XTERRA racing in Ogden | SierraSun.com

XTERRA racing in Ogden

Emma Garrard
Sierra Sun

Gene Murrieta/Provided to the SunRoss McMahan crosses the finish line at the XTERRA Mountain Championships at Snowbasin on Aug. 18.

In the 2003 movie “Touching the Void,” what kept Joe Simpson (no, not Jessica’s dad) crawling after he fell 100 feet, broke his leg and was stuck at a bottom of a crevasse ” then left by his friend to die ” was not the love of his family or will to live. It was having a really annoying song stuck in his head.

If he got to base camp, he reasoned, the song would go away.

I felt the same way as I chugged up 3,000 feet on my mountain bike when I had a song called “Lean Like a Cholo” stuck in my head at the XTERRA Mountain Championships off-road triathlon last weekend in Ogden, Utah.

The race is considered one of the toughest on the XTERRA circuit primarily because, even though it is at altitude, the 19-mile bike course is almost entirely up hill.

Conrad Stoltz, the XTERRA points leader, says Ogden “physically (is) the most demanding race.”

Last year in Ogden, I was beat by the course, so I came back ” but revenge wasn’t the only thing on my mind.

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Ogden, about 40 minutes outside Salt Lake City, hosted several events in the 2002 Olympics ” and XTERRA athletes are treated with the same type of world-class hospitality” but more on that in a second.

On race day, conditions were overcast and cooler temperatures changed the no-wetsuit swim to wetsuits recommended. As the triathletes headed back to their cars to get their wetsuits, I panicked.

Mine was in my hotel room.

Jumping back in the rental minivan, I sped back down the windy canyon road to the hotel, grabbed my wetsuit and headed back to the second transition, some 20 miles away, to leave my running shoes.

I arrived back at the start with just enough time to put on my wetsuit and set up transition before the starting gun went off.

The athletes dove into the not-so-clear water at Pineview and headed toward the first buoy. After being told by a local that several lake-goers had gotten sick from swimming in the water, I tried my hardest to keep my mouth shut, but the thought alone was making me feel sick.

After a pair of 750-meter laps of weaving through hundreds of swimmers, I headed up to my bike in transition. I was pleased with my swim ” it seemed fast (around 25 minutes) and I was ahead of many pro women.

Arriving at the transition area, I did not see my bike. Like a mom lost in the mall parking lot after closing, I ran up and down the aisles frantically. Eventually I saw my blue towel and was kicking myself for losing time, something I could not afford.

After spotting someone else’s “good luck” balloon used as a marker, I decided I needed that same kind of luck for Tahoe.

I headed out of the transition toward Snowbasin Resort. I felt something dragging in my rear wheel. I looked down and found that my tool bag had fallen off my seat. I pulled it off and just before tossing it on the road, stuffed it in the back of my race top and kept on cycling ” hoping maybe I could be a good Samaritan and hand it to someone in need.

As I headed up the wide fire road, I was soon getting passed by a lot of mountain bikers, including Shonny Vanlandingham, a six-time U.S. National Mountain Bike team member, whom I watched closely until she was out of sight.

This race suited mountain bikers as the swim and run were a much shorter portion of the race.

The trail was perfect. The previous day’s thundershowers turned the loose dirt to firm mud, but the storm also made the numerous bridge crossings dangerously slick, causing several riders, including myself, to lose control.

After the first downhill, we passed several pro men on the side of the trail fixing flats, but none of them needed my tool bag.

I was stuck behind a line of five guys, and I wanted to go faster. For the first time since I started racing XTERRA, I was actually going faster than my male competitors on the downhills and thought “roadies.”

When I got to the lodge of Snowbasin my legs were burning, but I still had another six-mile loop on the bike course. Luckily, the trail widened, allowing space for passing.

But I still had the song stuck in my head.

Soon, I was on top of the mountain looking out over the Washoe Mountains and the Pineview reservoir and starting my descend.

It was time to prove to myself I had improved as a biker since Downieville earlier this summer, so I set out to pass some guys on the downhill. I was more confident at riding but found passing a challenge.

As I squeezed by the riders on a series of switchbacks, I had a huge sense of accomplishment, more so than crossing the finish line. For the first time I was really enjoying the downhill and was unafraid of crashing. Can I now consider myself a mountain biker?

My bike-to-run transition was smooth, but I knew I still had to catch one more woman in my age group.

I headed out on the 5.2-mile run, which again went directly up a ski run for the first mile and then back onto single track. I felt like I was racing the Squaw Valley Mountain Run and I was ready to be done ” the bike had taken its toll.

I kept looking at my watch and the minutes started seeming miles apart. My spirits lifted as I saw two women in front of me ” one was Suzie Sydner, the 2007 amateur world champion who was leading the 25 to 29 age group.

I passed the women before the last downhill to the finish ” opening up my stride ” gave some high-fives to local kids and pounded down the ski slope to finish with a time of 3:19:03.

As for that Ogden hospitality: The crowd, which included some 700 racers, family, friends and locals, celebrated the tough race with free food from local restaurants and live music at an outdoor amphitheater in downtown Ogden.

I can only hope when the XTERRA USA Championships returns to Tahoe next month, Incline Village gives racers half the hospitality of Ogden.

And that I’ll have a new song stuck in my head.

Emma Garrard is a photographer for the Sierra Sun. She may be reached at egarrard@sierrasun.com.

Other Tahoe competitors included Ross McMahan of Incline Village, who placed third in the 35-39 age group with a time of 2:52:03, followed by Gary Mandy of Truckee with a time of 2:55:03. Eric Ronning of Incline Village placed 10th in the 40-44 age group with a time of 3:21:37. Drew Casselberry of Incline Village and Giovanna Mandy of Truckee won the male and female XTERRA Golden SpikeTrail 12k Run. Casselberry finished in 46:59.4 and Giovanna in 49:55.5.