Local wins XTERRA USA amateur race
October 2, 2007
Last week while being interviewed for televised coverage of the XTERRA USA Championship race in Incline, one of the questions caught me off guard:
“If you could write the headline of Monday’s paper, what would it be?”
Should be easy for a journalist. It wasn’t.
I responded, with some hesitation: “I would want it to say, ‘Tahoe local wins XTERRA USA Championship race.'”
Then I realized I had just added a lot of pressure, especially as I continued to feel under the weather from the change-of-season cold that’s going around.
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But deep down, I knew even though I’d lost a few regional races this year to some other top amateurs, with a home course and a home crowd, I had a shot at the amateur title.
Race day Sunday couldn’t have started better.
Like photography, my race was defined by moments. The first came while I was waiting on the beach at the Hyatt before the start of the race.
“Good luck Emma,” said Conrad Stoltz, former Olympian and the 2007 XTERRA Champion.
Perhaps the coolest part of XTERRA is that the pros, amateurs and challenged athletes start together ” and we know each other’s names.
“You too,” I responded with a smile.
The 58-degree water seemed toasty compared to the 28-degree air at the Village Green in Incline early that morning.
The swim seemed long, but I was among pro men and women when I emerged from the water.
Unlike the red and green heads bobbing like tiny buoys, I wore a white swim cap so I could be identified by the TV crew who chased me with cameras underwater from a jet ski and running along the beach.
My race results would reflect my interview comments ” to be televised for all to see.
My second telling moment came when I was sprinting onto shore toward the transition area. I looked to my left and saw a swimmer get out next to me.
As I looked closer, I noticed he had one leg of his wetsuit tied off at his knee. He was competing in the challenged-athlete division as a below-the-knee amputee.
The run to transition was brutal; my feet and hands were frozen and I felt like I was running on shards of glass back to the Village Green.
The “shards of glass” were actually chunks of salt sprinkled on the sidewalk to break up the morning ice.
My hands were so cold I had difficulty putting on my bike shoes and gloves in the transition.
And there was the trusty TV crew, filming and asking questions, which didn’t make it any easier for a “smooth” transition.
I headed out along Lakeshore for the 32-kilometer mountain bike ride up Tunnel Creek, where I soon got passed by Katrin Tobin, another contender for top amateur and a former pro cyclist.
She was moving swiftly up the hill, and I could not stay behind her. I was then passed by Davis, Calif., resident Cliff Millemann, whom I always seem see while racing. I stuck with him as he gave me encouragement.
The usually very-loose sand on Tunnel Creek was packed down due to the previous day’s snowfall; after 1,600 feet of climbing, I passed four racers in my age group and was in second place in the amateur race behind Tobin.
Shonny Vanlandingham, one of the top mountain bike racers in the United States, passed me as we crested the top of the hill, leaving me headed onto the Flume by myself with nobody to chase.
To my surprise, I caught Vanlandingham and a few other riders and kept up with them until the Flume Trail ended at Marlette Lake.
The next moment came as I found myself next to a hometown acquaintance from Anchorage, Alaska, Will Ross. Ross went to my high school and was one of nine Alaskans competing in the race.
My home state had a better turnout of participants than host Tahoe-Truckee.
At the next peak above Marlette, I got another “sign” ” literally ” as I saw the Alaska Tri Club sign tied onto trees with fellow Alaskans cheering below it.
After the final climb to Marlette Lake Overlook, at 8,700 feet, we started a 2,500-meter technical descent. It was a relief, but I knew I had to work just as hard on the downhill to catch Tobin.
Most of the technical sections had the trusty cameramen waiting to take a shot, which motivated me more to ride through the technical granite.
As I passed Incline resident Gene Murrieta, who was taking photos, he cheered and yelled, “You’re 10 minutes out of the lead! …”
Guess I should settle for second, I thought.
“… from the top pro!” Gene finished.
Inspired as I rode the last section of the Rim Trail to Tunnel Creek, I could see Tobin’s bright yellow jersey in front of me getting closer. I soon passed her on the descent and headed into the bike-run transition.
I thought about all the people there watching, and it made me that much faster.
I was nervous to be leading the race with another 10 kilometers of an obstacle-laden trail in front of me. My nerves were eased when a male competitor passed me and said I had a two-minute lead.
One of my final moments came as I ran through the water station, grabbed some water and heard a voice from one of the Incline High volunteers:
“Hey that’s the girl from the newspaper!” … then a delayed cheer.
I was scared for a moment when a female competitor ran by me. As I ran beside her, looking to see if she was an amateur, I ran straight into a tree, cutting my lip.
Luckily, she was pro ” and I didn’t require stitches.
As I closed in on the finish I was chasing a dirt bike with a videographer on the back ” cameras again, but I can’t complain.
Even though I was tired, I had to run a little fast to look good on camera. As I rounded the last corner I heard loud cheers and the announcer saying I was the top amateur.
I felt a surge of energy, raised my arms in celebration and sprinted to the finish to be greeted by friends, family and the amazing staff of XTERRA.
That was the greatest moment.
Emma Garrard is a photographer at the Sierra Sun. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.