A Bit of a Bust in Bama

Lesson #1 boys and girls: ALWAYS pack your wetsuit when traveling to a triathlon race! EVEN if you’re revisiting a venue where the water has been pretty much as warm as bath water on the same date over the last seven years! Otherwise the saying, “You can’t win the race in the swim but you can loose the race (or feel out of the race/contention) in the swim” will ring even truer!

I wasn’t the only Pro in the Xterra field who had traveled to Pelham, Alabama for the Xterra Southeast Championship without a wetsuit. Others had wrangled up, borrowed, bribed and begged for a wetsuit but in the final countdown to the gun it was only my teammate Suzie and I still left with bare arms and legs on the 8:30am start line Saturday morning. Either way, whoever took the water temp must have had a pretty faulty thermometer because the water was no where near “wetsuit cold” anyway! I’m usually the first to get cold and loose feeling in my fingers, so not the case here!. I tried to focus on the positive, at least I wasn’t overheating in a wetsuit as I felt like I was being left behind long before the first buoy! As a side note, the buoyancy of a wetsuit can help you swim at least 4-5 seconds faster per 50m.

The other excitement for race morning was doing some last minute tire changing to prepare for new wet and slick trails from the all night thunder storms. As always, it was amazing to have our Luna team mechanic there supporting us and virtually eliminating any pre-race bike stress! While I’m not typically one to do a rain dance, I was feeling kind of excited about the new challenging element to the day! Brandi and I checked out the first 10 minutes of single track before the race. What our homestay Jerry would say was somewhat true: “when wet, the roots here slippery as a boogers on a door knob!”, but as long as you had even a teeny bit of Mo, Flow and Finesse it was all good! Otherwise, the trail seemed to drain pretty well and some corners were even tackier for better cornering. It was only the many super greasy bridges that took many people out!

While momentarily feeling pretty discouraged and left behind in the swim by my self-induced disadvantage, I put aside millisecond thoughts of quitting and focused on swimming as hard as I could, if only to get on my bike and start having fun sooner!

With a bit of a cluster the first half of the bike and a few “we lost a few more on the bridge back there” shouts (LOL) I got through the first 30 minutes of pure single track unscathed and upright. When out on the double track I did notice my legs were lacking a bit of punch and weren’t feeling stellar. Especially up the long double track climb, my usual strength. No matter, it was fun and down blood rock I caught up to super mom of 5-month old Torin, Emma. On the next uphill section she slowly gapped me again (come on legs!). Near the end of the ride I tried to stay positive when someone shouted to me, “Stay in it!!”….hmmm…will I even be IN this race on the run!

After a Clif Espresso Shot at the end of the bike and a cup of flat Coke downed in the first half mile of the run I was starting to feel pretty good! It also helped that the temp was cooler than the usual 95F. Unlike in Vegas, I at least felt like I was moving somewhat quick on the 2-lap run course, other than when I had to back track and retrieve my shoe from the one huge mud hole! I caught Christine in the second lap and ended up 9 seconds short of Emma at the finish for 7th place for me for the day. Emma had a stellar race with the 3rd fastest run split and I can’t say I was too surprised. I remember how awesome I was feeling at 5-months PP with Nico at the 2010 Xterra Worlds until a flat on the bike put me out of podium contention. Go postpartum pregnancy hormones + hard work of course!

Up at the front of the race Lesley Paterson took the win by running down Melanie (who had the fastest bike split and turning 40 the day before – woot woot!)  after T2. I was also super proud of my super mom/friend Brandi who took 3rd with a fantastic overall race and the use of her mad skills on this real mountain bikers course in front of my Luna teammates Shonny and Suzie in 4th and 5th.

For sure I’m disappointed and starting the race with a disadvantage before the gun even goes off is a mistake I don’t plan to repeat! But I put in my best effort for the day despite the circumstances and had a blast pre-riding and racing the awesome trails at Oak Mountain State Park. I would highly recommend this event to anyone! Between the pre-race birthday pedicure party and post-race Margaritas, and way too much laughing all-around I’m good to put this race behind me and look forward to seeing all my Xterra friends again in Richmond, VA in three weeks! Thanks to our homestay hosts Jerry and Kathy who have put me up and at least 6 or so other Pros ever since I first started coming to this race in 2006!

Luna loves Bama

Luna loves Bama

Next up: Calgary Half Marathon

Athlete-Mom Interview: Kelley Cullen

Let me introduce you to Kelley Cullen from New Castle, Colorado. She is a mom of two, and races for the HoneyStinger Bontrager Offoad Team. A super skilled mountain biker and ex-competitive swimmer means Kelley is always a threat on the Xterra circuit, one highlight being a 4th place finish at U.S. Xterra Nationals in 2011.
Below she talks about her athletic evolution through mom-hood so far. My highlights from this interview are her take on “training” versus “exercise”, not comparing yourself to other athletes (or even athlete moms), finding the balance to do what’s best for you and your family, and going with the flow, or rather unstructured life of being an athlete with a family!
Kelley&Hubby
Read on and ride on….
1. What was your life as an athletically (or otherwise) before having your children? 
I grew up with 8 siblings in a very diversely active home in Spokane, Washington.  One of my brothers tried out for the Green Bay Packers NFL draft, my twin sister is a professional enduro motorcycle rider, another brother is on his way to  the University of Oregon on a full-ride football scholarship, and my youngest sister (who still has two years of high school left) hopes to play softball in college.  I was a competitive swimmer growing up, but burnt out from swimming too much around age 16.  My mom encouraged me to try something new so I started running.  My last two years of high school I ran cross-country and track while still swimming half-heartedly.  I loved the new change and ended up choosing to run cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track for Montana State University in Bozeman, MT.  Upon graduating college my identical twin sister and I decided to move to the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado and that’s when I discovered mountain biking.  That was the beginning of a whole new kind of adventure that I have not stopped enjoying trail riding/running!
As far as triathlons go, I started out doing the kid’s triathlon in Coeur d’ Alene, ID.  In high school I decided to try some longer races in and around the Spokane area including Troika 70.3 on a crappy 30 year old borrowed ten speed road bike with cracked tires and no back brake.  In college I continued to do triathlons in the summers.  The summer of 2002 I qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.  After that race, though, I realized how much I despised road riding.  I sold my road bike and never bought another one.
I am married and have two kids now; a 3.5 year-old girl and an 8 month old boy who was born on Labor Day.  Obviously things are quite different then when I first began riding mountain bikes and running trails ten years ago. Ninety percent of my training now happens on a spin bike in our living room during a nap time or pushing/pulling the Chariot on paved paths and county roads.
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2. What motivated (or continues to inspires you) to get training and racing again after one child? And then two? How does life with one versus two compare?
As any pregnant lady would agree to I wanted to lose the extra baby weight, fit back into my clothes, and feel somewhat normal again!  Being a stay-at-home mom exercise is an outlet for me and I look forward to it every day.  I have always been a highly competitive person who enjoys challenges.  Competing just adds a whole other level of challenge, fun, adrenalin, focus, and motivation.
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3. Did you train during your pregnancies? What was/has your training been like post-childbirth? 
 Yes.  However, I strongly discourage using the word “train” when you’re pregnant.  It’s easy to become obsessively worried about losing endurance fitness, muscle strength, gaining too much weight, and feeling like you’re not getting enough training time in.  I preferred to use the term “exercise” instead.  My only objectives for exercising were to maintain some level of endurance fitness, maintain a healthy pregnancy weight, promote the healthy growth of my baby (if you’ve read Dr. James Clapp’s book Exercising During Pregnancy you know what I’m talking about), and most importantly to help me feel better emotionally and physically. Before I had my second baby I trained about 10 hours/week on average very consistently with a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, but that has changed.  I only put in about 6-8 hours/week now and most of that takes place on a spin bike, pulling the Chariot, or running with the Chariot.  Having a three-year old daughter I often find myself bagging my training to spend a little one-on-one with her.  Each day is full of so many unpredictable variables such as kids waking up early, disrupted naps, cranky kids, kids needing attention, unplanned outings with friends, etc.  Therefore, I do not train with a coach anymore and do not follow a structured training plan.  I just make the most out of the time I have when I have it and rest when I’m tired.
KelleyKids
4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2013?
I had big ambitions such as winning the TEVA Mountain Games UMC, finishing top 7 at as many XTERRA regional races possible, and top 8 at XTERRA nationals. The reality of family life with another little one has changed things a bit.  Due to our family lifestyle, chosen commitments, work obligations, and financial limitations, racing full-time seriously is not logistical nor realistic for us anymore.  So, I have decided to finish out this year’s 2013 season with a few races but without a serious outlook.  That means no pre-riding, no special periodization to my training, and choosing races that allow us to make family camping trips out of them such as XTERRA Moab and the HoneyStinger mountain bike race in which my husband and I will race as a duo together.
5. How do you balance family/work/training/competing?
I used to teach kindergarten but am currently a stay-at-home mom.  Family always comes first.  I have two kids and a great husband whom I devote my attention to first.  Training and racing are scheduled around that.  Most of my training happens sometime during the day to allow my husband time when he gets home from work to get a bit of exercise in too. Oftentimes my training rides/runs with the Chariot take place after I have taken the kids swimming at the Glenwood Hot Springs pool where we have a family pass.  While my legs usually feel like crap after being in the hot water I find that my kids are content to sit in the Chariot, eat snacks, take naps, and simply hang out.  Obviously it’s not the most effective way to train, but when you have kids you’re training with it works pretty darn well.
6. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape or even competing again after having children?
 First, I would encourage all new moms to read Dr. James Clapp’s book Exercising During pregnancy.  Also, take out the word “training” and replace it with “exercising” when you are pregnant.  Make sure that you keep a healthy balance of your time devoted to family, work, training, and racing.  I would sometimes find myself comparing myself with other professional mom athletes and wanting to race and do as much as them.  But, I had to be mindful of the fact that our family lifestyle was not the same as their’s.  So, plan to be mindful of your family’s lifestyle and your time.  Also, plan to be flexible with your structured training plan if you have one.  And, don’t run too much with a double Chariot!  I have Plantar Fasciitis tendonitis in my foot due to the 70 pound stress load from when I started running hills and intervals with our Chariot late last winter.  In fact, I have only ran two times since late December and that included XTERRA West Championships this past April.  That probably explains my terrible run split at the race!
Thanks Kelley! You can follow her adventures on her blog here!

Xterra West Championship Story

Well, the first race of 2013 is in the bag. It was hot, windy, and dusty but I focused on enjoying life in the in the desert for two days between leaving and returning to mid-April snow storms in Calgary, gheesh!

l-r: Melanie McQuaid, Suzie Snyder, Lesley Paterson, Shonny Valandingham, Me

l-r: Melanie McQuaid, Suzie Snyder, Lesley Paterson, Shonny Valandingham, Me

The full-distance Xterra race went off at 10:30 am, a later start than usual. It was already heating up pretty good (the high reached over 90F (28C) by midday). Once my Orca Alpha wetsuit was on, to avoid boiling over I was happy to slip into the cool 57F water for a warm-up, while it was cold to the face at first, once swimming a bit it was perfect. Once the Pro wave was away and swimming I was happy to find myself still with a pack of swimmers and getting some draft by 400m in, woohoo. I stayed with my small pack. After the second buoy in the one lap swim we headed back to the start against a headwind and bit of a chop. I unfortunately lost my pack and was back about 25 seconds by the finish. I kept stroking hard and had a good swim time relative to the competition for me in the end.

Once on the bike I was feeling better than I thought I would for getting the winter cobwebs and the first sensations of race pace pain out of the way. I focused on climbing smooth and steady and was having fun on the descents. My Maxxis Ikon tires were perfect for the loose rocky descents, and my Luna team Orbea Alma 29er bike was feeling light on the climbs. I also absolutely love our new Shimano XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur. (It has a one-way friction clutch that only engages when the derailleur’s cage moves forward, which typically (and frequently) happens when the bike rolls over rough terrain like on this Vegas course. It practically eliminates slap and, because it keeps the chain under tension, it also limits the chance of a chain dropping off the chain rings!) Other than the fact the wind was getting crazy and came close to blowing us off course on the open moonscape. I made up a few spots by the end of the bike as started the run in 5th place.

Unfortunately, I also started the run thirsty in the heat, unusual for me and not a great sign! With a good swim, and a pretty decent bike for me on this repeat course, the run is what was the most disappointing. It was definitely a real struggle in the full hot sun. With virtually no flat running, and steep ups and downs, I did not feel like I was moving fast at all, and my coordination was not good for descending. I almost fell flat on my face a few times but saved it! In the end I came within a minute of catching 4th place Mel McQuaid but it wasn’t enough. Lesley Paterson’s fitness is on another planet right now and she finished 4th overall and destroyed the women’s field with a 12 minute lead on 2nd place, my LUNA teammate, Suzie Synder, followed by Shonny Vanlandingham in 3rd. But overall, I am satisfied given the month of crazy travel I’ve had with work and team commitments coming into this race. It was a solid start and I’m looking forward to building fitness and form (with more outdoor training time if spring ever arrives here at home!) with over 6 months of racing still to come, woohoo!

Thanks to our Luna team mechanic, Christ Mathis for supporting the Luna team this weekend!!

LUNAxterrawest

And big congrats to the other moms in the Pro Division, Kelley Cullen (6th place, mom of two, youngest just 10 months old), Emma Garrard (7th place and mom of 4 month old Torin), Brandi Heisterman (11th place, mom of two), Caroline Colonna (12th place, mom of two)!!

Next up: Policeman’s half marathon here at home on April 28th

Athlete-Mom Interview: Jamie Whitmore

Jamie “J-Dawg” Whitmore was the female Pro to beat when I started racing Xterra, and I would say she is still one of the biggest triple threat’s Xterra racing has ever seen with a fast swim, mad bike handling skills, and super fast feet on the run. Jamie started racing Xterra’s in 2002 and over the next six years she won 37 championships in a dozen  different countries, including the XTERRA World Championship in 2004 (pictured below).  She is still today the most successful female  pro the sport has ever known and was recently inducted into the Xterra Hall of Fame at the 2012 World Championships. MXT2004_winner
Jamie was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and began the fight of her life. She fought hard through unrelenting pain, several setbacks and rehab and is now cancer free. And due to her radiation therapy, Jamie was told she’d never have children. But she proved that prognosis wrong too and gave birth to twins boys – Christian and Ryder, in January, 2010!

She was told she would never ride or run again either – let  alone compete in triathlon. With the same determination, Jamie proved that wrong.  Swimming  was part of her rehab.  And, with the aid  of a brace she is biking and adds crutches for running.  She returned to XTERRA racing last year at  the Pacific Championship in Santa Cruz and Nationals in Utah (pictured below on the run).  In 2012 she also competed at the XTERRA Guam  Championship, the legendary Leadville 100 MTB race, and reignited her Olympic  dream by winning the National Championship Time Trial for C-3 category  Paracyclists. Read below to learn more about how Jamie has continued her athletic and return to competition as a mom!

Jamile_W

1. Can you describe your athletic/competitive life has evolved before and since becoming a mom? And any special challenges/benefits with twins?

I used to think it would be no big deal to pop out a kid and then return to racing! Oh how naive I was! Being a Mom is hard when you work and want to train! You are on call 24hrs a day. If they are sick, they want you not daddy or papa . . . always Mom!! I used to train when I felt like it. Raced whenever. I could just hop on a plane and go to Maui or whatever I wanted. Now it requires planning all the time. Just to go ride I have to make sure the boys have lunch made so my dad doesn’t have to do it. If I go on a trip I have to plan meals and pack all clothes for them even if I am just leaving them with my dad! And if I take them with me . . . now that is even more work because now I have to figure things out on the road! Twins make it even more difficult because there are two that go in different directions. No older sibling to help corral them! Then throw in my disability . . . . both boys know they can outrun me so I constantly have to think ahead.

Everything used to be about my racing and what I wanted to do . . . as much as I drag them everywhere and have taught them to be flexible I often put them first before making decisions! They even dictate when I train. Always when they nap or before they wake up! On easy days I spin on the trainer while we all watch a movie like Cars or Toy Story!! I try to get quality time in with them as much as possible!

Jamie pictured with her father, sons Ryder and Christiand and husband Courtney in Maui where she was recently inducted in the Xterra Hall of Fame

Jamie pictured with her father, sons Ryder and Christian and husband Courtney in Maui where she was recently inducted in the Xterra Hall of Fame

 2. What is your biggest motivation to stay active/competitive at this stage of your life?

This has a lot to do with my cancer and disability! I stay competitive because I want to show my boys that they can do anything they put their minds to. It might not be how they pictured it or achieved in a different way but they can still do it! On paper I should not be able to bend my knee which means I shouldn’t be able to ride a bike but I am . . . that alone pushes me to keep pushing the limits! You don’t know unless you try! And when you have been unable to do something for 3 years it is all the motivation to not take it for granted when you can do it again!

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3. How do you balance your family, work, and training/racing?

Extended family is a huge blessing! My dad is amazing. He watches the kids all the time for us so that I can train and work. If it weren’t for him I would be riding the trainer all the time or getting up at 5am just to get a ride in! And who wants to do that??? I try to train when the kids are napping so that I don’t miss out on spending time with them. When I am coaching (work) I sometimes take them with me so they can hang out and run around!

4. What do your boys think of their athletic mom?

I hope they think I am pretty cool! Not sure yet since they just turned 3 years old. But every time they see a race picture of me they get pretty excited and say “That’s mommy!”

5. What are your 2013 training/competition goals?

This year I hope to scope out my competition. I am new to the para cycling world (cyclists with physical disabilities) I would love to make the National A Team and travel to World Cup races and the World Championships. My long term goal is The Paralympics in Rio in 2016!!

 6. Any advice you have for other mom’s trying to balance it all, while following a consistent training program every week?

Don’t let training become more important than family! It is easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing . . . but you can’t get time back. Kids will only stay young for a little while! When you do train keep it quality and not quantity. It is better to be 15% under trained than 1% over trained. I went into The Leadville 100 race only having done a 55-60 mile ride as my longest ride! I made sure they were quality miles!

In order to get all that I get in I do rely a lot on family but if you don’t have family find a friend that also has kids (if you have little ones) and trade off on watching each others kids. I have several friends with no extended family that do this so that they can run errands or clean the house! I would use it for training! As they get older you can use training time to spend with them. Take the kids out when you have an easy spin . . .they can ride their bikes too! Or let them hop in the pool with you.

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I love your advice Jamie and good luck as you shoot for the Paralympics in 2016!!

My Top 10 Post-Season Reflections

1. Although I was definitely not saying this after crossing the finish line in Maui, since the post-race dust has settled, I have to concur that Xterra racing is truly the most fun, mountain bike racing takes a close second, occasional road triathlons are interesting fitness challenges. and running races always hurt!!

2. My coach and ultimate training buddy (when he is not injured from tree collisions or falling off bridges :)) keeps every season exciting with an incredible variety of challenging training! Thanks Coach Cal and all my motivating CSR training friends!

3. Racing while raising little people has it challenges but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

4. I have an amazingly supportive family: husband, parents, and inlaws that can often travel on demand when needed!

5. Breastfeeding a child beyond two years old will not hinder athletic performance

6. But racing on day 3 away from your breastfed child with full milk jugs can be painful!

7. Maui-like weather is great and pretty alright to race in but I’m a Canadian girl who loves my seasons – bring on the skiing and snowshoeing!

8. Being incredibly lazy, and eating whatever and whenever I want is only fun for about 7-10 days!

9. At almost two weeks into the off-season I’m already excited to get back to my “athletic job” for the best and most supportive professional women’s team that races in the dirt in the world – I’m so lucky to be a Luna Chix!

10. Did I mention how high Xterra racing is on the fun factor? “Forward 2013!!!”

2012 Xterra Worlds Story

Despite staying healthy, getting in some great training in the past five weeks, and enjoying the taper countdown to the Xterra finale in Maui, somehow it all went wrong after the gun went off on Sunday morning for the World Championship race…

After a distracting and painful jellyfish sting to one of my fingers in the warm-up swim, I managed to stay focused, calm and determined as we neared go time. The surf was rolling in pretty big on and off but when the Pros started, we lucked out with a few calmer sets and getting in and off wasn’t too bad. I managed to draft for a while and then found myself to the right of everybody but hooked up with a few blue and pink caps as we arrived at the first buoy right on target. I also lined up for the beach well for the first run out in the “M” shaped swim and was happy that I was at least swimming relatively straight through the side wave swells and stronger current further out. Going out to the second buoy became a bit more chaotic and some green caps who had overshot the first run out were swimming straight at us! Finally I was rounding the last buoy and heading for shore. That’s when I got my second jellyfish sting on the chin. As I neared shore and was looking forward to getting on my feet again I got pummeled by a massive wave. My body went into a full on scorpion which my inflexible back did not like at all! Both of my calves massively cramped right up into balls – oweee! When I finally figured out which way was up and down again I clamoured out of the waves and tried to get running as fast as I could to my bike up the long uphill grass climb to transition.

swim start

As I peeled off my swim skin in transition heaps of sand dropped to the ground, ugh! Even though we had wave starts this year, (two minute gaps between Pros, amateur men, then amateur women), I still had plenty of traffic to contend with for the first 4  miles of the bike. The narrower trail extended longer this year, and although it was relatively wide, the deeper sand on the sides made passing really difficult, I think Xterra has burst the seams by trying to manage 700 peeps on course at once! It was hard to find my rhythm and I was just feeling flat and on the verge of cramping most of the way. Since I wasn’t feeling my usual power on the uphills, I focused on enjoying the downhills and ripping as fast as I was comfortable. On one of the first longer open downhills I was sad to see my Luna teammate Suzie walking with her bike, front wheel tacoed and tube completely off.

Attempting to get the climbing legs going!

I came off the bike in a tight pack with Brandi, Mel, and Magali. I started the run with Magali and thought all I need to do is stay with her to salvage a decent result. I started with her and but once we hit the steeper grass I was fading. The run felt like a bad dream where I wanted to pick it up but just couldn’t. I tried to respond to every pass that went by me but never lasted long, and finally limped across the line in 12th. A physio friend has since explained to me that my scorpion back compression in the swim likely caused a “neurological injury” to my legs explaining the lack of power and cramping feelings I had – especially by the time I was running uphill on the run – ugh! Three days out it is still super painful to walk around due to sore calves.

But enough of my lamenting. Even though we had to evacuate our condo for a few hours the night before due to the tsunami warning, luckily the wave didn’t amount to anything. Race day was a beautiful day, and not too hot. The 70.3’ers and ITU’ers came out and rocked it on the least technical course in Xterra for the men and women. Lesley Paterson crushed the field and handily won her second World Xterra Title. Barbara Riveros of Chile was second, Mari Rabie of South Africa in 3rd, Heather Jackson 4th, and Jacqui Slack, of Great Britain finished up 5th for the last podium spot.

Shonny and I happy to be finished!

I had an amazing support crew, with Chris and Waldek from team Luna, out to support myself and teammates, Suzie and Shonny. I’m so lucky to be part of such as amazing team! My parents, husband, kids, and brother were also out to enjoy some more summer, to hang out and cheer us on. Even though my last and most important race of the year was a serious disappointment, I’m happy with my overall season, and already looking forward to a luckier 2013!

The support Posse on race morning!

Xterra USA Championship Race Report

After celebrating my daughter Zoe’s 5th birthday last Wednesday, the following day J-F and I left the kiddies at home with my wonderful parents and flew down to Salt Lake City. We then drove 45 minutes north to Odgen, Utah for a 4-day “race-cation” for the Xterra USA Championship and the final race in the Pro points series. I felt lucky to have escaped catching the nasty cold both my kids had the week before as I would need all the oxygen I could get with this Saturday morning race being at altitude. The swim starts at 4900 feet (1494 meters), and the bike course peaks out at 7300 feet (2225 meters) with 3400 feet of total climbing!

View from top of the bike course looking back at Pineview Resevoir

With a lot on the line, Suzie, Shonny and I were excited to have our Luna team mechanic, Chris Mathis come for the race and get our Orbea Alma 29ers in perfect working order, a definite boost to the pre-race confidence!! This was very true when I picked up a thorn in my tire in the parking area before the race, I might have freaked out just a little but with Chris on hand to seal it asap and reassure me it was fine, I was good to go!

Luna team mechanic, Chris Mathis, working hard on our bikes!

With the Pineview Reservoir lower than ever this year, the swim started a long ways down the usual boat ramp start. It was a wetsuit swim but the perfect temperature. The Pros had a 30 second head start for the 2-lap swim without the usual beach run in between. We headed straight into the morning sun which made sighting the first buoy challenging. I’d had a good warmup but still felt weird and a little weak, the usual beginning of swim panicky feeling, especially as the green capped age groupers starting to engulf me! Just keep swimming, this will pass…and it did. I found myself around Renata the whole swim, and tried to catch on to a few amateurs throughout the swim as they surged by. I was feeling better on the second lap, but dang it was a long swim. Everyone’s times were at least 4 minutes give or take slower than usual, so I finally exited the water after more than 28 minutes!

Renata and I left transition together and I kept her in sight on the road stretch leading to the first section of dirt, and up through Wheeler Canyon as we made our way up to the top of Snowbasin. It was rocky double track climbing that narrowed down to single track as we neared the halfway point right before the first of two long sustained descents. The climbing was never too steep, with some rolling downhills and flats to break it up. At the halfway point I was about 3 minutes down from the leaders. Lesley, Melanie, Suzie, Christine, and Jacqui Slack were all still ahead. By the very top of the course, I had passed Jacqui and Christine, with Renata still just ahead of me. After a fun, slalom like long descent and a few more short climbs we entered T2. I went out onto the run in 5th. When J-F told me I was about 2:30+ back of Mel and Suzie, I knew some catching was definitely possible!

The run starts with about 5 minutes of straight steep uphill running under the chairlift. It is brutal but it is just about putting one foot in front of the other as fast as possible. Then it is fast, mainly rolling downhill single track with lot’s of baby head rocks to look out for for a few miles. By the halfway point of the run I’d over taken Renata and had Melanie in sight back out on some double track. At about the 4 mile mark I puffed past Melanie and knew I only had a limited amount of climbing to my advantage to close on Suzie before the last mile of more of trail which was all downhill to the finish! With the altitude nothing feels fast on this course but I kept pushing hoping to see Suzie in sight. When I finally did near the end of the descending I put on the gas with gravity to help as best I could. With one small hill before the finish I went as hard as I could but it wasn’t enough and I had to settle for third by a margin of 13 seconds! Ouch. I was definitely gunning for a top two finish but if it had to be third, it might as well be to a Luna teammate, so I’m super happy for Suzie who had the race of her life to date as a Pro!

Last ditched effort to close the gap on last little climb before downhill finish shoot

It was an incredibly exciting overall series this year for the overall as well. That 13 seconds would have been the difference of finishing 2nd versus 4th overall in the Pro series as well, so it is a hard pill to swallow and not keep thinking about where I could have found 13 more seconds out there on course over 2 hours and 52 minutes of racing! That said, I am as motivated as ever to get back to work for Worlds in Maui 5 weeks from now. Congrats to Lesley Paterson who took the win on Saturday as well as the overall series title. As the reigning Xterra and ITU off-road World Champ, she is THE woman to watch out for on October 28th!

Podium (L-R): Melanie McQuaid (4th), Suzie Synder (2nd), Lesley Paterson (1st), me (3rd), Renata Bucher (5th)

Xterra Canada 2012 in Canmore! The Race Report

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!

A great shot of the swim start by Jordan Bryden

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.

The descents on this course make me smile – thanks to Trey Garman for this shot exiting the meadow to the next super fun section of the EKG trail

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.

My Avia Bolt’s await me in transition, the perfect lightness and traction for this course!

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.

A cool shot by Luke Way, grabbing a sip of water at the halfway point of the run

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!

Heading for a second place finish, as Ian leaves me behind, another shot by Luke Way

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!!

The podium L-R: Brandi Heisterman in 5th, Renata Bucher (3rd), Melanie McQuaid (1st), me (2nd), and Chantell Widney (5th). Zoe may be shy at times but she loves getting up on podiums any chance she gets! 🙂

A Dreamy Long Weekend, Enduro Style!

They are rare, but a few times per race season I get to enjoy some lower key, casual races, and that is precisely what this beautiful August long weekend was all about. A time to have as much fun as possible with family and friends, while throwing in some “fun” racing. A great chance to get the kind of quality intensity training in that would be impossible to do on my own while also avoiding going too deep into the pain cave that is needed for the more important “A” type races!

Saturday and Sunday in Canmore was the second annual Xterra Enduro. Here is how it unfolded…

Event 1: 3000m swim at Quarry Lake (47:50, 10th overall). With a 10:00am start time, it was tough getting my family organized in time to leave Calgary but we arrived with about 20 minutes to spare until the start time. Quarry lake was the perfect temperature to swim with a wetsuit. It is so clear and gorgeous you feel like you could just drink it up while swimming. We did 6 x 500m laps, with a short beach run each lap. I missed a small pack ahead of me, and the first lap probably felt the toughest as I didn’t get time for a warm-up, but settled in and one of the guys I was swimming with said we picked it up each lap so that was cool! Check out the incredible conditions that made for a very enjoyable swim!

Event 2: 40km mountain bike at the Canmore Nordic Centre (2:43:46, 4th overall). After some time for a lakeside picnic it was time to head up to the Nordic Centre for a 2pm start for the 40km mountain bike race and it was hot!! I went through 3 bottles and three gels and was definitely feeling thirsty most of the race, but actually felt a bit stronger and more technically on by the 3rd and 4th final lap. On pretty much the identical course to last year I was 6 minutes faster so that was encouraging. This demanding course involves pretty much all the climbing at the Nordic Centre but of course it is mixed with fun descents like laundry chutes, the Albertan and the coal chutes.

Start line for the 40km mountain bike race

Heading off and up and up and up to start!

After the bike race, it was off to Kyle, Carrie, Fin and Will’s house for an awesome BBQ. Zoe and Nico had a blast chilling in the backyard and you can see why!

Event 3: 20km trail run at the Canmore Nordic Centre (1:50:30, 5th overall? still waiting for run results). Sunday morning, it was back to the Nordic centre with beat up arms and legs to line up and run 20km on the trails on the same course we rode the day before meaning major climbing and lots of rooty descending. After a wee bit of “yogging” around the stadium to warm up we were off. Like a delayed brick, the legs were feeling pretty heavy the first bit. I actually started to feel better on the second lap and got my downhill root running coordination working a little better! After one lap, the second woman was about 10 seconds behind me, so I decided to pick up the pace up the climbing to the laundry chutes. I didn’t see her again but had some good back and forth running with some of the guys out there. And I managed to take a good seven minutes off my time from last year, so another good sign of hopefully improved fitness, or maybe just a willingess to go a little harder in this challenging race, ha!

Post-run podium time with the kids

After some food, socializing, and awards, we ended our super fun Canmore weekend with an icy dip for the legs in the glacial Bow River while the kids did some rock throwing. J-F was icing his ankle which he sprained almost two weeks ago, it has been hard for him to be so laid up, but he finally got out for a ride again today! Thanks to him and the kids for their weekend race support – they had some fun trail walks while I was racing. Congrats to all everyone I know who did the race – it was tough! Coach Cal proves again why he is a great coach AND training partner for me – he is faster in all three disciplines – as he won the overall this year! And a big thanks to Tony Smith who always puts on fantastic events. Come on out to his next event, a road triathlon in Canmore on August 19th, for more info go to: www.smithevents.ca

Post-race pic with CSR training group

UnBEETable in Beaver Creek

UnBEETable! That was the joking chant I shared with the Rakita family and Craig Evans after crossing the finish line for my first Xterra series win at the Xterra Mountain Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado.  I had scarfed down as many beets as I could handle the night before the race, with the laugh that the extra nitrates would help the oxygen uptake while racing at altitude.

Placebo or not, my race went as well as it could have after spending the previous two weeks at sea level! The swim was conveniently located in a small lake just a stone’s throw away from our condo, so after waking up and driving our run gear up to T2, it was a pretty relaxing morning getting ready for the 9:00am start time. It was a wetsuit swim with the water temp about 66 degrees Fahrenheit – just right! With four wave starts at two minute intervals, the Pros went off first. I was in a group, actually drafting and feeling okay until we rounded the first buoy. While breathing towards the buoy side I accidentally inhaled a bunch of water instead of air. Gulping and choking (it is hard enough to breathe at altitude) I momentarily panicked and did a bit of breast stroke until I could breathe properly again. Unfortunately after that I was all on my own and just had to find my own rhythm and swim as straight as possible between the buoys.

I came out of the water in 4th place. After about a mile on flat pavement we were up and climbing under the first ski lift. Roughly the first 40 minutes was all twisting single track climbing with a few reprieves of flat flowy sections through the Aspen trees (fitting as my Maxxis “Aspen” tires turned out to be the perfect choice tire for this course).  From the start of the climb I could see Sara Tarkington about 30-40 seconds ahead. My last race at Beaver Creek was in 2009 and it took me until the end of the run to catch Sara that year, so I knew she would be one of the strongest contenders of the day! About 2/3 of the way up the first climb I was closing up to Sara when Jenny Smith let me know I was 1 min and 20 seconds back from first place-Melanie McQuaid. By how good my legs were feeling I knew a win was a good possibility at that point. On the next pavement climb Sara and I pushed the pace together, and went by my Luna teammate Suzie. Back on the dirt Melanie was in sight and I was reeling her in. (Thanks to Trey Garman for the photos below!)

On the gravel road descent that lead into the first single track descending Mel flatted, not the satisfying pass I was looking forward to but I said, ‘I’ll take it!” The top of the course began with super fun descending down fast switch backs. Then was a fun mix of shorter climbs, single track descents, and flat fast big ring sections to traverse to the other side of the mountain climbing before a final longer descent into T2. Sara and I went back and forth at least four times. We were moving fast, and it was a good battle. In the last descent I got a bit of a gap and went out on to the run with about a 30 second lead. Wow, it was the first time I didn’t have anyone to run down!

Heading into transition

I didn’t let up, and felt pretty darn slow going up all the steep climbing in the run but despite the suffering, and with no one in sight behind I managed to begin to enjoy the scenic run before letting gravity take my legs as fast as possible down the final long hill to the finish line. It was a fun day under perfect race weather conditions! A win definitely helps make me feel much better about the few extra days of gorgeous weather and family vacation time I had to miss on Hornby Island for this race!

L-R: Renata Bucher (4th), Sara Tarkington (2nd), myself, Suzie Synder (3rd), Melanie McQuaid (5th)

Thanks to everyone for the kind words and support! Now I’m looking forward to not getting on a plane for a while and enjoying several races around home through the end of the summer. Next up is the Calgary 70.3 on July 29th.