Post ‘Bama post

So this post is late!  But I had to try and beat all write ups from the first weekend of June – which was  HUGE weekend for our women’s group.  Quassy, Mystic River Valley Tri, Bike MS – I’m sure there are numerous awesome stories on the way for you!

 

Xterra Oak Mountain Post-Race Recap:

If you’re into Xterra and want a destination trip Alabama might not *seem* like the obvious choice, but this is an amazing race.  Warm, calm lake swim, varied bike course and a double loop run course around the lake. Besides the heat, I was a huge fan. I’m already planning a return trip for 2018.

We landed early on Thursday and tracked down a friend of Henry’s who runs a mobile bike shop to pick up a bike for Henry to use for the day (it is interesting trying to track down a mobile shop – they keep moving on you!!). After convincing Henry that sunscreen was indeed necessary (*eyeroll*) we set off on the course in the heat of the day.  The 20 mile bike ride contains a little bit of everything: tight, twisty singletrack, a friggin’ longggg fireroad climb (aka sufferfest), the infamous Blood Rock (a technical rocky down section) and a roller coast descent that keeps you on your toes.  I enjoyed the bike on the pre-ride, but knew instantly that this course did not play to my strengths.  This meant I would need a strong swim, strong run and to hammer the climb to make up lost ground. My coach had already prepared me for this climb. It was encouraging on the pre-ride when I looked back initially and Henry was no where in sight. I kept pressing.  When I reached the top of the climb I waited, and waited and waited until Henry finally came huffing up the hill. “How many days have you been waiting??”  From the pre-ride and my race plan, we knew this hill was going to be my moment.  My 4 mile uphill moment.  Damn it.

Friday morning was a low key day.  The idea recover from the pre-ride, scout out the run course, get into the water and rest up.  I slept in late and eventually wandered down to the hotel breakfast.  I had considered checking my own oatmeal onto the plane just to keep my normal breakfast routine but TSA might think that was bit weird, so I left the oats at home.  Enter my mom.

 

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The highlight of this entire trip had to be my parents surprising me.  I had NO idea.  And when I say no idea I think my initial reaction way “Holy sh*t that sneaky b*tch!!” (I mean that in a LOVING way, mom! ❤ ).  Turns out my mom and dad drove over ten hours from Texas to Alabama just to watch the race arriving in the middle of the night with a cooler full of food (and oatmeal obviously).  The weekend instantly became about so much more than just the race. Luckily my parents have been to enough races to know that there are some rituals and routines that are important. They let me go about my race business as usual: run course scouting and pre-race swim as necessary. After which we spent the day relaxing, enjoying each other’s company and mostly importantly early to bed!

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note: NOT my cooler in the background

 

Xterra is a triathlon.  As much as we joke that everyone at Xterra is more laid back and pretty chill, the morning of the race you can still feel the tension in the air.  Especially at a championship distance race where there are world championship spots up for grabs, the top 3 amateurs can claim their pro cards and the best of the best competition around is there. There was even more tension when they announced it would be a wetsuit legal swim for amateurs (not for the pros however). Everyone agonizing over the warmth of the water, how hot it would be, risk of overheating …. and me, just thankful I had last minute packed my wetsuit.

There were several races before I went off.  Xciter (super sprint length), sprint, pro men, pro women, young men, everyone else. (I fall into the everyone else category). “Lot of driftwood out there today” the guy next to me at the start noted.  As we looked out at the mass of orange, blue, pink and green caps I silently agreed with him.  My plan was to attack with swim start. Go out hard, get ahead and then cruise.  The swim went to plan.  By the first turn buoy I had caught some green caps.  Sweet.  I didn’t see many white caps around me, which meant I was ahead of most of my wave and where I wanted to be. After lap 1 you get out of the water, short u-turn on the beach and back in.  Henry was yelling something at me, but water in my ears and adrenaline I missed it.  Back in the water on loop 2 I was seeing pink caps. Hot damn. Pro women!!! That meant I had made up some of a 4 minute deficit.  No complaints there.

As I headed out on the bike I actually managed to interpret Henry’s screams.  I had made up a minute in transition and was sitting in 2nd place amateur.  Now, don’t get too excited – it was all downhill from here!  Unfortunately unlike road triathlons, you’re very aware of everyone passing you in Xterra because you usually have to get out of their way.  It wasn’t a quarter mile onto the trails before the take over started.  Slow swimmers: men, pro women, age group women all blowing past me like I was standing still. While I was prepared for this it is still a blow to my ego every time – me trying to find a rhythm while they’re flying by me (without the huffing and puffing mind you), making the mtb look effortless. Most people are pretty friendly, “if I could just get around when you find a spot” and I try to oblige to the best of my ability. It is a friendly enough sport.  I did have one guy ring his bell at me to pass, where I quickly scooted to the inside of the trail and told him to “go, go, go”.  Guess we both cut it a little bit too close because as he went around his bar caught mine and I went down.  The fall was not enough to hurt me – or the bike- but I felt a huge spike in adrenaline.  Three miles in that was not something I needed.  But I got back on and tried to settle down.  I think the only people I passed on the bike were those changing flat tires.  Once I hit bridge #7 (of the Seven Bridges segment) thoughts turned to the climb.  Up and up and up.  I pushed and kept pushing. Not many people caught me on the climb (compared to the masses that passed me before and after), but over halfway up I got caught by a slim, blonde girl in a Brave Heart kit (which might not mean much to non-Xterra racers); my tired, delusional brain screamed at me “LESLEY PATTERSON” – OMG OMG OMG – hold her wheel!  I’ll save you the trouble of googling, but Lesley is a 2x Xterra World Champ who owns a coaching business called Brave Heart Coaching.  She’s *not bad* at triathlon.  I stuck on this woman’s wheel up to the hills summit, and was immediately dropped like yesterdays’s news over the top.  In my mind, however, I said ‘it’s ok, you rode her wheel for a mile! You’re already a winner!’  — oh the lies our race brains tell us.  When I got passed on the run (my 1st lap, her 2nd) by a small blonde woman in a totally different kit, who got announced as the 2nd Overall Female Pro Lesley Patterson, I knew I had been duped!  Silly race brain.

After the climb, the tricky descent through Blood Rock (which I walked due to traffic) and a lot more up and down I finally hit the last section of trail back into tight, twisty trails. Thank you trail gods.  My arms were spaghetti and each shift felt like a monumental effort.  I just wanted my gloves off and to stretch out my right hand/forearm. The second I hit road coming off the trail I pulled my right glove off and rode like MJ into transition, slamming a final gu, with one glove shoved down my sports bra.  Maybe not picture perfect.  I heard my parents cheering and Henry (per usual) screaming at me.  “You’re 5th place female right now!  That woman in front of you is 4th!  4:00 minutes down of 3rd place!” I think I had to ask him “What are you saying??” once or twice before it clicked where I actually was.  Normally I’d be excited to hit the run, a strength.  Not today.  I could tell you almost immediately that these 6 miles were going to hurt – a lot.  My run turned into a trudge. My trudge turned into a kind of half-hearted shuffle. The 4th place female pulled away from me within minutes, my pace dropping off rapidly. When I came around after lap #1 on the two loop course, Henry started to give me time updates and I just shook my head.  “How far back?” I asked, again  “how far back?”  “You’re 6:00 minutes from 3rd” – I think he told me – CLEARLY not understanding my question. I was no longer hunting, I was trying to survive.  How far back was the next woman? I wanted to know, so that I knew how much walking I could get away with on lap 2.  I told myself, forward progress. Just keep moving forward.  I gave myself permission to walk the uphills and just kept trying to pick my feet up and not trip on any roots. I could feel the blisters on both feet, the oppressive heat.  My arm was still spaghetti, and now my legs were toast.  But I shuffled into the finish, tried to put on a brave face and give a kick into the finish.  I was DONE.

My parents and Henry got me immediately over to the spritz-ing tent.  I laid out over several chairs and tried to bring my HR down from 190.  Shoes came off and my crew adequately ‘ooohed’ and ‘awwwwed’ over the half dollar sized blisters on each foot, while I watched others get taken to the med tent for IVs. They had shoved a piece of paper with results on it into my hand after the finish; when I finally cooled enough to regain my head I was able to read it. 2nd AG, 5th Amateur Woman, 21st Woman Overall.  SMH.

Here is the reflective bit: 

The week before I left for my first “A” race of the season I spoke with a friend who expressed concern about needing to change her goals after she’d put it out into the world through social media. Thanks to Hunter and Team QNP we have these AMAZING goal boards to share our plans for the season (you might’ve seen them on our IG/FB).  And they are FABULOUS.  Buttttt the downside to these [public] goal boards is that when your goals change – or worse you [seemingly] fail to meet them it is more than just admitting to yourself that you didn’t achieve the original intent.  It is looking into the eyes of all of those who believed in you and telling them, ‘I failed to meet that goal’.  I told her that she was the only one putting expectations on herself and no one could be disappointed when our goals change.  Better to be failing, than fearful to try!  I never expected to need to take my own advice so soon!

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I put it out there.  And I failed.  

My goal for Xterra Oak Mountain was a first age group finish.  I ended up 2nd in my age group.  I know, I know.  That’s a good finish, on the podium, first time doing the distance, yada, yada, yada.  But it wasn’t where I wanted to be.  First place got me by a 10 minute margin.  Sometimes there is no predicting how good your competition can be.  You can do the work, but they might’ve too. Excuses or reasons aside, I didn’t get to check off that top spot.  And you know what? Oddly I’m glad.  I would rather put a stretch goal out there, something that truly motivates me, pushes me day in and day out. Something I have to work to achieve and yes, something I risk failure at than be too scared to publish what I want.  I want to win, I want to be the best I can be.  I am not scared to say that. Not every race is perfect.  So for all of those who asked how the race went – don’t be surprised that I’m not happy with 2nd.  Be encouraged that I will continue to fight and work until I get to say, ‘well I accomplished what I set out to do’.  Until that happens, I am not done.  I will adjust my goals as needed, but instead of making them lesser I will simply challenge myself to achieve more and keeping putting that challenging, stretch goal out into the universe.

 

This [mostly positive] race experience was followed by a HORRIFIC travel experience on the way home – delays, lost luggage, sleeping in baggage claim, almost murdering my significant other (see sleeping in baggage claim) – but I’ll save those woes for another post.

Mostly I want to thank Henry (Sherpa extraordinaire) and my parents – who made this race about so much more than racing.  The memories of sharing the experience with them helped lessen the sting of defeat a little.  Thanks also to Newington Bike for the continued support of my racing, Ben for keeping my bike running like a dream, and my coach Dave for the course prep, mental prep and race plan to keep me calm.  Racing is a team effort and I am lucky to have the best team in my corner.

 

Until next time!  See you on the trails.

-AB