Racing favorite XTERRA race leaves bittersweet taste
The skies cleared Sunday for the XTERRA USA Championships in Incline Village, unlike the previous day’s XTERRA Nevada run under clouds and wind.
Sunday’s racers lucked out again with weather ” and I was happy to be there and feeling fortunate that the sport’s national championships were hosted in my back yard.
But, it’s not because it’s my home course. Ask any of the athletes who come from 43 states and 15 countries to compete in XTERRA and chances are they’ll tell you Incline’s their favorite course, too.
But mostly ” with defending women’s USA champion Jamie Whitmore, who has spent this season fighting cancer, announcing from the sidelines ” I appreciated that I could simply compete.
It was my third time competing in the race, and unfortunately my last. The XTERRA USA Championships will not return to Incline next year ” so it was my last chance to have a good race on my home course.
Breaking the top 10 would be tough as the women’s field was twice the size of last year, with an incredibly competitive international field of pros, including racers from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, Mexico and Canada.
Sunday, the lake was relatively calm compared to the four-foot waves the day before, which capsized boats and prompted Washoe County Sheriffs to cancel the swim for XTERRA Nevada participants.
Standing on the shores of the Hyatt Beach, the air temperature was in the 30s, making the 50-something-degree water feel warm. But yes, it was hard to think about swimming in the lake when I showed up at the venue in my down coat, gloves and ski hat.
In the tradition of XTERRA races, it was a mass start of professional athletes and age-groupers.
Although cold, Tahoe beats all the other water I have competed in this year ” be it the murky rivers of the Northeast or the not-so-clear reservoirs of Southern California. In the words of Reno-based age-group legend Tom Lyons, “Where else can you drink the water and not die?”
The swim course is two 750-meters laps. I swam side-by-side with Matt Boobar of Vermont. Coincidentally, we were both amateur champions last year. The swim was followed by a 400-meter run back to the transition area with numb hands and bare feet.
Once in transition, I grabbed my bike and headed down Lakeshore Boulevard for the start of the 22-mile mountain bike ride to the cheers of all the locals who came out to watch the race.
Renata Bucher of Switzerland zipped by me, but I was soon riding with friend and age-grouper Peter Hanson up the usually very sandy but now packed-down (from the rain) Tunnel Creek.
I caught a handful of amateur and pro women before getting up to the Flume Trail, where I tucked behind Peter’s 6-foot-4 frame and hung on passing a few more riders, including the top female swimmer, Linda Gallo.
Though the sun was out, it was still shady and chilly on the storied singletrack hanging precariously over the East Shore. I was lucky to not run into too much traffic on the Flume, as there’s not much room to pass and it tends to get bottlenecked.
Still following Hanson, we soon reached the wider section of trail around Marlette Lake, where aspen leaves are starting to change color.
Olympian Fabiola Corona of Mexico came into view. We passed her on the next uphill above Marlette before Hobart’s Road.
But just as soon as I passed Corona, adventure racer Sari Anderson crept up on my tail. We went back and fourth up Hobart’s but I lost her at the hill’s peak as I took a quick stop for a cup of Gatorade.
As we reached the 8,700-foot peak at the Marlette Overlook, I anticipated the plunge back to transition ” the fun part ” though, like all racers, I feared getting a flat on the steep and quick descent.
A half-hour later, I was relieved to make it back to pavement, and drafted off age-grouper Blake Voges back to the transition.
Having no idea where I was in the women’s race, I asked my friends and mum (my parents are British so I can’t refer to her as mom or she gets offended) cheering me on as I rode by. But I did not hear a response.
After I exited the transition again with my running shoes and water bottle in hand, I heard Incline resident Rachel Barth yell from the sidelines,
“You’re in 13th place and your mom says hurry up!”
I suddenly lost the relaxed feeling I had from surviving the bike course and gained a sense of urgency to chase down anyone I could on the run.
More cheers from locals gave me a boost as I headed out on the trail. Maybe the others aren’t far in front?
The running course is two laps of a twisting 5K trail through the woods and over creeks. I could still hear the helicopters above filming the event ” a signal, perhaps, that I was closing in on the lead group.
I passed a number of age-group guys but could not see any women in front of me until the end of the second lap, when I saw the name “Williams” on the back of a trisuit in front of me.
It was Susan Williams, the triathlon bronze medalist in the 2000 games.
It felt good to catch someone on the run, let alone an Olympian. I ran like I was being chased the last mile to finish with a time of 3:08:24, more than 7 minutes faster than my time a year ago.
It was only good enough for 12th place, leaving me out of the money for both the USA Championships and the U.S. point series. I was 11th overall on the season, just one place away from taking home a little money. (The USA Championship gives prize money away for the top 12 men and only the top 8 women. I’ll let you decide whether that’s fair.)
But like most pro triathletes, I’m not doing it for the money … right?
I was surrounded by friends, family and smiles.
The sun was shining and I had just finished my favorite race.
… For the last time.
So it was bittersweet. It was in Incline my triathlon career started. I knew it was my last time racing there. It seemed strange in the end, trying to get to the finish so fast when all I wanted to really do was savor the moment.
XTERRA USA in Incline, like for so many others, got me into shape, started friendships and reminded me why I live where I do.
I am forever grateful.
Emma Garrard is a photographer at the Sierra Sun. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As seniors from North Tahoe collected diplomas this week, a group of Lakers continued another local tradition — capturing first place at the boys’ regional golf championship.