After two years in Whistler, Xterra Canada moved to Canmore this year – a gorgeous rocky mountain town that J-F and I enjoyed living in for five years before moving an hour east to live in Calgary full-time four years ago. It is one of my favourite places to mountain bike in summer and cross-country ski in the winter and did not disappoint as the Xterra Canada venue yesterday!
A few blasts of rain the day before and overnight made for some slippery riding conditions, and we woke up to the first snowfall of the season on the mountain tops with the morning temperature feeling not much above freezing. After spending most of my transitions set up time shivering and chilled, ironically I finally started to feel reasonably warm for the first time after I got in Quarry lake for a warm-up swim. Thanks to a really warm summer, despite some very cold nights recently, the lake stayed reasonably warm for a September triathlon in the Canadian Rockies!
The gun went off at 9:30am, and about 150 competitors made the plunge for three 500m laps, and two short beach runs in between. It was a pretty bumpy start in the small lake. My neoprene cap felt like it was choking me, I was fighting to stay calm, sight the buoy, not get kicked or punched in the face, swim hard and find some feet to draft all at the same time – oh, isn’t open water swimming fun! By the second buoy I was in a small pack and drafting. I figured it was an okay pace, as any attempts to pull out and around the two in front of me failed. The funny part, I discovered later was that the two I was swimming with were the same two I’d swam with a month earlier at the Xterra Enduro – I guess we naturally found each other again!
When I exited the water, even though I hadn’t felt too cold while swimming, my terrible circulation still left my fingers and toes numb. I struggled the entire long run up to transition to get the velcro of my wetsuit undone. Finally, just before reaching my bike I got it undone and could start to get my wetsuit off! Off on my bike, I was over 5 minutes down on swim superstar Christine Jeffrey back in action for the second half of the season, about 2min30 from Melanie and Suzie, and another 1min30 from Chantel Whidney, an ITU triathlete trying an Xterra for the first time.
We had about a kilometer climb on the road to get to the Nordic Centre trails, which worked out by giving me the necessary time to get my gloves on my numb hands. I was feeling decent, and other than getting stuck behind a bit of a walking train of peeps off their bikes down the laundry chutes, I had pretty clear trail the first lap. Although the roots were slick I stuck to a good motto a mountain bike race buddy, Mike Garrigan always told me: “ride it like it’s dry!” and didn’t feel like it changed the conditions much at all, perhaps partly thanks to knowing this course and the lines so well. By the bottom of the coal chutes I had moved into 3rd place, but Renata joined me and immediately set a furious pace up heart break hill. I stayed on her wheel for that climb and from then on I kept her in contact and she dangled in and out of my sight for the rest of the ride.
Melanie was out front by over 3 minutes at the start of the run, and Renata had about 45 seconds on me. The run was extended by about 2 km from the previous Xterra Alberta course, and it was tough! With rarely a flat smooth section, the run course is constantly up and down, twisting, and over roots and rocks. I knocked my knees together several times and felt like I was about to twist my ankle a few times, especially on the first lap. I didn’t feel smooth or fast and I was hurting and heaving up the killer steeps. But I managed to catch Renata halfway through the first lap.
At the halfway point I heard I was still 2 minutes down on Melanie, so I just had to dig and hope for the best. Ian Crosthwaite caught me at some point and was pushing me hard from behind. By the time we hit the Biathlon range, unfortunately Mel was not “catchable” (she finished 1min08 in front of me) but I figured I would try to kick it in and finally drop Ian. When we hit the rocks I tripped and nearly face planted. On the dirt, he dropped the hammer and I tried to respond. That was when I truly hit the wall, its been awhile since I’ve hit the wall that bad running, but I guess if any place in the race, it could have been worse!
Overall, I’m happy with second, and a solid race with the second best bike split by seconds to Renata (who finished 3rd), and fastest run split of the day. It was so amazing to have so much support out there and the amount of cheers I heard all day long from spectators, volunteers and even fellow-racers kept me pushing. Congrats to everyone who completed this epic and very tough Xterra course, and to everyone who secured a spot to the Xterra Worlds race in Maui. It will be awesome to have another amazing strong contingent of Canadians there again. And of course, very cool to have three moms (myself, Brandi and Chantell) on the Pro Podium!!