Xterra West Championships 2011 Race Report

Usually the first race of the season is the benchmark of progress and how well training went over the winter. For me, it was a measure of how much I had lost over the last month. Xterra West Championships, at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, was 30 days after my eye surgery and I was just happy to be there and be racing. I was under doctor's orders to "not race all out" - (like we ever listen to our doctors!) - so the goals I had set at the start of the year were thrown out the window, to be replaced by one simple goal - top ten. Up ahead of me, the new courses lent themselves to fast times and fierce competition. Melaine M came out on top with a time of 2:32:29, followed by Shonny V (2:35:50) and Christine J (2:37:02), Kelley C was fourth in 2:38:56 and Danelle K took fifth in 2:39:06.

Race morning was busy in the Mitchell house. Between me and Patrick racing the championship event and Rex doing his first Xterra in the sport, there was plenty of energy. It was also the first calm and sunny morning I'd seen since arriving in Vegas and was promising to be a perfect day for racing. We headed down to Lake Las Vegas with plenty of time to set up transition and watch the start of the sport race. Transitson was quite at first, but quickly became busy and crowded as the rest of the athletes started arriving. I laid claim to a small section of dirt and neatly organized my gear. Then it was time to watch the sport athletes and struggle into the wetsuit for the first time this season. I knew the water was going to be cold, so put two caps on and headed to the shore. And cold was an understatement! Couldn't feel my face for a while as I paddled over to the starting line and my toes were more then a little numb.

Swim - The swim was the part I was the most concerned about, for a few reasons. Swimming tends to be the easiest to lose when you haven't gotten in the water for a while. I knew my swim time would be slower then usual because of that. I was also very apprehensive about the start - the look on my eye doctor's face was one of sheer horror when I said "and try not to get kicked in the face during the start?" So I knew I had to be careful - I was also super excited to see the start and transition area get moved. Not having to swim out of the tiny Loews cove was a huge relief.

Even so, when Kahuna Dave's tiny cannon released the pro field, I held back from the maelstrom. A little breaststroke to get to open water and I was off. I was behind my usual group of Emma G and Suzie S, but there were still several pink caps around me. Time to get settled in the water and try to maintain the position I was in. As we got into the sun, the water gradually warmed, but my toes were still numb. I holding strong in the group of guys, but swimming off to the side a little to avoid getting kicked. I was actually a little surprised as how easy the swim in the wetsuit felt. Around the first buoy and across the narrow lake. Then it was time for the long slog back under the bridge. And that seemed to take forever! Every time I looked up, it felt like the bridge hadn't moved at all. I was starting to get tired, feeling the lack of long, steady state swims. Two of the women around me started pulling away just a little. I managed to stay on their feet, just hoping to hold it until the finish. Finally, we made it to the bridge and the next buoy. Turning around the final buoy was a relief. None of the AG men had caught me yet, so I was pretty happy with the swim as the volunteers helped pull me from the water. I was a little disoriented as I ran to my bike, but it didn't last. No issues with getting the wetsuit off, but a little slow with the rest of the transition.

Bike - Out of transition and I was right behind Danelle and Kelly. My initial goal was to just try to keep them in sight for as long as I could. Kelly was gone in a hurry, but I was maintaing the gap with Danelle. Off the blacktop and onto the dirt and I closed the gap just a little. That didn't last too long and soon she was climbing away on the second long climb. I figured I was in 8th place, maybe even 7th, but there were still some fast riders behind me. As expected, Shonny soon passed me - we were on the longest climb of the course and she built a gap really quickly. Over the top and down the backside, through a small but deep sandpit and onto the next climb. I could already tell that I had no top end speed to accelerate at the top of the climbs. I was feeling strong on the bike, but still trying not to push the pace too hard (Dr's orders..) Down the fast, open descent that traversed the valley floor and more AG men started catching me. I still have not figured out why they insist on passing just before the start of a climb, then not riding all the way up the hill! On both laps, in the same spot - where the bike and run courses diverged, I had had a guy pass me in the flat, spin out on the climb, then topple over right in front of me! And both times, they were still clipped in when they hit the dirt! Made it through the wash - no issues, but sketchy loose. Jessica caught me at the base of that next climb. I held onto her through the narrow canyon descent and climb. Into the dam washout and Jessica dismounted just at the entrance. I rode about half way through, then lost the line and started running. Shortly after the dam washout, we caught one of the speedy swimmers. I was not able to stay with Jessica, but was trying to limit the deficit. She left me in the desert dust on the long hill and i was bearly able to see her red kit at the top. Then on the U-turn, I saw another yellow number plate behind me, closing hard. I was feeling the lack of training now, and just didn't have another gear. There was no sprint out of the corners or punch off the hills. Technically, I was riding strong, as I rode around another guy who toppled over in front of me. I just wasn't riding fast. I did manage to hold her off until just before the canyon descent. She passed me on the climb, I brought the gap down on the descent, but lost it again on the next climb. Into the dam washout and she was off and running as I approached. This time my entrance and the line into the concrete like ditches and loose rocks was good. I had the right gear and good speed and saw the line around the cones. And I rode all the way through, maneuvering through the rocks and up the dirt kicker at end. Cleaned the hardest part and made up all the time I'd lost so far in the process! My goal for the final section of the bike was to just keep her in sight and limit the deficit to something I might be able to make up on the run. I took advantage of the long blacktop section to get my gloves and shoes off. Down the switchback into transition and made the switch from cyclist to runner.

Run - I was still hoping I would be able to catch the next woman when I started the run. But it was quickly apparent that that was just wishful thinking. I felt like I was moving through cement! Something about not running in the last month might have had something to do with that. It was more of a sedate trot then a run and I was moving backwards in the field. There were people in the distance, but I wasn't doing much catching at all. The big hills were still to come and I was struggling on the lower, easier slopes. As I made the traverse on the long hill, I was able to look out into valley. And I saw the next woman flying easily down the far slopes. So much for running anyone down. The realization that I was that far behind and wouldn't be gaining any ground was discouraging. I tried to banish the black thoughts as I power hiked up the hills, but a few crept in, especially as I was struggling on the final hills and unable to find the flow on the down hills. I knew my run time was going to be slow, but I had not expected to fall apart that badly in the end. But I still figured I was holding onto 10th place.

Overall, I can't complain anymore about where my fitness was. I knew I was lacking the top end speed and that I hadn't been running at all. I was disappointed that I wasn't able to better contend with the other women. But the dusting off the cobwebs and shocking my system back into high level training and racing was good. I'm still hopeful about the rest of the season. And Rex had a great time racing in his first Xterra! Welcome to the tribe...

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