Photo by Nils Nilsen
This was definitely my year at the US Championships. Not only did I execute a nearly perfect race despite an annoying little mechanical, I also shaved over three minutes off the course record despite a longer run course. With the win this year at the Championships in Incline Village, Nevada I took the series overall with a perfect score. However, my elation in putting all of it together was tempered with regret. Regret that I couldn’t have Jamie Whitmore on the start line that day to validate my efforts. I have come to the Nationals in either first or second in the overall XTERRA Professional Tour ready for a showdown for six years in a row. It was heartbreaking to not continue the tradition when my favorite rival has been taken out of the game by cancer. Cancer sucks.
The whole weekend was pretty emotional. I tried my hardest to say something about the incredible international field that made the women’s podium so tough to crack and instead broke down in tears first mentioning my appreciation for the battles with Jamie. Obviously I will also never be President of the United States (a la Hilary Clinton). It was a spectacular field this year in Tahoe with some Olympians joining the party and the top European XTERRA girls hopping across the pond to race. I definitely had to put on a good show as two of us cracked three hours and I am so happy to have had a great performance in Tahoe to erase the crappy memories of last year.
I have been writing about my training throughout the three weeks I have been here so it is no secret how much time and effort I put into getting this done. I was here very early and I did more laps on the course than ever before. I am also much fitter than I have ever been in the past. I could tell last week how much fitter given how much stronger I was able to finish the top part of the course at 8700 feet. My running came around in the days leading up to the race so before the weekend of the race I knew I was ready. Of course, the night before I still started panicking about doing something stupid. Ross had to talk me off the ledge I was so irrational. I have a hard time being confident at altitude so Ross was certainly helpful in pointing out what a beating he had to endure to ride with me before the race. That made me feel better. Ha! On to the race…
It was actually a much nicer day than forecasted on race day. The half distance race that was scheduled for Saturday was cut down to a duathlon because of high surf on the lake and very windy, cold conditions. Not the nicest day. The silent auction to benefit Jamie was Saturday and raised loads of money for her. I auctioned a trisuit and was stoked to see Simone wearing it on the start line the next day. She was MINI ME! Or Mini Mel, as it were. So cool. When we went to the pre race briefing Kahuna (the race director) said there was NO CHANCE they would cancel the swim on Sunday so I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite not being the best swimmer, I like racing TRIATHLON, period. It would not be right to finish the season with a duathlon. We all enjoyed a nice pre race dinner at the Hyatt and saw a wonderful tribute movie of Jamie and her accomplishments when she won the XTERRA Warrior award for embodying the spirit of XTERRA. There were a pile of National awards handed out to top regional competitors, XTERRA Ambassadors and a recap of the season. It was a fun evening but I know most of us had the next day in mind so a few of us were sneaking off to bed early.
Autographing mini- Mel
The next morning in Truckee was FRIGID! There was frost on the ground but it was sunny. The weather report for Incline Village, which was a thirty minute drive away, was for sunny and cold as well so I packed a lot of clothing for the actual race. I was so fortunate that Pactimo made me a new race suit of thicker material (which helped IMMENSELY, thank you!) and also sent warm leg, arm and knee warmers along with two key base layers…one of which I wore in the race as well. I had a layering plan in mind for the race.
I was buzzing as I rode to the start of the race. I knew my legs were feeling good so I only needed a couple of build intervals to get fired up for the start. I set up transition, met the morning paparazzi with a quote for the tv show and was pulling on my wetsuit heading to the swim start with 20 minutes to spare. I was pleasantly surprised that the water was about 59 degrees. I was definitely expecting worse and as we got closer and closer to race start I was doubting the 50 degree high for the outside temperature that day. I was sure it would be warmer. Quickly I reformulated my transition clothing plan and dove in the lake for a short warm up before the swim start.
I started right in the thick of some strong swimmers but still got tossed around in the washing machine and ended up losing the very fast feet I was hoping to swim on. By the second lap I was definitely behind the gaps and swimming with people slower than me but I decided to swim catch up and hang out, preferring to save it for the bike than tow the people in front of me out of the water. As I was running the paved section to the transition area I saw first Christine riding away and then Susan Williams so I knew the order of the women in front of me that I needed to catch and approximately how far they were.
My legs didn’t fire up immediately in the race. I decided to wear Ross’s winter gloves, skip wearing a jacket and pull on some socks. Putting socks on when you are cold and wet is impossible! So after my slow transition I was still taking some time to get warmed up. I was getting dropped by the men that came out of transition with me and as I rode up the hill I knew I should be going faster but I couldn’t really get going. I had reeled in Linda Gallo and Christine Jeffries by the top of Tunnel Creek Road and was within 20 seconds of Susan Williams but couldn’t quite get by before the Flume Trail. I dove into the trail in front of a group of age group men but ended up letting them go by as my legs were just not great. I was happy to have them in front of me to pace me because after following them awhile I started to feel better. Susan Williams was super sportswomanlike and pulled over to let us pass on the Flume which I totally appreciated! So at that point I was in the hot seat and for the past three years Jenny Smith has passed me on or shortly after the Flume Trail. Knowing up to and including the Flume Trail was not my best riding, I figured I had to throw down for the top section of the course to hold off the hard charging mountain bikers in the field. So I did. I started hammering after Marlette Lake and was catching some of the men that had passed me earlier on Tunnel Creek. That is until my saddle slipped. Unfortunately my seat was pointing straight up in the air so the remainder of the climbing was somewhat uncomfortable and the descending was weird. I don’t think it really mattered as I was super focused on getting back to T2 as fast as possible but I think I was giving a bit of time away whenever I had to pedal. None of these mechanicals really affected my race because I just didn’t let them. When I felt I was struggling to pedal well on the bike because of my seat I just told myself that whoever caught me on the bike was not going to see me for long when I started running.
My bike post race with the World Champion poster from 2003 – some motivation for three weeks from now!
I didn’t know where anyone else in the race was as I ran out of T2 so I just started running as fast as I could. At one time check Ross told me it was 80 seconds to second so I had to really run hard. I was thinking in my head this is pretty hard, I wonder if she is running me down? By the second time check Ross said it was Renata and I had doubled the gap so I relaxed and settled in. No point risking a sprained ankle in the forest when you have a three minute lead! I was so excited and emotional to see the 2:56 on the time clock, knowing I had crushed the old record but I was also kind of sad because it would have been nice had Jamie kept it. I figure she would rather have me get it done than give that race away to anyone else. As far as I am concerned, Tahoe was our battleground and the victory should belong to one of us.
Finishing Tahoe all emotional with Jamie holding the tape – photo Nils Nilsen
Overall the depth in the women’s race was inspiring. Fourth through eighth all ran into the finish within about two minutes, so some very fierce battles were fought. Second place’s Renata Bucher of Switzerland was the fastest cyclist, taking almost three minutes out of me and the phenomenal Danelle Kabush again posted the fastest run split, running her way from tenth to sixth (and in sight of fourth!) Carina Wasle from Austria was third with another speedy run, Lesley Paterson continued her US assault on the podium taking fourth and Jenny Smith edged me out of second fastest bike time taking fifth. Shonny ended up second in the overall series but didn’t have her best day and finished in seventh for the Nationals race. To put it in perspective, the fifth I had last year on an off day would have netted me 14th this season. Good for you ladies!!
Overall Women’s Podium – photo by Nils Nilsen
The men’s race was also a shake up as Conrad had an uncharacteristically terrible day (for him!) and catapulted backwards through the field on the bike finally finishing the race up in eighth. Luckily he won so many of the other races in the series he still ended up taking the overall. Mike Vine, a fellow Canadian, won his first US Championships with Seth Wealing taking second, Josiah Middaugh in third, Dan Hugo in fourth and Brandon Rakita climbing up to fifth on the day. A funny side bar to the men’s race is Mike Vine, Josiah Middaugh and Brian Smith all rode bike times faster than Christoph Sauser (mountain bike World Champion) rode the day before in a relay (ha!).
I was pretty finished after the race but Gail and Rick would not accept no celebration and the evening party began. It was a mellow affair, as I was too tired to dance on the tables but certainly not too tired to enjoy a buffet of incredible food and wine. With salmon cooked on the Big Green Egg, yams, zucchini, beets and a delicious green salad we paired an Italian sparkling pinot noir, a 1997 Brunello, a 2005 Napa Cabernet and finally, a 1990 French sauternes. Four am wakeup call for the flight came way too early I tell you… but in the end it was SO worth it!
Quite the post race lineup
A big thank you to Rick and Gail for their amazing hospitality – I really appreciated the opportunity to house sit! Thank you so much to Pactimo for the fabulous clothing for the race. Thank you to BMC Bicycles and to 3Sports in Richmond and to Procity Cycles in Victoria for the equipment roundup… everything was awesome up to the point where I was in charge of moving my saddle – ha! Thanks to Nature’s Path Foods, Titec, Profile Wetsuits, Shimano, Fizik, Maxxis, Fox Racing Shox, Sundog Eyewear, Gu Sports, Lazer Helmets, Saucony, Albabici, Twin Six, Genuine Innovations, USANA, Saris Cycling, and TYR for all of your contributions to this Overall US Championships Series title. I am so thankful for all of your support!