Wacky Waco - Xterra South Central Race Report 2011

Thanks to a murky river swim, twisty, tight single track trails on the bike and a slightly long run through the woods, the Xterra South Central Championships in Waco is one of the most challenging races in the series. It's also one of the most fun races. I haven't had the best luck in Waco during the race, but the riding and running in Cameron Park is just awesome. The local community also takes great pride in the event, from the care taken in marking the course, to the hospitality provided to all athletes. It's well worth the trek and I hope will remain a fixture on the Xterra Championship series for many years. Without the defending champion in the field, it was a wide open race. A few unexpected challenges popped up, but nothing that this year's winner couldn't handle. In the end, Melanie came through first, followed closely by Shonny and Christine. Suzie had a great race to finish fourth and Emma rounded out the top five. Despite strained calf, I was able to hold onto my seventh place and finish in the money this year. Still quite a ways off the back at this point, but working my way into shape.

The race staging area and transition was just a few minutes pedal from my homestay (Thanks again, Cat and Ian.) Cat was also competing in the race, so we rode down the hill together. My backpack was nice and light - I'd left my wetsuit at the house since the water had been so warm the day before. A few of the pro men were riding back up the hill, but I didn't pay much attention to that. Then Christine rode by, saying "wetsuit legal!" Huh!?! How did that happen? How did the water temperature manage to rise 4 degrees in less then 24 hours? The pro racks were in a mild state of chaos from the unexpected announcement. I was lucky - my wetsuit was less then five minutes away. Some of the other pros weren't so calm - Melanie ended up borrowing a wetsuit from an age group athlete and Suzie almost didn't get hers in time. After setting my transition, I squirmed into the my wetsuit and jumped into the murky water. Ummm, yeah right! General consensus was that the wetsuit call was a little off the mark - I was pretty toasty...

Then it was time to race. I had a sluggish start and just never got into a smooth rhythm in the water. I quickly lost the feet of my usual group and could not recover. So off I swam into the darkness, hoping no river monsters were lurking in the silty water. I could not even see my elbows! It was a calm morning, so there were no waves on the river. The first section was pretty easy, swimming downstream. The trees slipped past quickly. Then the turn around the buoys and the swim went from easy to a little challenging. Up current and those trees weren't moving by that quickly anymore. And that last buoy was quite a ways in the distance. I had a group of athletes on my feet, at least one with a pink cap and they didn't seem interested in sharing the work at all. There was another woman just ahead of us, but I could not close the gap down at all. The lack of swimming over the last two months was starting to show! That distant buoy was not getting closer and I was getting hot in the wetsuit. I was also starting to get tired as it felt like we weren't going anywhere against the current. Finally, we rounded that last buoy and headed for home. At that point, I realized how slow my swim was for me. I stayed with Shonny and Jessica until the exit, got pulled out of the mud by the volunteers and ran to transition. My left calf was already tight and painful from that short run - not a good sign. I had a decent transition and started the bike in 7th place. I was hoping to make up some ground, but was more worried about dropping lower.

Bike - I love the bike course at Cameron Park. The local race organizers and sponsor bike shop Bicycles Outback, have always done a fantastic job with the course. It might be twisty, confusing and just plain crazy at times, but it's a blast to ride. It's a challenging course that requires some heads up riding, with steep downhills leading into near vertical climbs, fast and flowing single track. It is also course that demands quick accelerations, top-end speed and confidence on the bike - all things I was lacking! So my plan was to not worry about anyone, ride as hard as I could and have fun on the bike. Thanks to the person who spray painted "Yee Haw" at the start to the single track! Helped keep the stress down.

There was a four minute gap in the swim between us and the age group men this year, and it took a while for the first few guys to start passing me. I was able to use that time to establish a smooth and relaxed flow on the bike. Did have a few silly mistakes on one of the early switchbacks, but regrouped quickly and got settled. Smart shifting, spotting the corners best I could, and feeling smooth on the single track. I knew I wasn't riding that fast comparatively, but I was having a good time and enjoying the ride. I could hear other riders all around, the distincive sound of tires on gravel echoing around the trees. The course passed very close, twisting back on itself many time, but you couldn't see anything. To try and spot the other riders was just inviting a crash. So I kept my eyes on the trail and looking up around the next bend. Up and down, dodging trees, hoping small roots. I was noticing my lack of speed and acceleration, but was still having a good time and holding onto my position. Confirmation that I wasn't riding any faster then last year came at the start to the Highlander Loop. I was riding in and Shonny was riding out. I was about 15 minutes behind her, and I didn't know what position she was in the race. Oh well. Can't chase - just ride smart. I made the switchbacks on Highlander - something that had eluded me during the pre-ride. Another fast and fun descent, swooping through the trees, onto the long climb and it was my turn to exit Highlander - only a few miles left! I was still holding seventh and just having a blast riding my bike. A crowd had gathered at several spots on course this year, thanks to a shuttle for spectators. I know a few people who used the shuttle and really liked it. Cameron Park is kinda confusing for someone from out of town and the shuttle dropped people off where there was plenty of action. The course touched that area three times and the spectators got to see a few wipe outs, I'm sure, since they were at the places where the course came screaming down hill, then did a 180 and climbed straight up the hill we'd just ridden down. I was sorry to leave the single track - I had enjoyed my ride this year. But once we dropped onto the river trail, I had to start thinking about the run - something I wasn't looking forward to... My transition was quick, and I was back out in the woods.

Run - My calf tighten up with in the first few steps from transition. We were faced with Jacob's Ladder, a steep stone stair case right off the bike. I was scrambling up the stairs on hands and knees because of the steepness and size of the stairs. At the top, and the tension in my calf was quite evident. A slight modification of my gait and I was able to hobble along at a decent pace. Not fast, but making forward progress. Running on level ground and trails was fine, the down hills really hurt and I couldn't even run uphill. That made the first few miles really challenging as we meandered through the disc golf course, on some new trails, up and down some more stairs and back in to the woods. Onto the smoother single track and I wasn't making up any ground - I was bearly even holding on to the age group men around me. Shortly after starting Cali 56, as I was hobbling up a hill, Kim passed me. she'd made up the 7 minute gap with a great swim and strong bike. I tried to keep up with her, but the tearing pain was too much at that pace. I had to slow down to my steady limp. Despite the slow pace, I was still 7th pro. I had to maintain that position. I settled into a reasonable pace with a tolerable amount of pain. The run course was just as much fun as the bike course, I just wasn't able to enjoy it as much.

I realized on one of the longer, smoother straight aways that I could pick the pace up a little and not hurt any worse if the ground was level. So until the next section of rolling single track, I was able to make up some ground on the guys in front of me. I continued that roller coaster - catching on the flats, loosing time on the technical running. After a while, we turned right onto a flat double track section. Then the moment I had been dreading came - a woman with a yellow bib number pulled along side of me. With just about 20 minutes left to run, I had been caught.

Caught but not passed. She made the catch but did not pass. I noticed that right away and the feeling turned from dread and dismay to hope. Did she have the speed to get a gap since she hadn't passed right away? I decided that I wasn't going to wait to find out. We were on a level section and there was only more chunk of single track before the River Trail. I picked up the pace the best I could, blocking the tension from my calf. And the gap grew - she wasn't coming with me! Hope blossomed, overcoming the pain. If she couldn't stay with me, I had a chance to hold her off. I just needed to hit the River Trail ahead of her. One the next section of single track - a rolling, new trail the descended and climbed up several ravines, she brought the gap down a little more. But again, she never made the pass. Until she actually passed me and got some time, I was going to hold on. Hitting the blacktop road and I was able to pick up the pace a little more. I didn't look back, didn't turn around. I focused on the men in front of me  - trying to bring them back a little. She was breathing down my neck as we descended to the river trail. Finally, the moment I'd been waiting for - 10 minutes of flat, easy running. It was my only chance - I was going to run as hard as I could until the finish line or my calf prevented me from running. Which ever came first... The increase in speed was evident as I quickly started passing the age group men around me. Again, never a look behind - just looking down the trail, looking for the finish line.

Some how, I was able to maintain that pace. I crossed the finish line as the 7th pro, a small victory for me, but a hard won one. I ended up as the 9th woman, as Kim and another age group woman did have faster times. Compared to Melanie, my time was pretty slow. But I was satisfied. Came through some tough times, some poor training and medical issues, compounded by the calf issues. I had stayed tough mentally and was able to use the training I had when I needed it. Now it's time to start looking towards the next races, towards getting my speed and fitness back. And getting this darn calf healed up!

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