I lined up next to Tri Diva's CoachHubby (no plans to draft off him after Vegas) and was treading water at the start. It seemed like an unusually violent start with lots of people grabbing and elbows and feet finding their mark. I started breathing every stroke because I knew the altitude would mess with me and even this was not enough to keep my system in check(6,500ft? starting elevation for the swim).
At about 300m into the swim I started feeling really sick. The pack had not thinned out, and while I was making pretty decent progress I felt boxed in by swimmers, the cold water hurt my face, and like I couldn't breathe. Being a strong swimmer I think this is particularly scary because I so rarely experience anxiety in the water. I had no choice but to try and ease back and get my head and my body in check. I didn't really succeed at either as I rode out a miserable swim wondering how one would throw up while swimming in open water and feeling weak.
Time 14:12. 1:46 pace for an 800 compared to Vegas where I swam the 1600 at 1:30. Suck.
My swim has been off this season and I think it's because I've been working so much on the bike and run and my back injury has really limited my reach and power in the water.
They had wetsuit strippers available, but never having used this before and being pretty quick out of my suit, I started stripping down and running up the short climb to transition. I was still having a hard time breathing and was slow to get in and out of T1. I finally got suited up and was preparing myself to struggle all morning, but was glad I wasn't as cold as I feared I would be - mid 50's at the start.
This is the real story of this race. I'll summarize it by saying it was the good, the bad, and the ugly. I hadn't ridden a mountain bike since the XTERRA race in Vegas almost a month prior because of my back pain. I hadn't had a chance to pre-ride the course. I was riding at close to 7,000ft in wet, sticky, and rutted mud. And I had the ride of my life...almost.
I immediately felt at home on my Niner EMD. This bike and I were made for each other. I've never felt such a connection with a bike and right out the gate I got after it. My breathing calmed down and I was catching people. I've grown used to being passed on the bike, but not this day. I can really tell a difference in my climbing from all the miles I've put in on the road.
Four miles into the race and the mud began. It was sticky and slippery at the same time. My PAM coated bike was definitely picking up less muck than other people and I was making some great moves past people stopping to unclog drive trains and forks. Just when I was about to really pull away I lost the front end and bit it. The muddy ground made a soft landing, but totally clogged up the bike despite the PAM. I tried riding, but now at a vicious climb I had no choice but to push. My back was violently apposed to pushing in the mud and I started feeling pretty intense pain that made me question how the last 2/3 of the bike and the 5 mile run would go.
this was clean compared to other racersClogged drive trains and rear triangles were the name of the game. Everyone was off their bikes and trying different strategies for carrying, pushing, and rolling bikes backwards up the hill. It was the sticky kind of clay that pulls up rocks and tree limbs. I lost ground to a couple guys in my AG because I was having a hard time finding a pushing position that didn't hurt. At the top of the climb was a gradual descent that I bombed down and lost a lot of muck that had been on my bike.
I could see a pack of 5 riders in the distance, but couldn't find the legs to catch them on my own. There was one rider ahead of me who was running about the same speed and I knew I couldn't pass him on the narrow singletrack so I started talking to him, "Let's go get those guys!", "You got it!", "Faster!". It worked. He dropped me and I had to really push to catch back up and ride his lines. It was awesome. We got to within a couple lengths of the front group and the trail widened enough for me to pass and continue the assault. My motivation looked pretty spent as I passed and his pace slowed. I owe that guy a beer or two. I couldn't have done it without you.
Before I could catch the front group there was an aid station which meant I was a little over 1/2 way. I opted for a bottle and a gu on the flat jeep road after the aid station and let the group get out ahead. After getting some hydration and nutrition I was ready to hammer out the rest of the race.
I put the Niner in the big ring and never looked back. There were miles of wide jeep road and my big wheels and legs were totally in sync. I passed the group of 5, I picked off one or two other riders (not sure of AG) and built a lead. This was the good.
Here comes the bad. Bombing down a hill I see what looked like an earlier part of the course on my left. There had been volunteers all over the course at any questionable turns so I assumed I kept descending. Then I noticed how few tire tracks there were in the mud. I had two riders behind me, but I whipped around and started climbing back to the part of trail I had recognized. Now there was a volunteer there waving the group of 5 in my AG to turn where I had continued straight. I managed to pull within just a 100 yards or so and figured I still had enough time to put some distance on them before the run.
Then the ugly happened. On a relatively clear section of trail I downshifted - or thought I was downshifting. There was a horrible noise followed by me being thrown from the bike. From the ground I saw the guys in my AG pedal off into the distance, but I still had thoughts of catching them. Then I saw my bike. The chain was busted in half and the rear derailleur was bent up and backwards into the spokes of the rear wheel. I didn't fully recognize how bad the damage was because I didn't want to admit that the 14 miles I just rode were all for not. I pulled the derailleur from the rear wheel and started running with the bike.I would get some speed, jump on, and coast before getting off to run and coast again. I did this for the next 1.5-2 miles. It hurt, it made me angry, and it made me sad all at the same time. When I neared the last climb to transition and people saw why I was running alongside everyone else riding, I got a surge of energy from the support of the crowd. I cranked it up a notch and ran my bike in to transition with two guys in my AG.T2
I was still feeling the rush of having actually made it to the run when I entered transition. However, I couldn't figure out how to re-rack my bike in all the excitement and came out of T2 behind the two guys I entered transition with. I was hot on their heels and told myself I just had to hold on starting the run.
trying to catch the shirtless guy
The crowd recognized me and was yelling for me leaving transition. I was running in the shadow of the two guys ahead of me until we entered the woods. Without the energy of the crowd, and having been redlining it for far too long, exhaustion hit me and put bricks in my shoes. I slowed my pace and watched the AG guys fade away. Then I walked.how my little one entertained herself while I ran
At mile 1.5 I started getting some strength back. At mile 2 I started thinking it was a beautiful day, and when I hit the turnaround at mile 2.5 I had a realization that changed my race. All the guys I saw running at me on my way back were behind me - and I had carried my bike 2 miles. I am a bad ass.
I thought more about being a bad ass and kicked up my pace. I was running alone and kept pushing harder. I was still running alone. I came out of the woods and saw two guys running down a gully and into the lake (the course had two, fairly long, deep water crossings on the run. I knew I could catch them. By the second crossing I was behind them and on the muddy all fours climb up the opposite bank I made my move closing the gap to running right behind the leader. I wasn't sure when to make a move for fear he would see we were the same AG and have more left in the tank.
making my move on the hill
Around the corner I saw nothing but more trail. I continued to push hard fearing he was right on my heels. I saw more trail. I continued pushing too afraid to look back and growing ever more concerned that I couldn't keep this pace. Finally a volunteer directed me to a set of water bar stairs and I scampered up before hitting the road and the finish line in sight. I snuck one glance and saw no one behind me, but put on the afterburners just be sure.2:41:58 - good enough for 8th in my age group
It might be surprising that I couldn't be happier with the results. All in all I had an amazing race overcoming physical and mental challenges that I never could have anticipated. The "what ifs" of the weekend are completely overshadowed by the sense of personal accomplishment in finishing and racing the way I did. This weekend taught me a valuable lesson about why I race. The challenge and personal experience of an event like this are incredible. This weekend was deeply personal, rewarding, and an incredible success.