2011 Xterra South Central Championships

For the 4th race in the US Championship series, the Xterra tribe traveled to Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, AL. With a great lake swim, an awesome bike course and a new run this year, this is one of the best stops on the Championship tour. Add in the good old Southern hospitality all the athletes enjoyed and that makes the South East Championship a do not miss race. Melanie took the win in 2:39:58, followed closely by Shonny and Renata. Christine and Emma rounded out the top five. I finished 8th for the second year in a row, but felt like I had a solid race. My swim is back to where it should be, my bike was strong and I mostly stayed upright and the run was better then expected given the calf injury. I'm starting to feel like my fitness and race-readiness is coming back. Now to start looking ahead towards my next Xterra at Beaver Creek!

After "weeks" of unseasonably cool weather according to my homestay, the summer temperatures moved in just in time for the race. Hello heat and humidity! And with nary a cloud in the sky, there would be no chance for a respite. I had learned from last year and made sure that all my water for the transition area was frozen and that my camelbak had frozen GU brew for when the temperatures heated up. This time, I also went out for an easy spin before getting in the water to warm up. Then, with my gear neatly set out, it was time to head down to the start. I got in the water, staying out the way of the sport racers and did an easy warm in the comfortable water. Finally, with all the sport racers out of the water, it was time to race. I had decided to go old school and not wear my watch - one less thing to worry about!

Swim - I had a plan for this swim - stay on Mel and Suzy's feet for as long as I could, then try to hold the pace. Unlike the first two races, this was a mass start with all the pros and AG athletes. I was ready for the melee, ready to hold my own against the other swimmers. As Dave's cannon echoed across the lake, I surged onto Mel's feet. I found a good rhythm to my stroke and was holding my position well. I felt comfortable and was confident with closeness of the other swimmers. The first buoy came quickly and I was still right with Mel and Suzy. Around the next buoy and I started loosing contact with the other women. I was holding position among the pro and AG men, but Mel and Suzy were pulling away. I was a few seconds behind them during the beach run between laps, but completely lost contact upon re-entering the water. Time to start phase two - maintain position and pace! I was still swimming strong and felt really good in the water. Around the first buoy again and there were no other green caps around. I got out of the water ahead of Renata and Emma in 4th place - a much better position then prior races this year! Renata out transition me - she was gone on her bike in seconds. I had a really smooth transition and hit the pavement for start of the bike course in 5th place.

Bike - Emma passed me just before the start of the single track. To my surprise, I was able to stay on her wheel for that first ten minutes of single track. I felt steady and smooth on the bike, railing corners and hopping the multiple roots. It was awesome. Then we hit the first small section of double track and Emma was gone. I couldn't hang on her wheel and she was gone by the time we reached the next section of single track. Oh well, fun while it lasted. Now just to see how long it would take for Shonny to catch me. It was just before the bridge I rode off on my pre-ride. A smooth pass and she was around. Once again, I tried to stay with her for as long as I could - and while it wasn't long, it was further then I expected. I was now down to 7th. I was hoping to hold Jessica until Blood Rock. But she caught me just after the start of the double track climb. And I've discovered a major weakness here - once again I could not hold her wheel up the climb. I tried but just did not have the power. Up and up the double track, counting down the red trail markers to the top of the ridge. Then the traverse across the ridge line until finally, the right hand turn onto the single track. The entrance to Blood Rock.

Suzy was on the side of the trail just after the first rock drop into the single track and before the switchbacks. It looked like a simple flat and she seemed to have things under control. I would later learn that she had crashed really hard. Around the first left switchback, then the sharper and rocky right hand switchback. Then time for the rocks. Two easier rock steps, then one maneuvering around a tree into rocks and roots. Finally, the entrance into Blood Rock. I knew the line, set up my entrance neatly, got my weight back, sighted through the rocks to the exit and rode. A huge cheer erupted as I cleared the rocks. Honestly, I didn't remember seeing anyone around the rocks, but Jeff said there were between 15-20 people there, hanging out and hoping for carnage. I stayed relaxed through the loose rocky and fast descent. I was riding right with the age group men around me, still holding my own on the rooty and twisty trails. Suzy hadn't caught me yet and I was starting to entertain the thought of holding onto 7th. But I had to keep my focus on the trail and riding - not crashing was the fastest way down the mountain and back to T2! Last year, I'd struggled on the last loop of the course. This year I was able to hold the pace through the twisting trail. Finally, out of the woods and onto the black top. I used the time to get my gloves and shoes off to prepare for a fast transition. And I made it quick - I needed every second I could find.

Run - I was not looking forward to the run at all. My calf was slowly healing from the injury sustained before the South Central Championships. I'd had a few runs without pain, but it seemed every time I tried running fast, it started hurting. So I had not had any quality runs in over two months. I knew it was only a matter of time for Suzy to catch me - she had been running really well this year. But I would run as hard as I could, trying to hold her off as long as I could. I hit the pavement and started picking off the AG men who'd passed me near the end of the bike. The sun was out and the humidity was high. Great conditions! Entering the single track and I was still moving well with little pain. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed Suzy entering the single track. She was steadily gaining ground. I didn't look behind me again. About two miles into run, Suzy made the pass. My calf was tight, but not unbearable so I tried to stay with her. It worked until the first hill - then the pain kicked in and forced a slow down. I didn't see Suzy again. I maintained a steady pace, hoping to pick up some speed once we got across the road. The pain in my calf had died down after I slowed, but still a constant reminder. Across the road and the trail leveled out a little. I was able to pass two of the men who'd caught me on the hills. That helped with the mental low after Suzy passed me and I was able to get back on track. I held onto 8th pro woman and was able to finish with a smile.

As always, a huge thanks to my homestay Jeff and Dee (and Annie and Rozie). It was a great time again and I appreciated the hospitality. Also a huge thanks to my sponsors - GU Energy Labs, Carmichael Training Systems and Ascent Cycling. I've slipped to 8th in the series now. It's likely I will drop to 9th after East Championships since I will be skipping that one. I'm okay with that - it's been a crazy year and the start of the season was more then a little stressful. But things have settled down. I've got a few things to work on before the last race of the Championship series - Xterra Mountain Championships in Beaver Creek. But after reflecting on this last race, there are some positives as well. I've got a good outlook for the rest of the Xterra season. Now just to spend some time to get healthy and stay healthy.


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