I’ll be honest: this isn’t the kind of blog post I thought I’d be writing after this year’s World Championship race. Not at all.
I’ve raced the Xterra World Champs in Maui 5 years in a row now, and not once before have I ever ended my season on a bad note here. Actually, I’ve had nothing but exceptional races on this course, ending each of the last four seasons with a big, seriously gratifying exclamation point each time. You could say I’ve been lucky in Maui… I’ve never had any major mishaps here, I’ve never felt “off,” and I’ve always been able to put my best foot forward. But I’ve also always been really, really prepared. (Thanks to some truly incredible coaching that has enabled me to be at my best each time, and ready to step up when it matters most). On top of that, Maui is a really challenging course that suits me quite well, and one I always feel very confident I can succeed on. It certainly takes a combination of factors to do well at this race, and you can’t really nail it if any one of them is missing.
For the past four years, I’ve been able to put it all together here, and have improved my performance consistently each time, moving steadily up the ranks. It’s been a good streak for sure, and I felt better than ever about my chances to keep it going this year. Because never before have I been this prepared. Never before have I come in to the race feeling this confident. Never before have I expected so much from myself, and believed so wholeheartedly in my potential to make good on those expectations. Coming in to Maui, I can truly say that I was in the best shape of my life, period. I was healthy, strong, excited and ready to go. I felt truly poised to continue my streak of improvement, and break into the top-10 here for the first time. Unfortunately, though, the one thing I didn’t have this year was luck. And as it turned out, this was a day when that factor would prove to be more important than ever.
But let’s back up a bit… (Because I’ve got a lot of catching up to do here, and there was one other really big race before Worlds that was a very important part of the journey there.)
The Precursor: Xterra Pan-American Championship
It was a long process to arrive at the start line in Maui more ready than ever before, and one that ultimately started as soon as last year’s race was over. As I mentioned in my last update, there were some ups and downs this year — as always — but I started building some really good momentum towards the end of summer, and I could tell I was reaching a new level. I continued to build on that and put in a really big training push coming in to the Pan-American Championship out in Ogden, Utah in September. Training was going incredibly well, and I was seeing massive improvements across the board, but especially in my riding, which is already my strength. Feedback from my key sessions was overwhelmingly positive. For example, on the interval loop I use most regularly in my big late-season efforts, my average times had dropped from 10 minutes (before Worlds last year) down to about 8:40. I felt like I was finally putting everything together and the gains I’d been working toward all year were starting to accumulate, and it was especially thrilling to have that objective feedback to confirm what I was already feeling.
I arrived to Pan-Am Champs with the most confidence I think I’ve ever had coming in to a race, because I knew with 100% certainty that I’d done everything in my power to be as prepared as I could possibly be. As I’ve said time and time again, that really is the absolute best thing you can ask for before a race. There was a lot at stake for me there, as it was the culmination of the Pan-American pro series. I was sitting in 3rd place in the series coming into this final, but had a very slim margin over 4th, and 2nd place was also well within reach. But I would need to have a truly great day. That has never happened to me before in Utah, but I was confident this could finally be the year. I was ready for a breakout performance. And I decided that I was going to go for it. I decided I was going to dare to be great.
Not just good. But great. I wanted to exceed the expectations. I wanted to truly fulfill my potential. I wanted to get way out of my comfort zone, throw caution and calculated effort out the window, and just race completely, 110% uninhibited. I wanted to be bold and courageous and take risks — and be totally unafraid to fail. And that’s exactly what I did that day.
After (yet another!) “just-okay” swim at this venue, I got onto the bike, where I knew I needed to go BIG, and I absolutely rode my heart out. I never looked back, and I never let up. I took off 12 minutes from my ride time last year, moved up three places in the women’s elite field (from 7th out of the water to 4th off the bike), and got to within about 90 seconds of 3rd place as I hit T2. It was the effort I’d been looking for from myself; the effort I knew had in me, and that I really needed on this day. It was also a risky one, but I refused to be afraid of the consequences. If I failed, that was okay, but I needed to know I’d really put it all out there, and hadn’t played it safe. I wasn’t quite sure if I could hang on, but I was damn sure going to try…
So I ran hard, shutting out the feeling that I was running on empty. (And I literally was doing just that, as I’d had to go on antibiotics just a few days before the race due to a bad infection, and as a result I had stomach issues that kept me from being able to get any food down whatsoever during the race). And when it started to really hurt and I felt like I might be beginning to fade, I dug deeper and ran a little harder, and managed to keep the pace up. I didn’t know what was happening behind me or up ahead, but I knew I was still in 4th, which would keep the door open for that 2nd place overall series finish, depending how things were shaking out with the rest of the field. I just needed to get. to. that. finish. line! And… I almost made it. But with about a mile-and-half to go, the most fleet-footed woman of the race, and my closest competitor in the series, came by looking phenomenal. And just like that, I was relegated to 5th. Which, while it wasn’t the 4th place I had felt in my grasp and gone all in for, was still by far my best finish ever at this event. In the end I maintained my 3rd place overall ranking in the series, which is likewise my best-ever pro series result.
Though in the end I didn’t quite have the ideal result I felt was possible, and the day wasn’t totally perfect, it was, indeed, a great day. Not just good, but great. I had some pretty big ambitions for myself here, and I did believe it was possible for me to finish in the top-three given all the progress I’d made, but I knew it would take an absolutely perfect day, and realistically I knew it would probably also require that someone else had a not-so-perfect day. The women’s field was really strong here, especially at the top end. While I considered myself a contender, I knew the racing would be super tight. And in the end, everybody ahead of me showed up in a BIG way. Nobody brought less than their very best, and there were no mistakes to capitalize on. It was truly a match-up of A-games.
But I’m really happy and grateful I got that opportunity to compete against these ladies at the top of their game, and to be able to see what I could do when I was also at my best. I’m grateful I was able to put everything I had into chasing down those big goals, even if I came up just a little bit short in the end. And results aside, I did everything I set out to do here on a personal level. I set bold intentions, I chased after them 110%, I left it all out there on the course, and I had no regrets. When I crossed the finish, I truly felt like I’d emptied the tank in a way I haven’t quite been able to do yet this year, and I knew I’d had the absolute best race I possibly could on that day. You simply can’t ask for more than that, and I was supremely proud of this effort! Most of all, I was thrilled for Maui, because as good as this day had been, I knew I still had room for improvement, I still had another level to reach, and ultimately I still had more to give. I felt like I had now seen what I was capable of, and I just needed to put in a few final touches to be able to get there. I needed those last few weeks of training to tap into that extra gear. And then, perhaps, I could finally have that real breakthrough I knew was in my reach; so close I could feel it.
Pushing for More
So we pushed on, and we pushed hard. I did cross races, running races, and some of the toughest key intensity sessions I’d had yet. We took a risk by continuing to up the training load after all the progress we’d already made prior to Pan-Am Champs, but we accepted that risk, and we went for it. Because we still wanted more – not just more of the same. Once again, we dared to be great. And while there were some really incredible days, there were some really hard days, some really tired days, and some days when I seriously doubted myself. But in the end, Coach Aug proved to have planned things perfectly yet again, and when the taper finally arrived and it was time to head to Maui, I felt stronger than ever, and completely ready to race. I had found that final gear. I was ready to do something great.
**Part Two, with all the (crazy) Maui race details and my post-race reflections is posted up in the next blog!** Thanks for reading!