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