Dreaming big at XTERRA Mountain Championships | SierraSun.com

Dreaming big at XTERRA Mountain Championships

Emma Garrard
Sierra Sun

Courtesy Gene MurrietaConrad Stoltz of South Africa mountain bikes on the 30-kilometer bike leg of the XTERRA Mountain Championships at Snowbasin, Utah, on Sunday. Sierra Sun photographer Emma Garrard finished 12th among pro women.

After a week of staying up late to watch Phelps win yet another gold medal and waking up even later for my morning swims, I hoped that through osmosis I would glide through the water like Phelps in my next triathlon.

Dream big, right? Or whatever those Home Depot commercials say. Or maybe I could just think I was swimming like him even if it didn’t show in my results.

The final stop for the XTERRA regional championships was the Mountain Championships in Ogden, Utah, this past weekend. I was optimistic about the race as the conditions mimic those in Tahoe, with elevation, climbing and cooler temperatures.

Realistically, I hoped it would be my best race yet and move me up in the overall pro XTERRA rankings entering the USA Championship race in Incline Village on Oct. 5.

What keeps me coming back to race in Ogden, both in the summer and winter, is the warm welcome from the community and support for anything athletic and outdoors ” not to mention the scenery and singletrack.

The race starts with a 1,500-meter swim in Pineview Reservoir, a short drive from downtown Ogden. It’s followed by a 30-kilometer mountain bike mostly uphill to Snowbasin Resort, where we switched into running shoes and headed out on a 10k trail run.

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Water temperatures teetering at 68 degrees meant I didn’t know until the morning of the race whether wetsuits were permitted. At first we were told wetsuits were “optional” and later found out they were not permitted for pros. According to the International Triathlon Union, wetsuits are “forbidden” for pros when temperatures are warmer than 68 degrees and for amateurs when temperatures are warmer than 72. The significant advantage swimming with a wetsuit is that it provides extra floatation that can save minutes in a 1,500-meter swim.

I shivered on the rocky shore of the reservoir in the cooler air temperature, lacking even the speedsuit most of the pros were wearing as I waited for the start. It was a mass start for everyone with the pros starting in the water in front of the amateur athletes. I think this was intended to be an advantage, but it resulted in the larger wetsuit-wearing crew literally diving on top of the pros and swimming over us as we headed to the first buoy.

My dreams of swimming like Phelps soon vanished as I swallowed large amounts of murky water and tried to spot the first buoy through equally foggy goggles and morning sun.

No wetsuits also meant I lacked padding, or protection, in the full-contact swim. I also lost track of the pink-capped pro women I was competing against.

After two 750-meter laps divided by a short run on the rocky shore, we headed up to the transition area where we grabbed our bikes and headed up the mountain.

Surrounded by amateur men, I had no idea where I was among pro women as our climb opened up a spectacular view of the Wasatch Range. But this reminded me of how much farther I had to go.

“Lets go catch Shonny!” Will Ross of Anchorage said.

I laughed assuming he was joking, but he spun past me, so I guess he wasn’t. I gradually started to catch the top amateur women on the climb, but still there seemed to be very few pro women around.

I caught Linda Gallo, the first competitor out of the water, including men, as we neared Snowbasin and continued up the mountain on a steep, loose and rocky doubletrack. Cheers from spectators kept me going as my heart rate was maxing out. Luckily, I have a lot of practice on this kind of terrain in Tahoe, so I passed people pushing their bikes.

I got my breath back as the terrain switched to rocky singletrack and weaved up the mountain and back down for an all-too-short, two-mile descent to the bike-run transition. I had fellow pro Sari Anderson on my tail, winner of the XTERRA Winter Championships last March at Snowbasin. Sari passed me in transition as I had difficulty finding my shoes among the racked bikes.

As we ran out of transition and up the same slope we had biked up, the top pro men were already running down the hill and toward the finish. We headed onto some singletrack and into the woods.

While attempting to take off my sunglasses, I tripped on a rock and face-planted into the dirt. I would do this two more times before I finished the run, proving that trail running is far more dangerous than mountain biking.

I caught and passed Sari on some ankle-twisting rocky sections and managed to survive as we reached the highest point of the course at 7,500 feet. I could spot a few other women in front but was unable to catch them on the mile-and-a-half descent before the finish. I placed 12th with a time of 3:03.58 to move to 11th in the overall rankings.

More importantly, the race made me realize I still have work to do before nationals in six weeks and many more years of training before I can race with the top women in XTERRA. But with one more week of the Olympics, I’ll keep dreaming and gaining inspiration.

Never in my lifetime will I swim like Phelps, but being inspired by his historic success ” and $40 million in endorsements ” will make me go that much harder when I dive into the water of Lake Tahoe for nationals.

Besides, what good is swimming like Phelps without the bike legs of Conrad Stoltz and the speed of Usain Bolt?

Stoltz won the men’s overall with a time of 2:21:31 and Melanie McQuaid won the women’s race with a time of 2:40:17, moving them into the top position in the pro series.

Emma Garrard, who will be competing in the XTERRA USA Championships in Incline Village on Oct. 5, is a photographer at the Sierra Sun. She may be reached at egarrard@sierrasun.com.