Racing to XTERRA Worlds |

Racing to XTERRA Worlds

Courtesy Gene MurrietaSierra Sun photographer Emma Garrard pushes her bike up the first sandy climb at the XTERRA West Championships in Temecula, Calif., on Sunday. Garrard placed first in her 25-29 age group and eighth overall.

As much as I try to not take racing too seriously, I found myself getting increasingly nervous as I counted down the days to Sunday’s XTERRA West Championship triathlon at Vail Lake in Temecula, Calif.

I was pretty confident after my first race in Granite Bay, but that was almost two months ago, and I started to second guess myself and worry about who would show up.

I was primarily nervous because I wanted to place in the top two in my age group to qualify for the XTERRA World Championships in Maui at the end of October. There are more opportunities to qualify after Temecula, but I really wanted to get it out the way so I could have fun competing in other races. Last year I qualified for worlds without expectations and I was in better shape this year. However, this year my age group is tougher.

As I set up my transition area the morning of the race, I felt my nerves lift as the gun went off for the XTERRA Sport race and the pop music started blaring … “Let’s get it started iinnnn heerrreee.” I had to smile. I had heard this song hundreds of times and this was just another race.

After a quick warm-up on the bike, I headed down to the reservoir to get ready for the swim. The water was 67 degrees with wetsuits optional, which meant everyone wore them anyway because they are faster. The air was a cool 68 degrees but temperatures would soon rise into the 80s when the morning fog rose. I had to make sure I stayed hydrated during the race, which meant riding with a Camelbak and a water bottle I used mainly to cool myself down. There was also no shade anywhere on the course.

The swim was two laps of a 750 meters, with an approximately 50-meter beach run between laps. I wasn’t too worried about the swim. I usually take it easy the first lap and go harder on the second once the field of 250-plus racers spreads out. It’s not my strongest suit, so I stayed relaxed and worked on my form.

During the second lap I managed to pass a couple of pro women I spotted because of their hot pink caps. I managed to make it through the swim and transition and onto my bike in 28 minutes. Perhaps all the early-morning masters swims I had made it to had paid off. I was happy to beat the 30-minute swim crowd I was used to battling it out with on the hills during the bike.

The two-loop, 19.5-mile mountain bike course at Temecula was well suited for me: lots of climbing, approximately 1,200 feet, but not too technical. This year the course was a lot slower, with numerous sandy sections that made me feel like I was in slow motion and some technical but fun single-track.

The hills were steep, some too steep to ride up, at least for me. The trails were wide, so passing wasn’t too difficult on the uphills, except a few technical sections where people were walking but not getting out of the way.

Early in the race I caught up with Laura Home, the top amateur at nationals last year, so I knew I was up there. I was right behind her on all the climbs and kept her in my sights on the downhills.

I passed a few girls in my age group on the first lap, riding by them as fast as I could so they didn’t see my age on my right calf. I had one close call when a rider passed me on the single track and proceeded to crash in front of me. Miraculously, I managed to swerve around him. I felt lucky to not have any bad crashes or break my stretched and needs-to-be-replaced chain.

By the end of the second lap I had caught up with Laura and found out we were second and third out of amateurs. Katrin Tobin was in the lead, and out of sight. I was thrilled to be in the top three amateurs and know that no one in my age group was in front of me as I headed into the run ” my strongest leg of the race, although this run was more like a hike.

As we went into the second transition, apparently the race announcers and volunteers were making bets on who would be top amateur. I got one vote.

Laura and I headed out on the run. I was expecting to run with her and hopefully catch up to Katrin, but I broke away from her on the first hill and was running alone.

The run was killer ” 5.5 miles along ridgelines with steep hills. The first hill alone was a 300-foot climb while the rest of the route was narrow with sandy trails that added another 900 feet of climbing. I found it faster to do what I call “power hike” on some of the uphills. I tried to run as fast as I could on the downhills but worried about tripping and falling off the ridge.

Luckily, there were three feed stations per lap and a slight breeze at the top of the course that keep me slugging. During my second lap I was catching a lot of racers, but unfortunately they were a lap behind me, meaning Katrin was nowhere to be found.

There was one last feed before a long downhill to the finish. As I headed into the finish with a time of 3:17:35, it was hard to not smile, both in relief that the race was over and joy I had qualified for worlds by placing first in my age group. I also placed second out of amateurs and eighth overall. As I sat in the shade slightly light-headed, I drank what tasted like the best water ever.

I was congratulated by Incline Village racer Ross McMahan, who didn’t race but was waiting there with his 1-year-old twins for his wife Sarah McMahan to finish.

McMahan soon crossed the finish line in 3:36:18, placing third in the 35-39 age group. Sarah later had to be taken to the medical tent after suffering heat exhaustion.

Other racers from Tahoe included Eric Ronning of Incline Village, who placed sixth in the 40-45 age group with a time of 3:08:43, Richard Silver of Tahoe City, who placed second in the 60-64 age group with a time of 3:59:50, and Dane Shannon of Tahoe City, who finished 14th in the 25-29 age group with a time of 3:53:37 after suffering a serious crash on his bike.

Emma Garrard is a photographer for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

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