Garrard has excellent XTERRA adventure
As my triathlon season was coming to an end, it was hard to focus on my last race. But I knew my post-race Hawaii vacation would be that much sweeter with a strong finish at Worlds.
I arrived in Maui three days early to get a taste of the XTERRA World Championship course: Swimming in warm, salty water with waves and currents, mountain biking on loose lava rock and running in deep beach sand. It was just a taste, because there is only so much you can do three days before a race without pulling a calf muscle from running on the beach.
Although both the XTERRA USA course in Incline Village and the XTERRA World Championship course in Maui have a lot of climbing ” 2,500 feet, to be exact ” that’s where the similarities end. Hence, some racers do really well in one race and not the other. Eighty-degree water. Fifty-seven-degree water. Elevation. Sea-level. Dry, cool air. Hot, humid air. Snow on the course. Lava rock on the course.
You get the point.
XTERRA races are so different, each with varied distances and conditions, it’s hard to compare race times. Maui would take much longer to finish than Tahoe. Judging by last year’s times, I needed to finish the 1,500-meter swim, 19-mile mountain bike ride and 11-kilometer run in 3:36:19 or faster to be the fastest amateur.
Before the start I lined up for a traditional Hawaiian blessing. I missed this last year and paid for it in the race. I needed the Hawaiian gods to be on my side.
There was some confusion at the start. We were supposed to start on the beach, but racers kept getting caught by the beach break and dragged out of the water. A race official, or maybe an angry racer, was yelling repeatedly, “Everyone out of the water!”
As I waited on the shoreline, I tried to keep my footing on the sharp coral bottom as waves washed by my feet.
The race was on, and I was behind from the start. (I’m not a strong swimmer.)
Like always, there was a mad rush to get to the first buoy, with a current pulling racers to the right. I was right with Suzie Snyder, last year’s amateur winner and a top contender in my age group. I knew Suzie was a strong swimmer, so I tucked in behind her. As I rounded the buoy I could see tropical fish and scuba divers equipped with underwater cameras below. Suzie appeared to be swimming too far left of the next buoy, so I started swimming by myself. But I should have stayed with her because she came out of the water two minutes ahead of me after the second lap.
I looked at my watch as I headed up the first climb of the bike ride . My time was around 30 minutes. I was in good shape. I could immediately feel the heat on the bike course and started drinking from my hydration pack. After having a hard time with the heat last year, I stuck electrolyte pills to my handlebars. I also carried a water bottle on my bike, which I used to cool off.
While riding the first downhill I was all over the place and thought maybe my handlebars were loose. Then I realized it was just the surface ” loose lava rocks the size of tennis balls. I was continually catching amateur women and a few pros ahead of me as I headed up the side of the Haleakala Volcano on rugged Jeep trails. Soon I was only racing with men, although I sometimes had a hard time distinguishing the sex of some racers. The race featured athletes from 30 different countries where, apparently, men are not afraid to wear fuchsia.
The other interesting aspect of racing at Worlds is communicating with other racers on the course. Unfortunately I did not know “left,” “right” and” in between you guys” in 20 different languages. Luckily I did know the terms in Spanish, so I could move to the right when an Spanish-speaking racer passed and yelled “Izquierda!” on a downhill.
After too many hills and racers fixing flats to count, we headed up the final climb before the infamous Plunge, a very loose, rocky descent. I recognized the climb from the previous year and tried to go harder. I headed down the Plunge behind another racer and his dust. Although there was room to pass, I feared crashing on the not-so-good line, so I used my breaks more than I would have liked. To add to the pressure, I forgot to zip up my tool bag on my seat post and managed to lose everything in it. I was relieved after making it down the Plunge to have myself and my bike in one piece.
Racers are not allowed to pre-ride the bike course, making it that much more surprising. I had completely forgot about the last section of the course. As I headed into T2 I was feeling good. I was on schedule to finish in 3:36 and hoping I was leading the amateur race as I passed my family and friends cheering on the sideline. I felt a wave of disappointment as I saw a handful of age-groupers, including Suzie Snyder, leaving the transition area.
I had another quick transition into my running gear and I tried to think positive things like, “This is worlds; fourth is good,” and, “You can catch them on the run,” but I would have to have a hell of a run to catch them. The run seemed hotter than the bike because there was no breeze. Each water station looked like an oasis in the distance.
The run was tough ” the first three miles were uphill and exposed, followed by a couple miles downhill, and the last mile and a half were a combination of running on beach sand and through dense vegetation known as the Spooky forest. Not only was I worried about catching the racers in front of me ” actually, that hope vanished when I found out I was four minutes back ” but also getting caught by other age-groupers.
After shuffling through the deep sand at Makena Beach, through the last water station and into the Spooky forest, I knew I was almost done and was trying to pick up my pace. But I seemed to only go one speed. My experience racing steeplechase and being short helped in this section, as there was always a log to jump over or a tree to duck under … until one big misjudgment.
As I ducked under two low-lying tree branches on the run, I lifted my head up. BANG! I hit my head on another branch and fell to the ground. Apparently it was pretty loud because the racer 30 feet in front of me turned around and screamed, “Oh my god! Are you all right?”
I got up right away as I feared passing out and kept moving, actually feeling more awake. I ran across one more beach over a rocky headland where footing was critical, over a stone wall and into the finish with a time of 3 hours, 35 minutes and two seconds ” a 21-minute improvement over last year, but only fast enough for third in the 25-29 age group and fourth among amateur women.
I was helped from the finish line to the medical tent, where medics checked to see if I had a concussion by asking questions like, “How old are you?”, “Where are you?”, etc. I was in the clear, and my family made sure it made it on their home video.
Next year I will leave my helmet on during the run.
Emma Garrard is a photographer with the Sierra Sun. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Truckee-Tahoe had a strong showing XTERRA World Championship. Ross McMahan finished fifth in the 35-39 age group with a time of 3:15:00. Eric Ronning was 12th in the 40-44 group (3:29:22), Robert Kronkhyte was third in the 50-54 (3:57:32), Richard Silver third in the 60-64 (4:23:28), and Sarah McMahan fifth in 4:00:00.
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