This past weekend was the first race in the US Xterra Championships Series in Temecula, California, a venue about half way between Palm Springs and San Diego. The course reminded me of a cross between the Desert Nova Classic in Arizona and Sea Otter in Monterey. A mix of sand traps and high speed hardpack, with 7km of the 11km run comprised of energy sapping sand to run in. I was super conservative with my expectations for this first race of the season. I had no idea where everyone else was coming into 2005, and anyone who has read my last few articles knows that I have been down for the count struggling to get racing form. I wasn’t sure where I was going to measure up but I ended up on top and yes, it felt damn good! It is motivating to have success after hard work to get back on form, especially after such a frustrating spring. I now am home training for some mountain bike races in Eastern Canada before I head over for the European Xterra Tour and I am happy to have some confidence to travel with….
I went down on Wednesday before the race because this was a new course for us and I wanted to have a good look before the weekend. I went down with my fellow pro Nicole and my gracious host Matthew, and I got the news that Jamie Whitmore (my main rival for the past two years) had been down since Sunday dialing in the course. I guessed we were thinking alike, that technical mistakes might be costly so it would be good to have some fast rides on it beforehand. I chose my Maxxis Ranchero tires for good rolling speed combined with good cornering ability, ran them tubeless on my Shimano tubeless wheels, and I wanted to know optimum pressure so I used the time on the course to experiment with setup. My Orbea Scape with full Shimano XTR, Fox Shocks, Fizik saddle and carbon Profile stuff was mint, so light, and so fast! I felt great on my prerides riding this somewhat limited technically but fun and fast kind of course. I knew this was a good course for Jamie because she is fast on sandy loose descents and I needed to at least be sort of fast downhill. I had good legs though, so I wasn’t worried about the cycling component.
We got the news on Sunday morning that my brand new Ironman wetsuit would not be needed, no wetsuits allowed! There were two transitions in the race, so I left my run shoes and number at T2 and rode my bike over the hill down to the lake where T1 was. Not much time for a warm up because of so many logistics, so I just set all my stuff up, checked out the first climb on my bike, grabbed my goggles and went down to the water. No warmup swimming. Oops!
So the swim start was horrible. I was absolutely clobbered and gasping for air. I just kept thinking about turnover and swimming trying to follow feet but the water was brown and all I could see were bubbles. I had some feet going into the turn buoy (we swam counterclockwise) but I overshot the stupid buoy and struggled to get back on feet. I was disappointed when I lost the front group but then Cherie Touchette passed me so I knew I wasn’t swimming too bad because she was beating me out of the water all last season. The water was so choppy, I couldn’t see the distant buoy at all so I just stayed with her hoping she would find the way!
So, out of the water, put my Shimano mtb shoes on (easy to get on even with ratchets!) and ran up the steep little hill to my bike, threw on my Sundog Scammed glasses with amber lenses and my helmet and off I went. The first climb out of T1 was a grunt, and I passed Cheri there. Feeling strong I slowly picked off all the women, first Janelle, then Candy, then Jess? I guess my swim was pretty good! I was in first early on the first loop of the bike even though Jess completely schooled us all on the swim. First is good, but I was not going hard. At one point I looked at my heart rate and thought I better get going, I was too comfortable. I need some racing to get up to speed. Regardless, no one was behind me so I cruised into transition feeling fresh. As I ran out, I saw Jamie?. Thinking I KNEW I wasn’t going hard enough!!! Now I had pressure?.
But it just did not matter, my Saucony Azuras were turning over like magic. I felt beautiful. I ran the first loop conservatively knowing that the sand could flatten you if you go too hard, and said to myself, if Jamie catches me, I have a lot in reserve for the drag race to the finish. But no Jamie, I stayed out in front with over a minute lead to take my first win of the season. Smooth as butter and feeling good.
So although I have only had a week to kick it up a notch for race season I ended up on top. Now the key is to get a bit faster, but keep a lot in reserve. My bike coach Houshang Amiri was funny, he sent me an email before the race saying I looked very ?strange? in training on Tuesday and would have a good race. He is Iranian, so that really means ?strong? ? hehe? but he was right. I hope I have a lot of ?strange? days to come. Thanks to Cliff English my swim and run are on track for some great performances this year, particularly my running. And thanks to Team Unlimited for putting on a great race and to my sponsors for helping me get there. Part of the reason I am coming out on top is I am racing with the right stuff: Saucony footwear and apparel, Compex E-Stim, Orbea bicycles, Powerbar energy, Sundog Eyewear, Shimano components, wheels and shoes, Profile-Design components, Ironman Wetsuits, Fox Racing Shox, Maxxis Tires, Kinesys sun protection, Hypoxico Altitude Simulation, Powercranks, Computrainer, Rider’s Cycles, Arq Hair Salon, Pacificsport and www.competitiveedgetraining.com. You guys are essential to my performance.
Also great was my San Diego "entourage", my peeps, who made the weekend fun and got me such a nice birthday cake! You all rule, Nicole, Matthew, Christine, Joey and Elaine. We were all Kung Foo Fighters!!!! Hi-Yaaaa!