Monday, May 18, 2015

USAT Off-Road Nationals / XTERRA Southeast Championship - Pelham, AL

USAT Off-Road Nationals / XTERRA Southeast Championship

3rd AG, 4th Overall
Best AG bike split, 5th bike split with Pros

Podium time: Mary, Mimi and I

I was able to overpass two AG World Champions and placed behind another one. Pretty much at least 4 world titles between 3 ladies that I was duking this race out with.  It was an amazingly stacked race and especially my class. Nothing like real competition. I'm glad that race ended well even though I was hoping for a little more. Still happy I escaped without a scratch while other amazing racers experienced flats, mechanicals, finished seriously bruised up or in the hospital.

It was slippery wet and the course was led with trillion roots and sharp rocks just waiting for blood... I'm not completely satisfied with my swim and run but am amazingly happy with my biking performance, so there is something to be cheery about.

The full story...

A whole three weeks later I am finally getting to write my race report. And to be exact at this moment we are in the car on the way to another XTERRA; this time XTERRA East Championships in Richmond, VA. Considering it is a 13 hour drive all the way from home I figured this is the only time in my life when I get to just sit down and do almost nothing. This hardly takes place in my daily routines so I will take advantage now of this long and slightly monotonic day in the car and try to reflect on my performance in Alabama.


The two months that entangles the XTERRA Southeast were the busiest and craziest so far in my 2015 season. One thing led to the other and I ended up scheduling three key events in a matter of only 6 weeks. Therefore every other week I raced. First was the most glorious and famous Sea Otter Classic in Monterey California, than week to go back to work, tune up, try to rest and get ready for the Marathon Mountain Biking Nationals in Georgia. Drive back home, work, tune up for Alabama and nice long drive up there. Having 3 completely different events, from XC climbing race, to XC endurance race, to finally an Off Road Triathlon, they all require completely different preparations. So all the time approaching to those big 6 weeks I tried in a way to get ready for all but possibly for none good enough to be 100 percent. Either way it’s life, it’s a choice, and it comes down to scenarios like this one if you just can’t pick and want to race everything. Ha, yes it’s me. I would never think a few years back I would turn into wanting it all but here we are!

I was lucky enough to push through the first two events very decently, winning Sea Otter and placing 2nd in Marathon Nationals. I should and am happy with that. But things were sliding slightly now since not only my training possibly was not specific enough, I was still recovering from a foot injury and to be quite honest the Off Road National Championships this year is one of my favorite races in the XTERRA season will be for me the first triathlon for the year.

Since XTERRA Worlds in Maui in late October, I let the running rust and gave my foot healing time. I wasted 3 months just waiting for a miracle to happen. It didn’t. I found myself in mid-January still not running and problems in my legs persisting. I could not be more disappointed. Also all the local XTERRA’s had been canceled therefore 1. There was no race to race, 2. I could not race it even if I wanted to; I simply could not run.

At Peavine Falls

Thankfully I started working with Dr. Kevin Christie from Boca Raton Health Fit Chiropractic and Sport Recovery Center and we started focusing on my leg and the foot. At some point Dr. Christie said, just go and run. I was scared but I tried. That was not running however, it was more like limping away some 12 min/mi pace for 1 to 2 miles. Each time I tried to go farther, and each time I tried the pain would subside after a while. But afterwards my ball of the foot would just swell up like a mini balloon and it was really hard to walk on. I got into a routine of icing my foot after a little run. It was all baby steps. By the time I realized I’m getting somewhere it was already mid-April and my bike race time block was in season. Now I had no even time to run anymore since I was busy traveling, racing bikes and working.

Small fog raising over the lake after rain

Final rain drops filling the silence

Ha and some Fun Times!

But here I am, we made it to Bama and I’m more than grateful that actually I will be racing, normally I would have a fitter run and swim and would have some 3-4 triathlons under my belt but this time I was going in dry. Not knowing what to expect I was just set to do my best and see where I stand among others. That would be I figured a good test if I’m even going to have triathlon season. I knew if my foot and body didn’t cooperate and my performance was not good enough I would just unfortunately wipe triathlons from this year. Sad but a possibly necessary. But at the same time I hoped that I gained so much more overall fitness and my biking kept on improving. I really wanted to have a good race, after all I love this and naturally want to keep pursuing what makes me happy.

Famous Blood Rock Trail with the Rock covered with someone's blood???

So here we are, once again in a beautiful cabin on the tiny quiet lake. The swing on the porch and the red canoe and never ending chirping of birds and songs of froggies in the lake filled the day. And there was bike riding. Oh yeah. I can’t describe how happy I am not only to finally base myself in this beautiful forest but also to get out on this gorgeous and fun single track. It was great to have friends ride with us and our goofy team of myself, my Pax, Margo and Jonathan went on a practice ride. On the way we stumbled upon some Pro riders like Emma who I’m always happy to see and Craig Evans with a band of other Pro riders and Scott trying to keep up with them. All of them off course we saw on the Blood Rock section which most guys rode just flawlessly.
Pre-ride crew: Pax the main Mucha, Jonathan, Margo and I the other Mucha

The track was pretty dry and locals said it was the driest they ever seen but for me really was just a little loose but otherwise quite perfect. I guess we are used to in South FL to a little more loose sand and rocks.

Always energy and all smiles loaded Kalei from XTERRA Crew

We had a great time hanging together, practicing the swim (lake monsters!) and overall catching up with friends.

We do XTERRA, Yes We Are Crazy: Muchas with Jon and Rafa

It was all good now and almost perfect but it all was about to change with the predicted rain on Friday. All of the sudden it got grey and sky opened up, now it was a matter how much it was going to rain and if it will continue until race time.

Transition on the race morning

Now the course changed and it will be the 3rd year in a row racing here in wet conditions. It was still gloomy on the race morning and trails were not very wet but moist and roots and rocks naturally stayed slippery since most of the course was under tree cover.

Bikes all set ready to go

Am I ready? Hmm

We were all going back and forth for past two days wetsuit, no wetsuit, things were just changing, in sun it was hot and lake was warm, than it cooled off after the rain and they said it will be wetsuit for sure, than right before the race start it was 0.2 degrees more of 78 to be wetsuit legal. Before I did not care but now I can tell you that I wished the water was this fraction cooler.

Swim start. Loud cannot smoke still in the air.

Standing on the start like I didn’t like what I saw, the sky was grey, the water was brown with a black hint to it and I didn’t open water race in over 6 months. The gun went off and I was doing fine and normally it would stay that way but just some 100 meters in I got this overwhelming feeling that I used to get many years back that I could not breathe. I pulled my face out and I was paddling like a dog, no matter how hard I tried I could not put my face back in the water, my breathing was too labored and too shallow, I was breast stroking and gasping for air. It’s very disappointing that it took place but there was nothing I could do to stop it. At some point I got back to swimming and tried to stay mentally strong but I saw so many swimmers just going by me when I was struggling. It could not have been good. I was close now to reaching the first buoy on the far right and all the swimmers started getting all together here for the turn, now I was on the inside having people grabbing my legs, pushing themselves off of me, pulling me under. I tried to kick harder and kick them off, I tried to get away, by the time I rounded the buoy I got another breathing attack. It sucked, it really really really sucked. It sucked.

Done with first lap

Out and back for second

I knew and know that I am better than that but it was all not working. I put my face back down in the water and just started focusing on one stroke at the time. But mostly another thing did occupy my mind, simply I started composing in my head a resignation letter from triathlon. I was looking down into the brown water and could only see the letters spilling out “It was a great a journey and I really loved every moment but…” I wrote a paragraph or so and somehow while doing so I was on the lonely what it felt stretch to the first lap return, but before I got there I got an awful stomach cramp and had to swim with that also. I ran around the XTERRA banner and jumped back for another lap. I was not looking forward that and knew I lost a lot of time but at least now I was done feeling sorry for myself. Now I was trying to just focus on my technique and keeping myself composed. This lap was easier and less congested and more civilized on the buoys. I didn’t freak out and actually had decent company on the final long stretch to the shore.

One more glove and we can start racing ;-)

Transition went well and I jumped onto my bike. I got into the trails which were quite saturated with riders. Right from the start I began my passing mission. Now I was fine, now I was in my element, now I felt I was getting back in the game, late but still playing. I simply love being on my bike but XTERRA racing is nothing even comparable to standard bike racing. The legs simply are noodles at first and it takes time for the body to adapt to the more upright position and completely different muscle groups working. So it’s little tough and not as pleasant as in the fast XC bike race. I picked guys one by one and soon enough ladies were in front. And there were many. Roots were wet and there was a reason to be cautious and I worked my way around people while trying to maintain my own race pace, sort of. Everyone was extremely cooperative and friendly, and it’s not new for XTERRA racers, they are simply famous for that! Best athletes ever. I passed a few guys in one shot on one turn around The Chimneys and the gentlemen suddenly in the smiley voice yells to me and other guys “I JUST GOT CHICKED and I LOVE IT!!!” I yelled back smiling “Feel good about it!” LOL it was so funny to hear it in this quiet forest during the race and he showed good spirit.

On Seven Bridges Trail

Row of riders behind, and in front somewhere too I'm sure...

Steve on my tail

I was for most of the time now in the company of husband of my friend and great competitor Melanie Etherton, Steve. I knew Steve is a very good rider and we went back and forth a few times, with me settling in front for most of the single track while riding toward the infamous 3 mile climb on the gravel road. But before we were able to get there we got stuck behind a female rider while approaching the cabins area. The sad part was we were on one of the most fun and fast sections on the trail system and I was not able to ride it at my own speed. Super fun turns and switchbacks, rock gardens and bridges to go over and to my desperate convincing the woman would not cooperate. It took us both the longest time to go around this racing woman, but after what felt like forever we finally did and then we were back to riding. But when we got spilled to the gravel I not only saw my Pax snapping a picture I also had Steve just going around me and taking off up. I felt bad now and hope I didn’t hold him back too much. I wondered now where his wife Melanie was and the rest of the ladies.

Onto the gravel climb after that
First to get to was my sweet Margo, than Misty and then almost on the end of the climb I went by Melanie. Of course I said ‘Hi ‘to all my friends. Melanie is the one however that parked right on my wheel and tagged along for a journey. I feel we pushed each other nicely and turned this riding on top of the Oak Mountain to our personal hammer zone. I loved how we both yelled to the riders ahead making sure we get a clear pass. Mel sprinted at some point by me trying to possibly get first to Blood Rock. Of course I challenged her back and regained my positon, I rode blood rock as far as I normally would but Melanie rode it further. We both got stuck on the last part and were both dismounting the bikes at the same time. I’m very grateful she let me go first and I was able to coast the next bumpy trail at my own speed. This section is sketchy and really really fast, here we need to maneuver and turn around big boulders and rock overs at great speeds, things can get out of control easily. But we both did fine and soon after a little more of technical and fun single track we were spilled to the road crossing where was new for this year feed zone. I had my ninja Pax here on the completely other side of the forest handing me a bottle.

Out of Blood Rock

The moment we got to the climbs of the Jonson’s mountain I took off. At this time of the race I think I was 2nd overall having only in front 2x my new age group World Champion Mimi Stockton. She was a mere 2 minutes ahead and the trail system mellowed out drastically now and to be honest I was wishing at that moment that I had my hard tail Sub Zero with me. Even though Sonia the full suspension bike was so great on all the technical sections now when things got quite easy I was craving the faster and lighter bike. No matter what I did I could not make up the time on the last 4 miles of the trail system which included Rattlesnake. It was all flowy and twisty but nothing significant enough to give me an edge. And I thought that even if I caught Mimi somewhere toward the end, my first place lead would last for a small fraction of minutes or seconds since she is such a strong runner. I knew at best I will need to settle not only for 2nd overall but also second in my new age group. No National title for me again. Did I give up? Of course not. I looked at things realistically. I was still racing to my full potential and man, enjoying this damn ride. I didn’t want the bike leg to end, I never do. But I knew reality will set in soon and I will be dropping my bike off and starting my miserable journey on foot.

Done with Lake Trail and riding for today... :-(

I always associate the run portion of the race with agony and most of the time it is exactly what it is. There is no coasting, no downhilling where you can just rest your legs. You are just full engine on and going rough step after the other. I got out on the run still in 2nd, yeah the legs were heavy, like “brick” heavy, and we know all something about it. It seems in triathlon for running things never get much better, just little better after a while. I had to settle in the pace I can finish this long two loop run around the lake.

Sudden news, Melanie who years back continually proved to be much better runner than myself was just 30 seconds back. At some point at a big U turn I remember looking back and seeing what I thought was her ITU racing kit. Just moments later I hear breathing just behind my neck, I was about to open my mouth and say “great job” but to my surprise I saw a male racer who told me Mel is 1 minute back. I was very grateful for the info and pretty surprised and happy I was somehow holding onto my position. I decided to stay smooth and keep working on it, after all it was only the first lap.

Crunch time

The back side is hilly and more technical and the front is mostly road, this is where I had Emma Garrard go by me on her second lap flying to the finish saying “Keep going B”. Always happy to see her and especially get encouraged by a racer as herself, I replied “Great work Emma” and kept going through the rooty part of the course right next to transition and back into the second lap. At some point on the asphalt my husband told me there was one lady closing in on me fast, like really fast. I knew there is not much I could do about it. Soon enough she was there and cruised by me in the foresty and hilly part of the course.

Lost behind the trees on small sections of road

Loved my Salomon water flasks!

Finally on the trail

Sadly I was now just 1.5 miles from the finish. Melanie was still somewhere back and we had a while to go. I was now in what seemed certain 3rd overall spot which I would be pretty satisfied with since I never was able to pull a result like that before on this course. But weird things happen always and this race was no different, now I was approaching the wooden bridge and had seriously less than 0.5 a mile to the finish and all of the sudden I saw some insanely fast feet. The girl from two age groups below just jetted by me like I was standing still, there was not the slightest point even of trying. It was so awfully close and so far away. I saw my third overall position just speeding away like a runaway galaxy in the expending universe. There was no force that could stop it from happening. I ran to the finish line with the cheers of people around and I think wife of friend Scott Huntley who was somewhere nearby.

In and out of the forest once again. I'm being chased now.

So the end result was good, good enough to keep me motivated and to understand that I have potential and should most likely keep going. But not good to make me feel thrilled. I know I’m capable of more and having spots slipping away in the final parts of the race makes you feel pretty crappy no matter how good the overall performance was. And it was an amazing day in the saddle and I’m very very proud to say I had the best amateur bike split for the day and 5th including Pros. So having a bike split that is just a mere few minutes off the best in the world female racers is definitely a bliss and something I will not take for granted.

Made it to the Finish

To add to it I was able to surpass some tough competitors like Kelli Montgomery who is the current Age Group World Champion and my friend Melanie Etherton who won the ITU Cross Title World Champion title when I raced against her a few years back in my first full XTERRA season and I placed 4th. So this was a great moment to be able to do so after all those years looking up to those amazing racers.

Mimi today's Overall and AG winner
Emma with her beautiful Era, 2nd Pro Congrats!

I missed top 3 Overall by a mere 50 seconds. When I look back I think those seconds could have been gained anywhere, really anywhere, after all it was a 3 hour long race. If I didn’t stop swimming twice due to my breathing problem and people pulling on my legs, there goes 50 seconds easily. If I wasn’t stuck for what seemed an eternity behind a girl on the single track who refused to move off my way, there goes again 50 seconds. If I pushed just slightly more of my comfort zone on some safer sections, there would be no doubt 50 seconds. The smallest mistakes are costly, very costly, and lots of riders paid a high price that day for taking chances and crashing hard.

My Sonia, the super bike!

Serious case study on the "rolly polly", I'm trying to be serious here...

So moral to the story is, not only you have to be a strong racer, but also have a more than perfect race and execution to succeed. Some people train their whole life and get only one maybe meaningful title, some get a few. And they are the most excellent athletes out there on top of their game. All the fitness means nothing really if this perfect athlete doesn’t score this perfect race. It has to be this most poetic and stellar day for all the forces to come together to pull it really off.

I don't think this one needs a description. Love the moment captured here...

Racing in general and especially triathlon racing is just so complex, but it is a good thing.

Big thank you to my Pit Crew Ninja Pax and all my supporters. Also speedy recovery to my friends that crashed, get stitched up and I hope will be back on the trail soon. Get better Frank! Always great to see you Margo, Marcus, Christine, Emma and the whole XTERRA Crew!

Well now we are just a few hours away from our next destination Richmond, Virginia the very colorful city and insanely brilliant and technical race…

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

Until next time…

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic work, Beata! You make a great point in regards to how many variables come into play with this type of racing, beyond just fitness. Still, you performed great and despite the challenges you faced throughout the day you still managed an incredible result.

    -Trevor from TrainerRoad