never ending beaches, cliffs, sweeping ocean views are breathtaking. Constant sound of the wind and smashing waves.

But even more impact on me impressed the contact with all that I had an opportunity to share this time with. I can’t describe how important and powerful it was to see people even for the smallest moments from all different parts of the country and the world and share this time together. I loved seeing my friends that I didn’t see for the longest time and also had the most wonderful and kick ass roommates who made this trip really interesting and fun. Debby had an awesome race in the Pro class, Katherine raced her heart out in her age group and placed overall in top 5 in the amateur class. And Christine tackled the course skillfully and by finishing it she also put the final stamp on her incredible XTERRA Pro racing carrier. It was quite an honor to be part of that and share this moment with such an inspiring always on top of women’s field racer.

And there was the Award ceremony dinner when we all made our way dressed and ready to put all the racing and wondering behind and just set to enjoy the night. I ended up wearing my dress which was meant only for podium, sadly I didn’t make it there once again.
Ha! XTERRA Hallowing Party done right! We got here Suzie and her "Wad" half, Karla, Christine, Debby, Katherine, Myself and Pax.

Caveman taking off for a ride...

The powerful and special moment for me was when legendary Caveman Conrad Stoltz, 4x XTERRA World Champion walked on the main stage telling his story to us all about his love for this sport and the people while announcing his retirement from competitive racing. At the same moment he was being added to the XTERRA Hall of Fame.

Also Emma Garrard and Josiah Middaugh made their dreams come true this year.

Emma got 3rd after many years of trying and getting closer and closer, and Josiah finally won his first World Champion Title after 15 years of attempts. Congratulations!

After that was a crazy XTERRA Halloween Costume Party which was really fun and I am not sure how I and everyone else had so much energy to stay up that long and dance away…

Todd and I testing our TT skills

I also did bring my table tennis racket to Maui to play with a friend, my game was a little rusty but we had lots of fun for sure. Thank you Todd for convincing me into packing my TT gear!

I could not have experienced all of that if I stayed home.

There is so much more to triathlon racing than just racing.

This is what I love about this sport…

Huge Thanks to my Pax for making this beautiful journey come true and taking care of everything that need to be done, all I had left was just focusing on my race.

Thank you also to everyone else with whom my path crossed wile in Maui, therefore contributing to this amazing experience. All those times will be greatly cherished and remembered.

Also to all my friends and family at home who were cheering me on and following my progress.

Recovery ride with in awesome company and never ending ocean view...

Next year I will be tackling this again but this time with Josiah's help. This will be my first year with a coach as I have accomplished what I have so far with just Pax and I and recent help from Christine Jeffery. What will 2016 bring???

Napili Beach
As always big thank you to all the supporters who as always stood beside me and provided with all the tools needed for a successful season.

Thank you for my incredible supporters for allowing me to race with the best gear and products imaginable.

Always Thank you goes to:

Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops, Suunto, Salomon, Huub and for 2014 - Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Specialized, Louis Garneau, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components and New for 2015 - Health Fit Chiropractic, Enduro Bearings, K-Edge and SelleSMP

Monday, September 21, 2015

Last Race of the NUE - National Ultra Endurance - MTB - Fool's Gold - Dahlonega, Ga

 Fool’s Gold

1st Place Open Women

Last race of National Ultra Endurance Series but the first one I competed in for me.

I heard a lot of good things about this race from all my racing friends. Plenty of Floridians made this trip in the past to the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains and enjoyed this scenery.

Since the start of this season was not like any other of mine so I decided to continue the trend and do something new instead of focusing on the same races and series that I have been to before.

I must admit, it is always very exciting for me to sign up for something completely new and test myself on new soil, different distances, terrain and new competition.

It felt like the right thing to do to take what was supposed to be a 9 hour drive up to Dahlonega, GA all the way from South Florida. We were so focused to arrive early that we had our friend Robert stay over the night before so we can have a very early start. We left a little after 5 am and had great progress until we reached the Atlanta area and were stuck for a good 3 hours in bumper to bumper traffic and were veering in and out of the highways trying to find the fastest route. In the meantime, the thirty or so police car chase with two helicopters was going on around us and it was quite a scene to watch.

But we really wanted to get to the race site before packet pickup closes and before dark to spin the legs out. With time, traffic was gone and we reached our destination now with 12 hours of traveling clocked in. We knew there will be no time to ride especially considering the fact that race next morning was starting pretty early and our hotel was a good thirty plus minutes away.

Approaching the race site, we saw pretty colonial style homes tucked away in the fields and surrounded by greenery of trees and hugged by the hills. It was very different to what we see in flat Florida.

But it got even better the moment we turned to a private Montaluce Winery which was part of hosting our race venue. It was an instant transformation to beauty, simplicity, serenity, perfection. The sun was now low and it was perfectly hitting the most precisely manicured rows of grape vines and when the eyes ventured all the way to the top of the hill there would be standing now covered by golden light the most beautiful French like chateau overlooking the grounds.

There was the whole side which was developed to look like a little French vinery with gorgeous villas tucked and grouped for an eye catching treat and privacy.

We drove on this tiny crazy hilly road up and down left and right mesmerized and soon we got to the race venue. Quite a few people were here grabbing their numbers and setting up the drop bags for the next morning. After reviewing some maps and chatting I decided to bike around for just a few minutes to see what is around.

We rushed soon after to the hotel to drop the gear and headed to the only thing that we could find around for a pre-race dinner, Mellow Mushroom pizza joint.

We were for sure tired already and were running late. It was crucial now to prepare quickly and have everything set for the once again early around 5 am wake up morning. We drove in the darkness but by the time we arrived in the winery the sun was perfectly coming up and the light was emerging from behind the mountains. It was nice and cool, and I don’t remember how cool maybe 50s, I know I needed a little jacket for a small warmup.

Now the hills were covered with cars and racers, it was good to see quite a few familiar faces. Some friends from Florida and some from other venues like the Marathon Nationals in GA. For sure most riders were unknown to me and it was actually a pretty good feeling. I felt no pressure at all and was set to enjoy myself and test my strength as far as racing on such a hilly course. Elevation gain for today was way over 6 thousand feet and this is twice as much that I ever did in any race before, so for sure it was going to be a good test.

I know pacing myself would be crucial especially since I never did this race before, didn’t know the terrain and didn’t know what to expect from behind any corner. I always had some reserves left just in case.

I had some fellow friends give me some very useful advice before me coming up so it definitely helped with setting my mind and my nutrition. Thank you Brook, Eric and Boyco for that!

The first group went off. Now it was time for my start. I positioned myself on the informal start line among a few hundred other riders. I hardly could spot any women in this man dominated group. But the ones I saw I decided to keep an eye for.

And we were off! It was little sketchy to be on a very hilly and quite winy road with so many bikers going at almost full speed especially on the steep downs and sharp turns. Not always I felt in my element on the first few miles that were on the paved road. It was a rolling start and the moment the race director pulled away to the side and gave us the go ahead now we were on our own. At this point I had a solid main group ahead of me and I was somewhere trailing behind that than a little gap with scattered riders and the following groups. I was going back and forth with two girls, one of which I knew and I was pretty certain I had another one somewhere ahead. I could not spot her yet but I knew where someone was tucked away. Shortly after a few miles in we finally made a turn and hit the dirt. In an instant the double track dirt road covered with yellow sand and loose gravel turned upwards. This is when I passed the 2nd girl and just less than a minute later I spotted the 1st one. This was the time for me to take charge and never look back, I went around in an attacking mode and biked away like it was the end of the race not the beginning. Soon after we were going through some little climbs and fasts descents, some riders were going back and forth and the moment we reached the sustained climb small groups started to develop. I was making my way up the hill studying the terrain and seriously questioning my tire choice and pressure. The sand was not completely packed and gravel was pretty substantial, it was too late however for any changes so I refocused on the race. Now I noticed some teams and patterns of people riding together and I was aiming on going from group to group and this way making my ground. I was pleasantly surprised how well I was handling the constant uphill riding. I assumed it would feel really bad and would be a struggle but have to admit it was nothing like that. The relatively mellow however constant grade was very manageable, the cool air temperature was hovering in the 60s and the tree shade was contributing to a very pleasant ride. Even though we were racing the silence of the forest was beautiful and only once was broken by the far below rooster and dog barking announcing the morning.

I caught up with the guy that passed me on the beginning on one of the gravely descents. Now we were climbing and had a chance for a quick chat. Dave told me that he is great in the descending and most likely after we hit the top of this climb, whole 8 – 12 miles from now I will not see him again! :)

It was a long way still to the top but guys were asking me if I was the leading girl and telling me that they will see me soon on the finish like to congratulate me. Ha, it was very flattering but we still had some 45 miles to go of this what it came to be 56-mile race.

I kept cranking up and was shocked often seeing the power (Thanks to my ROTOR InPower power meter) that I was producing with quite ease. There was a team that did the whole race therefore they were all in yellow outfits and all different ages, I decided to pass them on the steeper now portion of the climb.

I just remember approaching the final and the youngest rider who still was ahead of me and this is where I heard the voice of his leader behind ‘hey, you will blow yourself up!”.

And this is when I passed him. Well am I going to do the same since I went even harder? Let’s hope not. I kept however true to how I felt and where I thought my body can go at the moment with still having reserves to finish this hefty race. After some 2 thousand feet of climbing and over an hour of riding I finally hit the top. Now it got really gravelly and guys just started to fly down, we had fast ups and downs and it was pretty good and flowy with still double track sections. But soon the road turned down and gravel got even bigger, now the guys sped up and took off like there was no tomorrow. I was grateful for 2 of them pass me on the right on one of the left turns and hit the brakes hard where there were to white vans driving up and just coming from behind the turn. At 30 mph plus speeds on the loose rocks it’s not the best time to hit the traffic going the opposite way. Thx to them I was able to figure something was going on and slow down and move to far right to avoid the cars.

I stayed right for the reminding of the descent. I wanted to know if this was the section that race organizers were warning us to be careful on that it gets fast and loose and sketchy. I spoke to one of the riders but he was not sure. I thought I had it out of my mind but I had the feeling that it was little too simple to actually be it. There was a lot of that following, long downhill road in the beautiful forest, first aid station than a sharp left into the first single-track. Right away I recognized it from the preview video I watched from the race from last year. It was a nice downhill track, some roots, pretty narrow, rocks, grasses and quite technical. It didn’t last for more than 2 miles but this was probably first time when I felt I was completely by myself. I wondered for a second if I was on the right path. Thankfully on every single trail once in a while there would be a pink ribbon hanging on the right from the tree branches besides the turn tapes and arrows when changing the trail. It was good to be assured I was on the right track and even better where I noticed a rider ahead. I did catch up quickly and soon made my pass.

There soon were two other riders and I let them go by. Shortly we were back on the double track. I think now we were going to approach the section with feed zone 2 and 3 were we will be tackling in between the infamous blue mountain. The 27 and 37-mile mark was certainly a good time to take the nutrition choices and progress seriously. I was doing the whole race on Clif gels that I kept on my bike and in my back pocket and I always had one bottle filled with water and one with Clif electrolytes. I was very punctual with how I scheduled to take my nutrition so I felt really energized for the whole race.

I was considering the drop bags strongly but I also had my amazing Pax with me who found a way of taking the car off road through the most ragged and rocky forest roads one can imagine to get to this feed zones. I noticed how fast and amazingly organized the volunteers were but it felt just so good to have my own husband for the support. The guy on the chair usually some 100ft down would yell out the rider’s number and then another volunteer would run to grab the neatly organized matching drop bag. I was happy to see my Pax and quickly grab new bottle. I found very quickly how very little I knew about this course and how tough this section was going to be. Things changed drastically, now the total opposite took place all the double track first turned into the grassy descent and then quickly turned into single track. And it was not just any single track, it was sharp turn, up the steep grade single path with massive often foot deep water carved ravines. Some sections were easier to ride than other, I lost my balance on one and had to hike a bike with some other riders approaching. This is where I met my partners in crime in orange. Those two guys passed me temporarily but I was on their wheel just a minute after. There were still other riders around but it seemed it became a little game when guys would pass me on the descent, go by me and say “we will see you on the uphill!” and certainly they did!

 One after the other, the climbs were getting more and more brutal. Toward the top of the climb the trail was all filled with tree roots, very narrow and steep. This is where the small ring payed a huge role, how the eyes even were sweating, heart rate was big time up and everyone was gasping for air. It was a very sensitive play between effort, balance, power and skill to put the wheels over the roots and still keep on going upwards. It was not easy and this was the reason while this climb claimed so many riders to stop, get of the bike and finish it walking. One after the other everyone seemed to be having a hard time and falling off the track. I kept on going, toughing it up and keeping on the gas. I think I heard a breath of the person I was passing and it sounded really girly, now I wonder if there was another female rider ahead that I didn’t know about. But my eyes were pilled to the roots and upward path I didn’t have the smallest split second to check who it actually was. Possibly it was a man with very feminine sound that this time of effort made him do. Either way I was ahead, now reaching the top, finally, I got to the top off the climb. Now my concern was when I looked back was my back tire pressure. I knew I just changed the tire and was concerned of losing some air if it didn’t seal properly yet. I started looking back and being quite concerned. I noticed it looked a little low now and I was afraid that bumpy and rooty descent might be a concern. After looking back and thinking about it for a while and knowing I had 8 miles still to the check point/feed zone 3 I decided to quickly stop and check the pressure before hauling down. It was not bad and as long as it was going to stay that way I figured I will be better off taking risk and going than stopping now and wasting valuable time for no reason. The descent was decent so far but it was all about to get worst. Apparently the rocky gravely descent after the first climb was not what the organizers were warning us about but about what I was going to approach just now. The path did widen and turn even more downwards, massive rocks, holes, ravines, dips, loose sand, it was all tighter and speed. They told us it was in a worst condition than in the past years and to use caution and shade speed.

It was tough not to go fast, but even tougher to hold to the bars and don’t lose them. My bike behaved like my bellowed Duno the Donkey and was just kicking around like crazy. I just held on hoping for the best. Now the hands, arms, calves are cramping, it was truly bumpy and testing descent.

Getting out of it gave me a nice relief knowing I passed the worst section of the race.

At approximately mile 30 I reached the 3600 ft. mark of elevation gain. I watched this number because in a month I have to ride this elevation up in under 20 miles total, but truly most of the gain happens on the first 9 miles. So the grade difference in Maui for XTERRA Worlds will be substantial.

My legs were still feeling well and now it was all about getting as fast as I can to the 3rd feed zone.

The descents were still fast with numerous creek crossings with wet and greased up rocks. Wet boulders were scattered along the whole descent. It was really an art to go fast, avoid all those obstacles at speed and actually spot them quickly in between the sun rays shooting from in between trees and highlighting only randomly some sections and not the others. Other rocks would just pop in the last second and it would take a ninja to avoid them, and then another. It was a long and joyful descent and soon I hit the final narrow and smoother single track. This is where I had a guy trying to pass and before I had a chance to move enough he went by me clipping my bar. I lost my balance and had a bunch of other riders behind who I let go also. It was not all necessary since just seconds later we were spilled on the gravel road and feed zone. Here I had my Pax spending all this time and more contributing and volunteering and helping out other racers. I grabbed new Clif gels and new filled bottles and had my Pax confirm my pressure was still fine and good to goo. I biked away and hoped in into the next single track. Next time we were going to see each other was on the finish line.

I still had many miles to go. But path was now more flowy and more enjoyable. I don’t remember ever in my life riding so much new single track before. It all felt like an adventure than the race to me. I had this feeling I had not much to worry about as far as competition goes and I was just concentrated to make sure I am smooth, don’t make any mistakes and pay attention to ever changing terrain. I remember lots of rolling hills, numerous turns, and something my friends mentioned to me before, sharper and steeper pitch climbs of which I was warned off. My legs were for sure more tired now but still I felt good tackling this terrain, some climbs were really punchy and forced me to scooch all the way on the tip of the nose of the saddle on the steepest grade imaginable (this is where my mind ventured thinking of Selle SMP little saddle babies). Somewhat shocked I made all the climbs. I recall being on the one narrow climb and looking down on the path ahead and thinking of all my girlfriends from Florida that made a tire marks right under my tires. It was just a good feeling sensing the presence of people I know right at that moment, I thought of Brook who gave me some nice tips for this race (Thank you!) and of Jen who was brave enough to do two loops of this lengthy course. I was now not really surrounded by that many people and kept my own pace and was looking into approaching the end of this single track. It kept on going and going however. When finally, the trail spilled me on the gravel path I pretty much ended up just where we started the day with the climb. Now however instead of turning left into the climb I would turn right into rocky and gravely descent. I had some jeep in front and it completely dusted up the whole air in front of me, I think after a while he realized that he was making it kind of tough on me and other riders and decided to pull to the side to let us go. Now I had fast rolling ups and downs and was counting miles down, I was somewhere near 50 and knew there were not many more. Shortly road turned to the asphalt and my company was only rolling road, the mailman, guy somewhere behind and to my surprise my most memorable company from today’s race, the two guys in orange! I was pushing now a little more wanting to have a good finish time and hoping to hear the finish line sounds soon. But the road kept on going and it seemed it was getting to everyone. Few miles went by and finally I got spilled again on some gravel path, very surprising deep into the creek and hike a bike section to get out of it.  It was steep and rocky and really not ridable. Than grassy stretch and I could see the finish line ahead. It was now the final climb into the finishing banner and I was done. First female Overall and in the Open Class for 50 miler.  The guys in orange were right behind, it was cool to finish together and chat about the race.

It took me 56 miles, 4:56 minutes and 6k of climbing to get back to this spot. It was a good day and definitely good training day and good effort. I really enjoyed this course and have to agree with those who raced here before who recommended this event to me.

Another good trip in the books and I have to admit I felt like this distance really did suit me. I felt I did just enough to feel accomplished and tired enough to want to stop riding.

Thank you goes to:

Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops, Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Specialized, Louis Garneau, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components and New for 2015 - Health Fit Chiropractic, Enduro Bearings, K-Edge, SquirtLube and SelleSMP

Until Next Time….