What a season it has been leading up to Xterra World Champs. What low confidence I had at the beginning of the season quickly turned around as I won 5 out of 6 Pan Am Tour races, including the Pan Am Championships. So going into Worlds, I was feeling better than ever about my fitness and ability to contend for the podium, probably for the first time in my career. That is, if my legs would come around…for some reason I was having a really hard time recovering from Pan Am Champs and being able to train hard again. My legs felt sluggish and I couldn’t get to the intensity I needed to be at
on some of the key workouts that Coach Matt had laid out for me. I did what I could with massage, chiropractic, soft tissue and alignment work (thanks Matt Pendola), dry needling (thanks to Todd’s Body Shop), Marc Pro E-Stim, NormaTec, etc., but I still went into Worlds feeling a little less than 100% physically. Now if you’re an athlete, you know that how you feel physically can impact your mental race game tremendously, no matter what your previous results tell you about your fitness or how confident you think you are otherwise. I had a ton of confidence in my fitness level, but deep down, I was a bit worried about my ability to tap into that fitness.
My personal goal was to finish in the top three for the first time at a World Championship. I knew it was possible, but would not be easy. To be honest, with Barb Riveros pulling out of the race with a broken foot just a couple weeks before I was happy with my increased odds, but was still up against 5-8 strong women who could realistically land in those top 3 spots.
As race week progressed, the Maui rain continued to fall daily, making the course a muddy, slippery, unrideable mess. We’ve experienced this same pattern in previous years, but we’d been lucky enough to have it clear out and dry up just in time for the big dance on race day. This year our luck had run out and on Sunday morning the course was wet and slippery, and the ocean was also complete chaos. The swell was huge, wind was high and there were waves coming from every direction, not just from the north as usual. It was shaping up to be a long, challenging day.
On race morning, the nerves were at an all time high. I called upon a friend for some calming, reassuring words that I tucked away and thought about on later in the day to help pull me through some tough times when I was seriously fatigued and entering the self-doubt zone. (Thanks Alex!) Please note- I would not be able to race at this level without such an amazing support network around me, so thank you to all of my friends, family and fans who send me SO many encouraging messages, both before and after events! I love you all!
Back to race day…
My swim didn’t go too smoothly…I’m normally a strong swimmer, but today the waves, chop and current were really tough to deal with all the way out to the buoys AND back to shore… both times. On the swim finish and second water exit, I got caught on a badly timed wave and tumbled into the ocean bottom. I managed to stay relatively calm and surfaced but once I got my bearings I realized I was about to get hit by the next wave and couldn’t do anything except try and duck under it. Again, the power of the ocean was too much and it shook me up pretty good, tearing my goggles off and leaving me further away from shore than where I had started. I don’t even know how I managed to fight my way out of the water, but as I did, I saw the woman I had been swimming just in front of before getting tossed around, already at the top of the beach running to transition. I was a little frustrated but as I ran up the hill to transition, I had already caught that woman ahead of me and decided to put the swim behind me and focus on moving forward.
Like the swim, the first few miles of the bike course were challenging and frustrating. The mud was so thick and slick that I was off my bike nearly as much as I was on it and I had been passed by two women, putting me back in 8th place. I reminded myself that it was going to be a long day and to be patient, not expending too much physical or mental energy too early on. I tried to keep Leslie in sight but by the time we hit the split for the furthest loop section, she was gone. And it had started raining again. I focused on staying steady and had actually begun passing women in front of me. There were times when we were all pushing our bikes up the hills, pulling handfuls of mud off our frames, tires, derailleurs, etc., so that the wheels would start to turn once again. As time went on, I continued passing women and had moved up to third place by the time I hit the second aid station where I saw my support crew- Chris, August, Matt and Aimee, and I could tell were excited, and surprised to see that I had moved up so much. I took a fresh bottle of nutrition and a bottle of water to spray on my drivetrain in an effort to clear some mud and resistance. The final few miles of that bike course are extremely tough; twisty trails that don’t really flow that well and require a lot of accelerations and power output, and to make it worse, you’re riding on a soft, thick layer of cut grass that just sucks the energy out of your legs. I kept up the positive attitude and thought of the encouraging words I’d received and just pressed on.
I came off the bike knowing I was third and a couple minutes behind Leslie in second, but had no idea what was happening behind me. I know I should be thinking about moving up and catching 2nd place, but with my history of getting run down so often, worrying about who’s coming from behind is a hard habit to break. I was excited to be in a podium position for the first time at Worlds and was determined to finish what I had set out to do and finish there. I was definitely feeling the fatigue and knew I had to go hard, but be careful not to over do it. There is so much climbing early in this run course that it’s easy to push too hard early on and bonk even before reaching the top of the climb, which is about 3 miles in. I settled into a sustainable pace where I felt comfortably uncomfortable and just tried to push through, taking aid at every station to ward off the cramps I felt beginning in my quads. I kept thinking about all the long tempo runs up Dry Pond and the strength I’d gained in the weight room and it really helped me feel physically stronger. And on top of that, I desperately wanted to be done…so the faster I went, the sooner I’d be able to sit down!
By the time I hit the beach and the final stretch to the finish, I was running on empty, both physically and mentally. Although I was ecstatic with my result, I was completely exhausted and barely had the energy to raise my arms at the finish line. I felt like I had pulled every ounce of energy from my body and was SO proud to have achieved this goal that I had wanted so badly. I knew there were a lot of people watching the live coverage who would also be so happy for me that I felt even more pride in the work that I and my coaches had put in throughout the year. And to be able to execute and deliver the performance we all knew I was capable of when it mattered most made for the best feeling!
Again, I can’t thank my sponsors and support network enough; for providing top notch services and products that allow me to train and recover like a true professional: Reno Running Company, Sierra Endurance Sports, Natures Bakery, Altra Running, Optic Nerve, Hyperthreads, Todd’s Body Shop, Pendola Training, Matt Balzer, Stans No Tubes, Silver Sage Sports and Fitness, High Sierra Cycling, Fox, and Gu Energy.
Thanks to my coaches and training partners who push me to meet and exceed my goals and to keep reaching for higher goals.
And last, but certainly not least, thank you to every one of my friends, family members and any one who has ever left me a simple “good luck” message. The emails, text messages, social media love…it all gives me so much emotional strength, and you have no idea how much your words inspire and drive me to push through the self-doubt that creeps in during a tough event like this. It is greatly appreciated and I wouldn’t be nearly as excited to have accomplished this goal without knowing how many people were rooting for me and believing in me!
Next up- the final race of the year, ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships on Nov. 19th in Australia….stay tuned!