I love mountain venues. I think they remind me of my first years of mountain bike racing. A beautiful ski hill resort, lots of fresh mountain air, plenty of climbing usually rewarded by long, fun, technical descents (although the long descent factor was missing this weekend!). A very relaxed place to be for a race!
Back in Beaver Creek, Colorado on Thursday for the Xterra Mountain Championship this past Saturday, I timed my only pre-ride of the course by finishing the last technical descent in the dumping rain. Not the best way to check the feel of the trails which were all dry and nearly dusty again by Saturday! After an ideal pre-race day of run-nap-swim-eat beets I was feeling ready and rested.
I knew being next to Vail, CO that we were high and in thin air but I honestly couldn’t tell you the altitude before the race. I just know it pays to be a wee bit more conservative but otherwise my only plan was to listen to my body as usual – race hurt is race hurt! But for those interested the race included 3,600 feet of climbing on the bike and another 1,300 on the run. It started at 7,400 feet and peaked out at 9,400 feet.
I had a pretty good swim and was actually enjoying myself for most of it. The first lap I was drafting a crazy splashy kicker until I realized I was faster if I pulled to the side and away on my own. I had a good rhythm and felt like I was stroking strong. On the second to last buoy my arms were definitely feeling heavy but the timing was fine with the bike only a few minutes away…
Onto the bike I was down 3.5 minutes back of the leaders Julie Dibens (3x World Xterra Champ back in her first race in nearly two years after battling injury) and Flora Duffy. My teammate Suzie Snyder, as well as Kelley Cullen and Emma Garrard were also up ahead.
As we headed up under the ski lift to begin the first 3.5 miles of climbing I could see Shonny back down the switchbacks. With her absence last year I knew she would be the biggest challenge of the day for me to attempt a repeat win from last year, especially as she lives in Durango during the summer.
By that 3.5-4 mile mark I had passed Emma and then Kelley on the beginning of the pavement climb. By the end of the pavement I had passed Flora and could still see Shonny sneaking up on me. After a few miles of pavement we were back on the dirt and STILL climbing. And the top of all the climbing Shonny caught me and our teammate Suzie was in contact just ahead. After all the twisting descending and flats through some Aspen trees I had lost contact with Shonny but bridged up to Suzie on the next climb. We road together on the traverse across the mountain. After the most fun section of rolling descending single track it was one more short dirt road climb before the final corkscrew descent and into transition. There I saw Julie Dibens and managed to put in a burst to get around her before the descent.
Into and out of T2 it was Shonny, myself and then Suzie for a 1-2-3 for Luna. I did get one split that Shonny was about 2 minutes ahead. She is one of the stronger runners so I knew I would have to have a great run to catch her. So off I went feeling like I was in slow motion up and up through the Aspen trees with a few short reprieves along the way. I knew it was the same for everyone so just kept up one foot in front of the other! A long open road descent towards the transition area broke up the middle of the run. It was only a tease because right as you see the finish you have to head back up again for another loop of climbing before descending back to the finish. I was starting to feel a little queasy on the final climbs. I picked up a running partner, Craig Evans, for the last couple kilometres but unfortunately only managed to make up 25 seconds on Shonny by the end. A good day for sure and I hope I will be as fast as Shonny when I grow up to the age of 44 years young too! Suzie held on for 4th, while mom of two mountain star Kelly Cullen had a great race to run into 3rd. Rounding out the podium was mom #3 of the day, Emma Garrard.
Thanks again to our Luna mechanic Chris, for the pre-race support spoilage. Thanks to Branden Rakita (also placing 2nd in the Pro Men) and his parents for the accommodation set up and the most amazing pre-race meal!! And thanks to Brandi and Craig for all the laughs and amazingly fun post-race day ride – recommended to us by men’s race champ and local, Josiah Middaugh.
Now I’m out on the Hornby aka Hippy Island for a bit before heading to a new Xterra venue, at Xterra Black Diamond in Seattle in a few weeks. Can’t wait to hang with the local Luna Chix team down there as well!